BY BRIAN LIBBY
School's out for summer, and with it comes the arrival of architecture students' final thesis projects at the city's two architecture schools, Portland State University and the University of Oregon's Portland outpost. Recently I visited exhibits at UO of student work from three different classes, and have decided to share here some projects from one class, "Soft Urban Waterfronts," taught by Gerry Gast.
"I chose this topic as a positive reaction to the 'gloom and doom' projections of rising waters and more frequent storm events that threaten urban waterfronts throughout the world," Gast said by email. "Most urban waterfronts in the industrial era, including the Willamette River edge in Portland, were developed for economic and utilitarian purposes in response to the needs of resource-based economies, destroying existing natural systems. Given the increasing storm threats we have a choice of an engineered approach by building more expensive levies, barriers, seawalls and dikes, or to re-naturalize urban waterfronts with more 'soft' environmental approaches that restore natural systems while creating places for recreation, urban habitat restoration and beauty."
"The latter approach may not resolve all threats," Gast added, "but it can go a long way to improve cities and reduce the need for hardened defensive waterfronts. The process will take 50-100 years, almost as long as the period during which we destroyed natural systems within cities. The restoration process has already started in many cities, including Portland, through new policies and projects that restore habitats and natural features."
I've always enjoyed seeing what students come up with in these end-of-term thesis projects. It's one of the only times in their careers they'll be able to dream up not just architecture but to act as social programmers, deciding who or what will occupy a site. Particularly when viewing the exhibits in person, you can see that some students are good at some things and some are good at others.
Following are images and descriptions from several of Gast's students.
Two students, Brian Campbell and Georgia Barnett collaborated on a project called "Regenerating the North Reach" (pictured above), a master plan which "remediates a toxic brownfield site in Portland’s industrial waterfront with biological techniques, creating a model for sustainable future waterfront redevelopment." Then each contributed a building. Campbell's North Reach Bioremediation Facility (bottom image) establishes "a research facility investigating cutting-edge bioremediation and aquaculture techniques on the GasCo brownfield site." Barnett's North Reach Visitor and Education Center (middle image) is about "exploring and educating on the effects of bioremediation techniques of a brownfield site in North Portland through an experiential learning center."
"A restorative development that promotes the erosion of a hardscaped water’s edge into a resilient buffer zone that protects against flooding and storm surges while simultaneously setting the precedent of how to approach design for a future with higher ocean levels," is how Red Golbat describes the SurgeProof project in Brooklyn's Greenpoint.
"The site is a 30-acre plot that begins on the shore and extends into the East River," he writes. "The main building is a 20 story residential tower, where each floor is double-height. It offers primarily living spaces, but has some commercial uses mixed in. The tower sits on the edge of an ecological resilient buffer zone that will help reduce the speed of the water when floods and surges occur."
"Re-envisioning a pivotal brownfield site on Portland’s waterfront into an urban-water research laboratory," is how Noah Green describes his project, which re-imagines the Ross Island Sand & Gravel site on the east side of the Willamette River (just north of the Ross Island Bridge) as a clean-water research laboratory.
"Up and down the Willamette River are industrial sites, some still in use and others abandoned, that contaminate and damage the quality of the water," Green writes. "These changes have significant implications for irrigation, consumption, hydropower generation, and aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, access to the Willamette River in Portland is limited, at best, and non-existent in most instances. Rehabilitating damaged industrial sites into valued social spaces is critical to the health and wellbeing of urban environments and those who use them. "
Isaiah Kent's Portland Opera and Concert Hall, located on the east side of the Willamette River in Portland just south of the new Tilikum Crossing. The Opera "serves as a primary location for waterfront access for the central city," he writes. "With this location, the project aims to resolve several key issues. The first is a lack of much needed public space where people can enjoy waterfront activity. Another important project goal is introducing a civic amenities district to transition the surrounding site for future growth focused on pedestrian activity...The Portland Opera is intended to be more than just a place for occasionally performances, but rather it is a place to meet."
The Interbay of Seattle and its rising levels is the area of focus for Christina Lin, whose Salt Folds project "looks into ways of adapting to sea level rise while restoring salt marsh habitats before heavy urban development wipes out more natural areas and allows nature to penetrate into the urban environment." Her Salt Folds Research and Interpretive center seeks to "re-create a habitat and natural waterway to adjust and circumvent destruction from rising sea levels," to "create a natural urban parkscape for Seattle similar to Central Park in New York that pays homage to Interbay’s origins," and "to teach the public about salt marsh habitats and the restoration process as well as connect to universities programs in the area dealing with fisheries and wetland wildlife."
Few American waterways are as depended upon for water and recreation as the Rio Grande. Luisa Reyes looks at the river as it traverses two towns and countries: El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
"Restoring the river to its natural state will help to slow down floodwater during monsoon seasons and allow habitat to thrive again," Reyes writes. "The river was originally used to geologically separate the two countries but further implications have been taken for further separation. The big vision of this project is that this restoration of the river and new bridge proposal can help to blur the lines between the two countries." She envisions a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge, as well as a pair of cultural centers nestled on either side with space for outdoor entertainment and surrounding live-work neighborhoods.
Tim Schneider's "Tether" project is about "realizing the ephemeral and vulnerable nature of the Upper Mississippi to ensure a sustainable future for North Minneapolis," he writes. His design "seeks to reconnect residents to the river in an experiential way by placing three installations at key points of interest along the river. These installation sites enhance the unique natural features of the river and also act as water-testing sites, to show people the pollutant level of the water in real time." Meanwhile, an Environmental Research and Learning Center "will act as a source for subsequent development, but will also investigate current environmental issues of the river system, transform those issues into environmental policies, and educate the public."
The Center For Human Performance by Nick Shanks is a sports training and research center for the City of San Francisco, occupying Piers 30-32. "The San Francisco waterfront, once a bustling place of shipping and industry, has long past its days as a working port," he writes. "The goal of this thesis is to examine the redevelopment of a typical waterfront site through the proposal of a newly constructed sports training and research center dedicated to the study of motion." The center is intended for professional and leisure athletes, sports medicine researchers, trainers and the general public.
The Mission Bay Magnet School by Meaghan Whitehorn, located on the San Francisco Peninsula, is "designed to bring students face to face with their natural environment in the hopes that they can learn to appreciate its power and importance and become stewards of our waterfronts," she writes.
"In many other parts of the city the old industrial uses for the waterfront have been returned back to their natural state, creating lovely outdoor recreation areas, like Crissy Field and The Presidio, for their local communities. Mission Bay’s waterfront is poised to have a very similar transformation, exchanging its disused port shipping piers for tidal marshes and kelp forests." The project seeks to merge "a previously industrial area with a new community of neighborhoods in order to create a soft border between the water and our citizens," as well as ways "in which water can become an integral part of design and using it for things like energy, filtration, and a tool to teach about environmentalism and the need for people to take better care of our surroundings moving forward."
Richard H. Wilson imagines how a former Navy operations site can become home to a new neighborhood despite the fact that within a century it's project to be inundated by rising tides, with a project called the Alameda Point Condominium anchoring a cityscape largely elevated over a ground layer given over to the merging of land and sea.
"The proposal is to soften the waterfront, plant forests, provide a public beach, preserve non-human habitat and re-use existing post-Naval operations site materials," he writes. "Two deep concrete runways serve as the base for the proposed elevated platform, raised above the threat of encroaching tides. Compact development offers prospective developers opportunities to couple onto the new raised platform. This new kind of urban experience weaves a unique development pattern to be explored and tested."