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Spatial Blending Connecting Un-used and Contrasting Site Adjacencies Through Scalar and Visual Strategies.

Sean Curran

Introduction Problem Objectives Key Terms Research Essay Visual Studies Hypothesis

Theory Site Program Design Method Timeline Future Research Bibliography



This thesis suggests urban intervention through spatial blending as a strategy to activate under used space due to failures in the realization of modernist urban planning. These failures are formed from the poor interaction with spatial adjacencies in the urban landscape. The resulting problematic spaces will be analyzed through the forms of social media mapping, observation, photography and surveys in order to see the effectiveness of various solutions. The duality of contrasting urban ideas that have arose over time through planning, renewal, and zoning have created mental barriers that isolate districts of the city. While natural blending from city country does exist, it is done so in a way that it is not recognizable at the human scale. A spatial blending at the human scale will make it possible for the human to interact with the city-scape, changing the perception of each side of the mental barriers in the process, therefor activating unused space.




- Activate public space in the urban realm currently under used. - Break mental barriers that have caused predetermined opinions of these under used spaces. - Allow hard to access public voids become more accessible for inhabitants. - Create an awareness for the contrasting spatial adjacencies that make up the cities we live in.


Key Terms

Blending - A combination of scalar and visual typologies that create the spatial atmosphere. Mental Barriers - Walls that are created in ones mind that are built off familiarity and preconceived conceptions. Spatial Adjacencies - Space that has direct connection to another space. These areas are defined by boundaries and thresholds. Urban Landscape- The continuity of space working through the city, defined by levels of accessibility. Social Media Mapping - Cartography through data gathered from media such as online photography services, social networks and cell phone data.


Visual Studies Through these visual studies there has been many different forms of blending. These experiments have helped create spatial and graphic experiences that have expose what blending can create in an urban environment. They have also proved helpful in showing the change in perception once a blend is created. blog:











Through urban intervention in the form of spatial blending unused space in the urban landscape will be activated by breaking mental barriers and therefor creating a more accessible city.



Site The search for site began by looking at urban locations around Boston which had site adjacencies that included contrasting urban typologies . These specific sites included a generic urban typology and also modernist planning techniques. This duality happens at a variety of locations, and also at a variety of scales. Through visiting at varying times it was possible to observe the amount of use the locations are getting, and the barriers that define these voids. The west end site had the largest contrast, from the 3 story brick townhouses on the backside of beacon hill to the large modernist towers where Boston’s west end is. The failures in the methodologies for this “garden city� typology have created many physical barriers also limiting the public spaces usage. Currently, with new medical buildings filling in the voids, this garden city is now becoming large blocks of small barriers, connected by alleys of gravel, and separated by parking lots. It is possible to see a large amount of activity happening in the adjacencies of this site, while the public voids on the site become uncomfortable and disconnected further from the city.
















In order to spatially blend the contrasting adjacencies of the site the program will create a continuos space that allows the void to be penetrated, making the site accessible to the inhabitant. To allow for awareness for contrasting typologies of the city, the program will be a urban design institution. This program would allow for community interaction, in the form of classes, seminars and meetings. A linear campus will have the possibility to keep large areas of the site activated. Using scale, landscape and public amenities a familiarity will be given to the site, and give the user an experience of the change in typology, while not masking it. With the large towers, there is also the opportunity for institution growth, with more housing being created the form of mixed use buildings, also helping enforce a community that the site currently lacks, unlike its adjacency.


Design Methods

To grow an understanding of the site and its barriers the site will be analyzed to a high level of detail. A large part of what creates to mental barriers of the site is the small barriers in the form of fences, ledges, handrails and landscape features. Through detailed drawings of these edges it will grow an understanding of the reasons of the disuse. Another aspect of the mental barrier is the contrast of scales, and the inhabitants interaction with these scales. By drawing the different features and there interaction with people, and comparing them to spaces that have become more successful it will become apparent how a blending can occur. Social media mapping can show a lot about where and when people spend there time, and even how people interact with other people on the site. By using GPS data of cell phone usage, photography geotagging, and social networking posts it could be possible to see where these edges occur. In doing this mapping the results of changes could be predicted. Beyond analysis, this type of mapping could also be a way of promoting interaction, and activating the site. Mapping will be looked at in the way of research, but also as an generative feature of urban space. In understanding of past development, the zoning, land plots will be analyzed, leading to ways to promote change from single use zoning.


Future Research

This project will lead to new ways of looking at modernist city planning. This thesis will bring out positive aspects of spaces like these, changing perspectives of how people can interact with these unfamiliar and familiar spaces. In the form of zoning, ideas of a blending, and less of a hard edge districtified planning could be looked at as a new typology to creates uses for unused space. Another aspect of future research is the idea of mapping as a generative urban design and architectural idea. With many of the leading cartographers and visualization specialists using new technology to create interactive mapping techniques, there will be an interest on where these techniques can move forward to in the future.



Rowe, Colin, and Prof Fred Koetter. Collage City. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1984. Collage City is written as a new idea in contemporary urban design. The proposal seeks a city built of small, miniature utopias. This goes against some of the earlier planning ideas, seeing large utopias that make up entire cities. It also criticizes earlier “modern” urban design for not having any impact yet, probably to do with the scales of these utopias. Rowe then proposes small utopias, which are based on the physiological effects on people, and less on science. Rowe believes the role of architects includes to be an observer of humans. There are aspects of this thesis I agree with, to do with the idea of small parts of the city, and not as a city as one fabric. Rowe focus much on the connections of these different, smaller fabrics, which would be my focus. Also, I don’t believe in these utopias at any scale. While at certain points of time it was possible for small utopias to be built, at this point I believe our role is to tie together the fabrics of the city through the past. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. 50th anniversary ed. New York: Modern Library, 2011. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, activist and writer Jane writes from a different direction, focusing mostly on the human aspect of the city, and less the major ideas that build that whole. Jacobs’s talks about the modernist and urban renewal movement that she believed had torn apart cities and communities. Along with these ideas, with zoning, the city becomes an isolated and unnatural urban spaces. Jacobs is a proponent of mixed use buildings and planning, against the idea of a city becoming a group of districts. I agree with the major ideas that are seen here, but also believe that there is a possibility for these “unnatural” and “isolated” urban spaces can become a vibrant part of our urban fabric that Jacobs likes so much. Kostof, Spiro. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History. Boston: Bulfinch, 1993. The City Shaped is an overview of cities, and what has created them. It focuses on the urban patterns and their development through time. While the book seems to mostly focus on medieval cit43

ies, it also touches on modernist planning as well. Kostof views the city in a historian’s sense, and does not touch on the interaction and experiential aspects that other writers focus on. This book is comprehensive in building a knowledge base on urban design history. Kostof’s writings on the organic patterns in contrast to gridded patterns are important in understanding the meeting point of these contrasting ideas. Rossi, Aldo. The Architecture of the City (Oppositions Books). Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1984. Architecture of the City, first in 1966 is an argument against the modernist movement in urban design. Rossi talks a lot about early European cities, which escaped the modernist movement due to the slower moving, less industrial aspects. The book is set to go against the ideas that were happening in both American and more industrious European cities. Rossi creates a basis for design using his ideas of the historic city, a typology that fits his ideas and thoughts of what a city should be. This book acts as a critique of the modernist movement and its interaction with pre modernist typologies. Rossi writes much about the importance of the scale of architecture of the city, contrasting the grandeur of many of his fellow architects work at the time.

Boeri, Stefano, Harvard Project on the City, Muliplicity, Jean Attali, Moulier Boutang, Sanford Kwinter, Reinhold Grether, Stephano Boeri, and Celine Rozenblat. Mutations. Edited by HansUlrich Obrist. Barcelona: Actar, 2001. Mutations is written as a manual for building your own city. The manual talks about the kit of parts, and how these can be used to create a “genericity”. Included in this book is a large amount of data on the population, growth, and economy of cities. This book also shows many compelling images describing problems in the city, relating to the analytical writings on these problems. While the book looks at many cities, a good portion of which are third world cities that are then related back to American metropolis. The writings of Rem Koolhaas also talk about how society is what defines this kit of parts. It also talks about the ease of designing a generic city, and the difficulty in creating a human friendly city.


Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York: a Retroactive Manifesto For Manhattan. New ed. New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997. Delirious New York is Rem Koolhaas’s manifesto of Manhattan. Koolhaas analyzes the city as a large scale laboratory testing a “culture of congestion” and “hyper-density”. This new lifestyle is the American modernism, analyzing the differences to the European model, in which a “noise from order” is apparent. He talks about the relation of the metropolitan lifestyle in relation to the grid and how the grid produces a formality, but is also informal through its program. Koolhaas also talks about the program becoming a large part of the impact on the architecture of the city and how the form and exterior do not define a metropolitan building. In the chapter about the “downtown athletic club” he writes about a typical urban building, with the complex program of an athletic club. The perception of the building cannot be defined by the exterior form, but its program and content. Holl, Steven. Edge of a City. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. In edge of the city, Stevel Holl talks about where the city meets the natural landscape and the interaction of the two instances. He also talks about the Blending of program in architecture through the use of his “hybrid” buildings. In the relation of the architect and city planning Holl believes that the architect should be researching at the scale of the city, unlike architects of the past. There are too many important issues that architecture affects, such as the human environment and the preservation of the natural landscape through prevention of urban sprawl. Kelbaugh, Douglas S. Repairing the American Metropolis. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. Eastly, Linda, and Deanna Snyder, eds. The Harvard Architecture Review 10: Civitas / What Is City. Vol. 10. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998. Holl, Steven. Intertwining: New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. Burdett, Ricky, and Deyan Sudjic, eds. The Endless City: the Urban Age Project by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Sociey. London: Phaidon Press, 2010. Burdett, Ricky, and Deyan Sudjic, eds. Living in the Endless City: the Urban Age Project by the Lon45

don School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society. London: Phaidon Press, 2011. Eisner, Simon, Arthur Gallion, and Stanley Eisner. The Urban Pattern, 6th Edition. 6 ed. New York: Wiley, 1993. Botton, Alain De. The Architecture of Happiness (Vintage). New York: Vintage, 2008. Burdett, Ricky, and Deyan Sudjic, eds. Living in the Endless City: the Urban Age Project by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society. London: Phaidon Press, 2011. Lamunière, Ines, Roberto de Oliveira Castro, and Jean-Paul Jaccaud. Natural and Urban, Green and Grey: Studies On Specificities of Contemporary Urban Architecture. Switzerland: Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Mobility, 2009. (accessed October 12, 2011). Allen, Smout. Augmented Landscapes. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007. Waldheim, Charles. 2006. “The landscape urbanism reader” Princeton Architectural Text, 295 p. Wentworth Stacks-Upper Level Mostafavi, Mohsen, Gareth Doherty, and Harvard University, eds. Ecological Urbanism. Lars Müller Publishers, 2010. White, Mason, and Maya Przybylski, eds. On Farming: Bracket 1. Actar, 2010. Basulto, David. “Serpentine gallery pavilion 2011 / Peter Zumthor.” in Archdaily (database online). 2011 (accessed 9/27 2011). Available from








Can an Interaction of the landscape and the built form exist? Blurring of boundaries in the urban enviorment to change the human experience.

Contrast and Juxtaposition of contrasting ideas changes the way we look at spaces.

Control and planning in urban design creates different urban fabrics. What happens when those fabrics are juxtaposed. Organic urban fabrics intersection with a planners grid. How does this juxtapostion of two known ideas cause a different perception of our original seperate thoughts?






Contrast of the Organic and the Generated through juxtapostion. Can an Organic Landscape interact with the built world?

Using natural landscape as a way of raising awareness of what the natural enviorment is too people who have not got the chance to experierience this.

Why is natural landscape important to an urban condition? Creating a feeling of wholeness with the world around us.

Ideas of the bringing together of natural and built, different urban fabrics, control and wildness all stems from an interest in blending .












Blending in an urban enviorment creates a feeling of wholeness and relationships in a city. This creates a human scale that makes people feel a part of the city

The scale of blending should be brought down to the human level so its understandable while experiencing a space.



Spatial Blending  

Connecting Un-used and Contrasting SiteAdjacencies Through Scalar and Visual Strategies.

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