What Happened to Downtown?

I have been interning as a Planner for about a month and a half at the City Hall. The portion of the city that we are in is the southern most portion known as Downtown. Most people in this city only know of Downtown because of the Shipyard and many of the municipal activities that happen here. If they don’t deal with any of those things on a regular basis, downtown means nothing to them. People born into the late 80s and early 90s know very little about Downtown. They hear about it through the news and they perception they get from the news is that it is bad. The media reports very little about the other parts of the city because they don’t want the perception of those areas to be altered. Why mess up the perception of the entire city when there is a portion of the city that fits the perception of run down, desolated, and crime ridden? What happened to Downtown?

The downtown area was the original city before the annexation of many other counties and cities. The city started right here. This is the heart. Ancestor lived and worked here, walked the streets, enjoyed life here. History is all around this area. What happened to Downtown? The suburbs of the city have pulled citizens away from their history for bigger yards, closer proximity to big-box stores, and cheaper housing. Suburbs create sprawling cities, where the car is key to success. Without the car, you have know job and there is no way to interact with society without cars. The car gives you a certain power that is hard to take away but without the car you are powerless. Gas prices are rising, cars costing more, and the commute is taking longer because each morning and evening traffic is backed up because there are too many cars on too little lanes connecting the suburbs to downtown. The idea of moving downtown to have a higher rent, but less dependence on the car is looking really good right now. The only problem is that downtown has fallen into disarray. What happened to downtown?

Downtown took a hit after the citizens move towards the suburbs. The businesses downtown left following the trend of its customers, making the commute less of a burden. The churches left after the attendance dwindled as the commute to church became too long. They leave behind the shell of beautiful building that may have lasted over a hundred years, hoping that someone would buy that building so it won’t fall into disarray. The property is bought, not because of the building, but because of the land. They bulldoze that beautiful church to create an ugly, cold parking lot. The same had became of old homes and businesses. Some turned from one prestigious neighborhoods into deserted blocks of homes. They become the stopping grounds of drug dealers and other unpleasant tenants. They are left unmaintained and began to become a blight. The city has no choice but to demolish it. All that is left is uncut grass. The downtown are lost its character when you left for the suburbs. Downtown didn’t have anyone to hear its story. Downtown became a blight in our eyes and we deleted it. That’s what happened to Downtown. How can we revive it?

Reviving downtown will not be an easy task. It takes more than just money to bring it back. It takes will and dedication, understanding what use to lay here, why this building looks this way, and what importance it had to the city. Rehabilitating old buildings into their once grand form is a start. That is how you build character. As one building is complete, others pop up mimicking the first. The people come out and begin to like the idea of having the “old downtown back.” It feels a little more like home, walking down paths shade by trees and awnings, interacting with businesses about their products, and starting new friendships. Walking to your car which is parked on the side of the road instead of searching through a sea of rows to find the car that looks like one out of every 10 cars in the lot is also a plus. Living would be a lot easier. Imagine walking to work, never having to wake up an hour or two earlier to fight the traffic and be on time.  This could be happening at your downtown.

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Reflections on the Class

Before taking this class, I understood the basics of systems and how they work within a building. Now, nearing the completion of the class, I feel I have stronger grasp of the concepts, some slightly stronger than others. Sadly, this class is only a semester long. If it was a year long course, the amount of depth per section would allow a great footing for creating sustainable buildings. Designing sustainably and integrating with my building design allowed me to see how systems begin to influence your design decision. Systems should always be thought along side with the design process to create a unique space. It is hard to get light into a space that you have already designated as a dark room on the top floor of a building.

In my upcoming projects, whether in school or in the profession, I plan to build off of what I learned in this class to create amazing buildings that meet LEED standards. Our generation is the next to carry on the idea of sustainable living. I plan to carry on the ideas of green roofs, photovoltaic cells, reducing energy loads, ventilating with natural air, and designing my build to meet the comfort of those who inhabit the building. Our buildings that we design have long lives. Why building something that will be efficient in production over the short run while it drains energy in the long run, when you can be productive in the long run and depend less on fossil fuels as energy. We can and will change the world in the future. It is up to us to set an example that generations after us can follow. Hopefully we will change the world for the better.

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Is Vertical Farming the Solution for the Future?

As the populations grow, cities will grow. The suburbs will become a part of the city, and the outskirts of the city will then become the suburbs and so on and so forth. There will be a point in the future in many Urban centers, mainly along the east coast, where fresh produce will have to be transported from farms in the Midwest or further to support the populations. Since there will be a smaller countryside outside of the city, those farms will not be able to support the demand of fresh produce as they once did. The produce coming from the Midwest will not be so ” Fresh” when it reaches the cities as well. So how can we fix this?

Just imagine a city with instead of an area dedicated to Industrial Park companies, and replace those with Vertical farming parks! How much of a difference would that make? And we can push this further than the United States. How about countries that have little vegetation growth because of the extreme climates such as the Saharan countries of Africa, the deserts of Australia, the tundra of Russia. This goes back to my last post discussing the possibilities of utilizing space that was once undesirable. Not only could it promote health and growth in population in those nations, but also create economic growth. Vertical farming is more efficient than regular farming since almost everything is recycled and reused. It takes up less land and allows for more land to be preserved as a park or for enjoyment. It involves less people dealing with the food process. It seems to have healthier impacts on people and the earth in general. We can avoid another Dust Bowl scenario where the land has been over tilled and malnourished.

Are there any pros? Well sure. In order to build the farms you have to give up real estate. It may be more efficient than a farm, but it may not yield as much produce as a normal farm would. The biggest thing concern is the cost of running and operation such as this and the technology involved. It is cheaper just to buy land in the middle of nowhere and plow it than buying land in a dense urban complex and build there. Other pros are the effect it will have on animals. What will happen to the Peter Rabbits that depend on the carrots stolen from the farmers yard? Well that is if we some how reach a state where landscape farming is obsolete to vertical farming.

As for now there isn’t much to worry about. It is still a good idea to be thinking about, especially in large cities. This idea will grow and get all the kinks worked out and will be able to change the world. There have already been talks about building vertical gardens in New York, Abu Dhabi, Incheon, Portland, Toronto, and Beijing.

Here are a few designs of what future designs may appear as:


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Creating a space that can be utilized

In each city, there are events in history that are either presented or covered up, depending on the content of the event. One guest lecturer spoke of a project in Memphis where an interstate was planned to run through Overton park and already tore through some surrounding areas, however the local community came together to protest the move and eventually winning a Supreme Court case to halt the advancement of the Interstate. He then had a proposal to create a building commemorating that crucial win for the city, in remnants of a mound that would have been used as a base of the proposed interstate. Within the mound would be a museum that would display the parks history and how the case was won. The outside of the mound would retain the qualities of a mound, with grass that would be a part of the park itself. It is creating useful space in a space that was long forgotten and never tended to after the government tore through to create the highway.


It made me think about a project that was done in Virginia Beach. Mount Trashmore is a landfill-converted-park. It took this undesirable area and created it to be one of the most popular parks in Virginia Beach. Unlike the proposed idea in Memphis, there is no program happening within the mound (thank you), however the area around, has be came a desirable place to run, boat, fly kites, and allow children to play. It became a place to stay away from due to the smell, to a place of revitalization and energy, boosting the area around it up as well in home value. By just adding one thing or revamping another can have a big influence on its popularity.

File:Mt Trashmore.jpg

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The Commerzbank Building

https://i2.wp.com/i11.tinypic.com/3y53gvm.jpgThe Commerzbank Building in Frankfurt, Germany was a huge inspiration in the design of my final project for Architecture 3010. As I learned of the program for the project, which was to be a Rehabilitation Center for Wounded Veterans, I struggled with trying to figure out how to incorporate a garden (which was mandatory) into a high rise building in the middle of New York City  and make it actually use full and be utilized to the fullest potential. The Commerzbank building features “sky gardens” which happen on nine floors throughout the building that serves multiple functions. First, it allows views into the surrounding landscape. Second, it allows views within the building and allows interconnections to occur. Finally, it allows the most important and hardest item to filter into a building in an urban complex, light. I took the ideas that Norman Foster and his team created and tried to adjust and rework them to fit my scale and program.https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0c/Frankfurt_Am_Main-Commerzbank_Tower-Ansicht_vom_Eisernen_Steg.jpg

Rehabilitation requires a few things. It requires patience, personal space, interaction, reflection, and rehab. The therapy garden would be a space of rehab that would flank the highline to the east. It would almost seem as if an extension of the highline into the building. This would create interaction between the residents of the building and those walking along the highline. It would be a more public space that could be used for motivation. Maybe people passing by would say encouraging things to the veterans, thanking them for all they have done in the line of duty, encouraging them to keep pushing. But I felt like there needed to be more to it.


Not all parts of the rehabilitation should be seen. There are times where one needs to be alone to contemplate the situation and reflect. The public therapy garden couldn’t be a place where one could feel as if they were outside of the city, with no one watching their every move. There has to be a space that is private for just the veterans themselves. An indoor garden would allow for privacy and be able to be used throughout the year no matter the weather. This could be that space of contemplation.



By placing a garden lower in my building plan, it allowed light to reach lower places. It allowed the patients see other patients and their rooms creating a visual connection. By placing an indoor garden higher in the building, it allowed for a space that seemed to be not in the midst of the city, hovering over it. It created a space that would allow for humility and reflection.

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Systems within the Final Project

For the final project of Systems, Sites, and Buildings, we were asked to incorporate a set of systems that could enhance our buildings functionality in to our final project for Architecture 3010. The site is located in New York City, near the recently opened Highline Park, an elevated railway-converted-park, which is a unique experience being on a park in the sky. The program is a Rehabilitation Center for Wounded Veterans and would consist of rehab gyms, a chapel, a cafe, therapy pool, and therapy gardens, as well 48 housing units. To create a desirable space, it must get adequate light, especially in a city like New York, and it must be well ventilated. Included in the building to make the building desirable and comfortable are a baffling system to diffuse and direct light, and  a cross-ventilating system to allow airflow.

Sun Diagram of the Site

Plan View of Ventilation

The Introduction of Louvers-Light and Visibility

Controlling the amount of sun exposure for the comfort of the guests are essential to any building design. In this building, the louvers serve multiple purposes. They serve as a way to reflect or diffuse light, depending on the angle they are rotated at. They serve as a way to usher in air and cross ventilate the building in the summer and retain heat within the space to create balconies that can be occupied yearly. The louvers also act as a way of creating privacy from the busy streets below and the pedestrian-heavy Highline. Privacy is important, especially in a rehab center where, there are times were you may need to be alone to reflect and overcome an obstacle. The louvers are made of glass because of the ability of glass to give little interference with the views of the highline to the east of the site, and the bay to the west of the site. Glass also give the ability to trap heat, so in the winter, the balcony will be able to be used more a a way to relax or socialize instead of turning into a storage room as many balconies on tall building unconsciously convert into. Most of the glass louvers will be frosted to give a sense of privacy , however two rows of panels  will be left clear to allow a view out. The frosted glass panels shad the balcony from the harsh glare of the sun and diffuses the light further into the room.  When tilted at an angle, the sunlight can be deflected to bounce of the ceiling of the balcony or of the room to light up the interior space. The indirect light can filter through multiple rooms through the use of clerestory windows.

Sections of Louver Usage

Louvers for Ventilation

The louvers allow  for the individual rooms of the patients to get ventilation. The wind comes from the souh-southeast for most of the year. On summer days, this will allow for some cool air to reach the patients. New York is very humid in the summer, so in order to take some of that humidity away, there are gardens that cool the air for some residences by bring the air through shade of the trees and cooling it. The whole building uses its thermal mass to cool the building. The floors will be concrete and cooled  allow the patients to be cooled during the day along with  the wind.

During the Winter, the closed glass louvers can begin to act like a greenhouse and heat up the balcony space. The balcony space can heat up the rest of the apartment through radiant heat. Due to the fact that the it is not always sunny during the winter, the balcony idea may not always work. The thermal mass of the building can heat the floors and allow heat to rise throughout the apartment. In larger spaces, such as the rehab gym or lobby area, the amount of activity going on within the space can help create heat within the human scale.

The Lower part of the building is unable to use cross-ventilation due to the fact that it is up against a parti-wall to the west of the site. These floor use the stack effect to create ventilation. Air flows in from the eastern side of the building to the western side which has and enclosed heat chimney to rise the heat up and out of the building once it clears the building to the west.

Section Through Building showing Ventilation

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How Sunlight Affects Us Biologically

Sunlight is a big factor in or daily life. We live most of our lives in the presence of sunlight, planning activities around it, and then in the evening, recreating sunlight to extend the hours we can be productive. If you think about it, we typically feel sleepy in dark rooms. Our eyes can not receive any of the light bouncing of objects so your eyes begin to close. Your body runs of a biological clock that you wake up on average around the same time everyday. Even if you disrupt your normal schedule on one occasion, you still wake up at the time you were use to getting up at (or in the case of you waking up earlier than your normal schedule, its harder for you to wake up and get functioning). This biological clock is called the Zeitgeber, which is german for “time giver” or “synchronizer.” The Zeitgeber is mostly controlled by the presence of light. It is natural for humans to sleep during the night and work during the day. Human beings are not nocturnal. So in order to be productive at night and to postpone our stages of sleep, we introduce lights to mimic the sun. For those who work late night or all night shifts, they must train their biological clock to stay awake during the night and sleep during the day, along with the help of somecaffeinated drink of some sort.

An experience I had with my biological clock was in New York. New York is known as the city that never sleeps, which may be true. Through all hours of the night, there is some sort of noise that is heard, whether it is the honking of a car, the siren of a emergency vehicle, or the bright lights of the street, billboards, or surrounding buildings. When I visited Times Square during the day, it was a chaotic scene, but yet just as any other part of the world. The sun was out, creating shadows in some parts but equality throughout the area with the amount of light and being able to see. That night, I had went to Times Square to eat at a restaurant. Walking there was like a normal city, street lights and car headlights illuminating the road. When I reached Times Square, the amount of light given off in this one area was shocking. Once inside the restaurant, looking out of a window I lost the since of what time it was. It looked as if it was 1 PM instead of 1 AM. The intensity of the light was very strong. I felt more energized and lost any feeling of sleepiness I had felt prior to walking to there. My zeitgeber slowly began to accept the presence of light.

Times Square during the day

In Perception and Lighting, Lam begins to talk about how sunlight is a basic biological need that we usher into our homes during the day, even if it is a small percentage of it. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of our productivity, we welcome it.  New York has not only welcomed it during the day and into the evening and well into the night. This is the case in many homes and buildings across the country, trying to extend our productivity by introducing artificial light and altering the effects of our biological clock.

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