URBANbuild local global
Authors: Ila Berman/Mona El Khafif
URBANbuild was launched by Ila Berman to be a unique multi-scaled laboratory for city research as well as a vehicle to generate innovative design strategies and site-specific interventions to aid in the New Orleans’s revitalization and future urban development in the aftermath of Katrina. The program primarily focused its investigations on culturally significant neighborhoods central to the core of the city that had been severely damaged, not only by Hurricane Katrina, but also by a long history of neglect and urban decay.
One of the critical intentions of the program was to tactically operate across a wide range of distinct scales: from the macro-scale of the city and its constituent districts and neighborhoods, to the mezzo- and micro-scales of individuated buildings acting as architectural components inserted within the urban field. The term “URBANbuild” signifies the compression of this broad spectrum, referring to a progression that spans from urban design to design build, and the range of disciplinary areas and differently scaled studios that comprise this program. In addition, the term alludes to the complex enfolding of design research with material practices—the interweaving of analytical urban investigations and speculative architectural design research concurrent with the construction of real built artifacts. It was deemed necessary to actively produce deep knowledge about the many existing urban, infrastructural, and environmental layers of this city, and to assess and methodically analyze this information within a larger intellectual context as a precursor to design, while simultaneously fulfilling the contradictory need, so evident after the hurricane, for immediate physical action. The scalar superimposition that characterizes URBANbuild’s multi-layered nature thus emerges as a method for collaborative cross-disciplinary dialog, as a resistance to either overly local and ad hoc, or overly global and generic solutions for the city’s future.
URBANbuild local_global is, quite literally, a double-sided book. Its intention—to simultaneously look inward toward the city of New Orleans, and outward toward a larger global context—emerged from the desire to cut across the boundaries from within which we so often limit our perspectives, and to reconnect local research, analysis and design for this city with a broader framework that embraces external knowledge and experience. The two sides of this book are conceptually distinct yet continuous. On one side are laid out the local operations of URBANbuild, divided into seven distinct sections differentiated by scale and approach that together constitute a continuum of interrelated research systems, methodologies, and design strategies: (1) City Datascapes, (2) Urban Cartography, (3) Urban Strategies, (4) Megablock Housing+, (5) Portable + Mobile Infill, (6) Prototype Inventory, and (7) Microbuild. These are also preceded by a set of theoretical texts that elaborate the conceptual foundation underpinning each of these sections. On the other side of the book unfolds a compilation of global research divided into an additional seven sections containing mega-scaled metropolitan statistical data, urban morphologies, and an analytical inventory of architectural precedents drawn from a network of comparable world cities, that collectively inform and contextualize local URBANbuild research and practice. These sections include: (1) Global Matrix, (2) City Scan (3) Urban Imprint, (4) Block Morphology, (5) Block Typologies (6) Housing Inventory, and (7) Unit Assemblies. The creation of this local-global matrix is intended to expand New Orleans’s potential future urban scenarios by mining the intellectual capital of other cities challenged by related issues and to establish an inventory of linked models at multiple scales that can be both provocative and educational for this city. Although much of this research was developed as a supplement to the studios of the program, and is therefore another indicator of the distinction between the two sides of this publication, their convergence is a registration of the larger intentions of URBANbuild and the necessity of establishing a local-global continuum.
Ila Berman, 2008