Urban Renewal Re-vision is a proposal for incremental rehabilitation of an abandoned 1949 urban renewal project in Buffalo’s Ellicott District

Alison Brooks: Urban renewal re-vision

Thesis from the past

For architects, their profession entails a lifetime of learning, pursuing evolving or changing skills and concerns. Each commission brings new matters to be researched and mastered. Students may look forward to their thesis and dissertation as marking the terminal climax to their studies. But once architects, they may look back on them as mere punctuation points or launchpads on a path of further learning. They are also reminders of the changing concerns of architecture and architectural education, giving useful perspective on their past and continuing development.

Considering the longevity of buildings, approaches to architectural design vary with surprising volatility. So, as with architecture generally, it is usually easy to guess the decade of student theses. Their changing approaches reflect and give insight into changes in society and technology, or in architectural fashions of form and theory. So, the theses and dissertations of architects of current renown give valuable perspective on their early interests and inspirations and reveal how, and how much, these may have changed and matured.

They also give insights into the precedents from which our present emerged, raising questions as to how pertinent our current concerns may prove? Will the quest for sustainability, for instance, lead to the pursuit of longer-term values and greater completeness and stability in design concerns so they date on a slower cycle?

Alison Brooks completed her Master’s degree in architecture at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, in 1988.

Drawing on local car culture, a local tradition of machine workshops and thriving athletics, her final year thesis, ‘Urban Renewal Re-vision’ uses a north-south ‘strip’ boulevard to reconnect a series of new and existing streets, outdoor recreational parks, sports pitches and institutions. Empty cruciform blocks are reconfigured as crescents, or urban spectators framing new recreational landscapes.

At each new crossroad, a Hybrid Strip Mall is a prototype for the strategic re-inhabitation of the neighbourhood. It is a cross between a suburban strip mall, American shotgun houses, workshops and a residential perimeter block. An inner courtyard serves the industrial/commercial strip mall and is a gathering space for residents, a communal focus for back lane culture. The mixed-use enclave becomes a catalyst for reconstructing a complex neighbourhood culture in the territory of the abandoned project.

Alison Brooks: Urban renewal re-vision