Brief Many of the major post-industrial cities of the world are experiencing change at such scale that they are left with only small fragments of what once was. The characteristics of growing cities today are different than in the past. Cities with behavior rooted in old industrial and governmental habits have been slow to react. Consequently, populations have contracted leaving the cityscape empty and over designed. The challenges is these cities, designed and built to hold millions of people, are now home to only hundreds of thousands. How can we turn these starving cities back into thriving urban environments? We must find ways to catalyze adaption, re-use, and revitalization encouraging population to return and thrive.
Solution Inspiration came from approaching a “skyscraper” as the achievement of resource densification. Humans are a resource as much as water and energy are, so should the program of a building be designed in a way to densify the resources that are in the greatest demand for its environment.
Using Detroit, Michigan for context, Riparian Urbanism is part of the solution for breathing new life into the starving urban environment. It introduces new opportunity, concentrates and mobilizes existing industries, connects the community in new provocative ways and improves overall quality of life. It cultivates algae for bio-fuel and fertilizer, provides conditioned spaced for urban farming, incubates technology start-ups and is a home to cutting edge research and development. Algae cultivation and urban farming naturally treats and filters wastewater as well as sequesters carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. The program of the building provides innovative space and location attracting human capital to develop and mature ideas into market changing products, catalyzing new industries that will re-use the expanse of abandoned infrastructure. With new technology and design capacity this urban infrastructure emerges not only as a functional necessity but as a formal icon, creating a connection by engaging population through multiple sensory channels. Through that engagement, the structure communicates its purpose and becomes an influential piece of urban evolution – culturally, economically and socially. Similar to the local riparian ecosystems in Michigan national parks the building houses zones or microclimates regulated by their programmatic thermal requirements. Farmland, Biomass, Research Labs, and Office Space come together in a symbiotic building regulating its heat based on the needs of its specific program. The building swells and billows at times of climatic extremes, indicating that its ecosystem is in-fact alive. The internal space is stratified both vertically and horizontally. The ground horizontal plane creates direct connectivity the general public; an unspoken invitation to explore and interact with the system. It provides a common place where the community can learn and connect. The vertical rise provides a provocative perspective of algae as well has home to laboratory and office space. The program of the building exists in industrial symbiosis. Each component enables another. The façade naturally varies shape based on program and activity behind it. Made of ETFE, thin film pillows are anchored at structurally defined points along the surface of the building. As internal activity creates a rise in temperature, the envelope’s captured gas expands. Expansion puts positive pressure on the skin and causes a swelling effect, changing the formal shape and performance of the building. Similarly, as the temperature and activity decrease, the pressure decreases and the skin retreats. Riparian Urbanism creates a new destination from the city center, stimulating a regenerative corridor based upon resource densification and urban demand. New industry will attract population return and increasing density throughout the greater Detroit region.