Timber in the City

Instructor: Vince Snyder
Course: Advanced Design, Comprehensive Studio
Semester: Fall 2015
Duration: 12 Weeks
Teammates: Tian Zhang
Note: Timber in the City (Competition Entry)

In 1967, the city of New York demolished the homes of 1,800 families on this site in the heart of the Lower East Side. Though they promised new homes, none were built and the lots remain vacant to this day. The two blocks in question stand at the nexus of a neighborhood that maintains a tradition of vitality and one that bares the scars of failed experiments which removed life from the streets. Our interest is in an architecture that reestablished the texture of life that once thrived.


The project becomes two scales of the typological tenement block, a ring of community with a shared inner life. The first, at the scale of the block, reestablishes this ring/inner life dynamic while allowing the public in at the broken corners and through the street-facing market. The second, at the living scale, introduces residents to a third space outside the home and workplace and flips its smiling face to the street. Finally, the architecture lifts its feet to create an unbroken block that can remain in the realm of the New York sidewalk and not disappear to the realm of close-at-8PM prohibited land.

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The project examines the assemblage and spatial potentialities of a glulam moment frame tied to concrete cores and completed with cross-laminated timber (CLT) infill. The combination glulam frame, CLT infill is quickly becoming commonplace in contemporary timber-frame construction. Our aim is to express the size and mass of the glulam members and rigid steel joints necessary to make such a superstructure viable. In this way, the architectural expression is directly generated by the spanning limitations of the glulam and CLT. As an exercise, we hope to imagine what such a structural system, pushed to its logical limits, would look like and how its scale can be harnessed to contribute positively to both the lives of its inhabitants and the spirit of the Lower East Side.


The architecture breaks the typical New York apartment binary of 100% private versus 100% public; the personal unit straight to the street. The ring mass and its consequential inner courtyard introduce a third, semi-private, semi-public space to the block and the neighborhood. This space becomes the outdoor garden, playground, meeting bench and amphitheater for the community, a third space that can serve as an extension of home. It transforms the block into a place where both residents and tourists can be in the Lower East Side rather than simply walking through it. At the same time, the public face of the architecture is a texture of life and living contained in a nearly infrastructural super-frame. The exaggerated effect of the Jane Jacobs “eyes on the street” means an ever-activated perimeter and thoroughfare for the inhabitants of the Lower East Side.