Under (De)Construction


Student
Ellen Wood

Advisor 
Rania Ghosn

Readers
Yolande Daniels
Cristina Parreño
Roi Salgueiro Barrio

For each palette of Spanish glass or Pennsylvania steel that arrives at a Manhattan block under construction, a truckload of rubbled concrete and mangled steel debris containing the remnants of a pre-existing structure is hauled away. The building industry in New York City is a machine for material exchange: constantly importing materials in for the construction of new structures and exporting materials out in the form of waste, often to meet their ends in out-of-state landfills or to be recycled down as low-grade aggregates. So, despite its seemingly reliable solidity, New York City’s built environment can be characterized as much by its willful impermanence as it can by its staggering monumentality. Buildings rise and then fall over a matter of decades, often reaching their premature obsolescence in the face of shifting ownership, real-estate speculation, and amendments in planning policy. Blocks are continuously transformed to make way for new developments, often soaring higher than their individual predecessors. And as a city whose grid reached maximum capacity 70 years ago, nearly each new act of construction is preceded by acts of demolition.

As key stakeholders in the processes of building, architects do not often take part in the processes of unbuilding. This thesis speculates on a scenario in which architects take agency over the other end of a building’s life, its demolition. In doing so, salvaged and rubbled materials are seen as resources for building, rather than as waste. Working within a city that has historically embraced innovation, this thesis imagines new relationships between these materials and the processes of architecture within the patterns of assembly and disassembly within the urban environment.