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Urban Ecology

Invited Distinguished Professor:

Barry Wark. Biophile.


Gabriel Esquivel,  Studio Professor

Texas A&M University


Team: Francisco Anaya, Robert Williams, Isabela Doberenz, Christian Martinez, Adam Field.

"Urban Ecology focuses on the idea of how a building can expose a physical reaction to a hyper object specifically referencing global warming. The artifact draws attention to the hidden and subtle elements of the city, such as holdout buildings, interior courtyards and the notion of the trace. Our artifact will begin to uncover a hidden entity of the city and at the same time embodies a coexistence with nature.

With this project we were interested in the way a building both impacts and is affected by city infrastructure, and how this building can highlight and bring attention to certain ecological issues. In the coming years The American coastal city will be greatly impacted by the hyperobject that is global warming.  The super sewer or flood tunnel is a response to rising water levels, forcing cities to react on a megalithic scale. The flood tunnel is hidden from the public eye, tucked away beneath the asphalt of the city. We believe that this reflects the current global thought process on global warming, since it is not directly visible and graspable then it must not be a serious issue. Our building aims to expose the extraordinary measures taken to maintain human’s coexistence under these new conditions, as well as offer a new solution for how these systems coexist. The super sewer is an infrastructural response to anthropocentric impacts on the environment. It becomes a part of the global warming hyper object. 


The holdout building is a city anomaly as it deviates from rather rigid organizational strategies of the city block.  Hold out buildings are found in high density cities and exist within the gaps of the city block. A city is constantly changing, challenging the notion of ancientness by creating a whole that is composed of parts existing from different times. Hold out buildings produce trace and scarring which is prevalent within the city by showing what was there before, what is there currently, and what can possibly exist in the future. Given that our building is mostly located within the ground and arguably acts as ground in some areas, the hold out buildings offer a facade for people to comprehend the building. They become the image of the building from the common pedestrian while also acting as devices to entice people to enter the building.  The hold out building is an interesting condition that shows the passage of time contrasting with its surrounding context. A person interacting with the building questions the creation of the city block in which our building resides. In which order was everything constructed whether that be our artifact, the flood tunnel, or the surrounding context?


The buildings of our anthropocentric cities exist as objects within a grid. To challenge the notion of the building as an object, this project limits how it is visually consumed. The building is never read as a whole object, it is only seen through the sandwiched faces of the holdouts and un-accessible gaps, furthering the intrigue of the interior. The building becomes the fill of the block, creating hold out conditions among the exterior facades.

Specific holdouts, interposed between new structures, become thresholds to view and hear this hidden system of waterways. The hold out creates ambiguity about the age of the building, which raises the question of which came first, the artifact or the city. This embodies qualities of ancientness by implying previous existence through the notion of trace and urban scarring. The building exists in its natural state, allowing for erosion and pieces to fall off over time leaving behind more instances of trace and synecdoche with the original mass in which by doing so it creates a space for both human and non-human agents. 


Our object is only a mere fragment of a much larger system of infrastructure that works to address the hyperobject of global warming. In an act of coexistence, the building breaks the notion of the Anthropocene reigning supreme over ecology, by penetrating and directly interacting with the prominent tunnel. Our building becomes a key element of the infrastructure by replacing one of the anthropocentric tanks that occur in sequence along the super sewer.

Our building begins to question the notion of the hidden flood tunnel by ungrounding it and bringing its presence to the city block. Our artifact becomes a part of the city's infrastructure and exploits the human reaction to the hyperobject. The flood tunnel is amplified through our artifact as it acts as a horn, echoing the flowing water below, and drawing people inside. The subject within the building will then be immersed with ecology and experience the city through a different lens. The artifact acts as a tool to unground and expose this tunnel and provides a space for people to experience the immense size of this city infrastructure. While the artifact acts to draw people inwards it simultaneously acts as an entry point for water to enter the flood tunnel giving purpose to the structure. 

The idea of exposing the super sewer begs the question if temporary solutions to global warming should be hidden from the public? Does hiding these structures serve to ease the panic or merely sweep the problem under the ‘ecological rug’. How can architecture begin to impact the way humans experience and understand their surroundings whether that be near or far, perceivable or ungraspable? We believe that the people that interact with our artifact become aware of ecology and become connected to it in a different way than an outdoor park would. The building is a new park, without trees or open fields, but rather ecology without nature, overtaken by water."


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