Fall 2012 Studio The Embankment

Jersey City, NJ

The Fall 2012 Urban Practice studio focused on the Harsimus Stem Embankment in Jersey City. Consisting of six, one block long stone structures that supported rail lines serving the Hudson River yards just across lower Manhattan, the Embankment offered students the opportunity to study how the urban scale can interact with the architectural scale. The students fundamental question was: Can an early 20th century, 6-block long, half-block wide stone structure become an important part of the Jersey City’s urban and architectural future?

To answer this and other questions, the first third of the semester was largely group work as students researched the site, interviewed neighbors, developers and city officials, examined precedents and then developed a comprehensive urban scale strategy. The students also traveled to New York, Portugal and Philadelphia to look at similar sites and urban strategies.

The larger urban strategy was then augmented for each part of the Embankment neighborhood. The students divided up the 1.25 mile long site into four, interrelated districts from east to west: The Hudson Pier; the Commerical/Highrise Residential district; the Embankments and Historic districts; and the Western Cultural Center district.

For the last two-thirds of the semester individual students as well as two and three person teams developed portions of the Embankment site to the architectural scale. Their proposals included a museum, dance studio, farmers market, community garden, athletic complex, public library, visitor center and a ferry terminal. The intention of these diverse projects is to offer ideas that integrate multiple scales of landscape, urban design and architecture.

To help them develop both the project both at the urban and architectural scale, students developed a 1/16″=1′-0″ model of the entire site. The 32′ long model, which was a series of modules, showed how each district and segment of each district would interrelate at multiple scales.

One goal of this project was to develop the students’ ability to collaborate at large and small scales so that they might see architecture as a social act. For example, a student working on one of the six embankments needed to work with students who were working on embankments to either side. While each student’s project maintained its integrity, it did need to respond to its neighbors.

At the end of the semester students presented the model and drawings to the public and architectural community at the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture in Manhattan.