Sodium Design

Mine the Gap AIA Chicago 2010
Competition Executed with Jason Slatinsky
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Site: an area of ground on which a town, building, or monument is constructed; a place where a particular event or activity is occurring or has occurred; in a particular place.

Less: a smaller amount of; not as much; fewer in number; of lower rank or importance.

On: physically in contact with and supported by (a surface); located somewhere in the general surface area of (a place); as a result of accidental physical contact with; supported by (a part of the body); forming a distinctive or marked part of (the surface of something).

The absence of a promise, or the loss of an idea, leaves its mark as a memory of what could have been. A gaping hole punched into the valuable grounds of developmental prestige looms rather than a spiraling manifestation of cultural justification and financial excess. These architectural promises generally establish and represent the foundation for growth and are the creations of the industrial accomplishment. However they, too, can inevitably become ruins when the system itself collapses. In the end, the site, overwrought with manipulation, loses its focus… its potential. The intervention is no longer a proactive endeavor of architectural exploitation; it is now a reactive circumstance of unanticipated opportunity. The genius loci of the site is reduced to the mere physical absence of object, of context and of place. The void becomes metaphorical and physical simultaneously, reifying absence and presence.

The absence of the spiraling tower leaves the site latent, unfinished and stripped of contextual relevance; it has itself become a non-place within the city. Devoid of any natural characteristics, only the remains of a manipulated landscape are present: foundation core, peripheral piles and ground plane. The site becomes a blank canvas for the reemergence of natural influences, or forces, open to reinterpretation. The introduction of a responsive field, or meshwork, which gathers and organizes the, sometimes, undesirable and inevitable effects of ecological improvisation, becomes a new opportunity for urban enhancement. Absence becomes presence. Architecture is no longer an integral component for macro scale urban development but instead the site is now a groundscape disconnected from its neighbors. It is the ultimate acontextual amplification.

In response to this new condition, this project aims to reveal the site as a process of self-referential invention. Its hyper-autonomy yields lessons for current and future opportunity. Financial strain and subsequent absence of investment has recently made the occurrence of abandoned urban developments a frequent reality. How does one rediscover the aggregate necessary for the site to become, once again, a cultural and economic investment? After the loss of the initial vision and manipulated potential, can the site be reinterpreted and reestablish itself as an integral piece of the urban fabric? Site•Less•On… attempts to create a systematic analytical and generative framework that addresses this concern. Focusing on the existing characteristics of the site relative to Chicago as a whole, orientation, texture, material, and geometry are analyzed at multiple scales and overlapping frames of reference in order to identify patterns for spatial opportunity. In essence, this “order for free” generates a system of parts that reignites the site internally. What emerges is a multi-layered landscape that provokes renewed natural and human engagement.
During the transformation from absence to presence, hidden forces become tangible evidence to account for something missing through representation. Their influences are woven together in an effort to translate from intangible to the tangible: to generate a physical landscape or object of material tactility. The missing is rendered real and the transformation of this suspended site occurs through layered emergence. Three distinct landscape components are interwoven forces, informed by multi-scalar, repetitive interactions. They are:

Latent: (of a quality or state) existing but not yet developed or manifest; hidden; concealed; lying dormant or hidden until circumstances are suitable for development or manifestation; present in the body without causing disease, but capable of doing so at a later stage or when transmitted to another body.

Protean: tending or able to change frequently or easily; able to do many different things; versatile.

Synthetic: relating to or using synthesis; made by chemical synthesis, esp. to imitate a natural product; a synthetic material or chemical, esp. a textile fiber; the combination of two or more parts, whether by design or by natural processes.

From latent, to protean, to synthetic, the site is stitched from the inside out. Woven vectors generate geometric patterns in plan and section simultaneously. The latent represents the existing site conditions as a suspended landscape. The foundation remnant, peripheral piles and flattened ground are revealed as nodes, or attractors, assigned varying intensities as an invisible field underlay. The protean represents the natural flows of air, water and light through the city. Mapped as the pattern’s weft, these natural vectors interact with the latent nodes to generate an ecological groundscape. Finally, the synthetic represents the manipulative flows of human occupation. Mapped as the pattern’s warp, these human vectors interact with the protean groundscape to generate a spatial datum. As contiguous generative actions, these patterns merge to form a geomorphologic construct. Hidden geometries, uncovered in the analysis of the site as a latent characteristic, are nested as planar and extruded geometric tessellations, producing the structural membrane linking the latent to the protean and the protean to the synthetic. What results is a landscape of self-referential, interdependent surfaces and spaces that respond to both internal and external forces.

With the site now transformed into a physical place, its metaphorical significance as presence representing absence occurs within the latent-to-protean-to-synthetic interaction. The large foundation remnant is enhanced from an eyesore: the undesirable object, to a sacred void: the ecological chamber. The central vertical axis of this sacred void, which was to be the spine of the 2,000+ foot tower, is now an observational axis mundi. Acting as a terminus, the axis mundi becomes the secular point of reflectance. Accessed by slicing through the protean groundscape, a linear procession is aligned directly on-axis with the axis mundi acting as a path of phenomena. Circumscribing the axis mundi is the existing foundation retaining wall, which is to be exposed to the effects of natural forces. Over time this curved wall will provide an ecological refuge for various biotic entities: plants, animals, insects, etc. These highly formalized site elements are dictated by the latent site conditions, exploiting their presence as a literal translation. The protean and the synthetic layers accommodate these elements as spatial encounter, thus bringing the metaphor into the experiential foreground through movement and pause.