Project in Partnership with Elle Yihan Bai
The proposal to develop a model of Ecological Housing sites itself ideologically at the juxtaposition of the classical American Romantic 19th century conceptions of an infinite pastoral landscape of nature against the ecologically degraded and post-industrial realities of its rustbelt context. This challenge to housing seeks to find a balance between the visceral emotional potential found in the imaginary of natural refuge and the eco-conscious necessity of contemporary urban living.
The project physically sites itself on a river-adjacent site in Pittsburgh's Strip District, on the far side of the Pennsylvania RR Fruit Auction and Sales Terminal Building. The Strip historically was Pittsburgh warehouse district, the center of mode and product transfer for Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh's industrial repercussions across America and the world.
A growth timeline developed for the site produces an apparent urban forest, from whose vegetative mass, private space is carved for individual family housing units. Through constructed topography, site lines are curated to produce an auditory isolation and olfactory distinction between the site and the greater Strip District, without disturbing the site’s visual connection to the river, nearby bridges, or downtown Pittsburgh.
Research and analysis was conducted in partnership with the Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation and the Phipps Conservatory Archives to develop this timeline. Dominant riparian ecosystems along the Allegheny River were analyzed for their soil, topographical, pH, wind, solar, and moisture preferences, according to plant species and ecosystem typology. This was used to best curate a healthy, resilient, and diverse ecosystem on site. Specific plant species were selected for their atmospheric qualities, be they olfactory, aesthetic, or tactile.
Making the most of the opportunities afforded by the Pennsylvania RR Fruit Auction and Sales Building, site entries are punctured through the existing building mass, creating drama and mystery to the outside. Further reinforced by glimpses of an overhead screen of cor-ten steel harvested from the remains of the Strip Districts former industrial identity, hints of a unique harmony of the site topography, context, and vegetation. The screen creates distinctions in path to curate the divisions of public and private to maintain resident privacy without compromising the more public experience of the urban forest.
The site experience for a resident guides them from the initial site entry down paths nrrower and narrower, as the material and ecosystem palettes around them warm to become more gentle. This progression is crucial to the site’s ability to create resident experience of home, a goal furthered by the site’s unique olfactory identity. The homes themselves are small, cozy dwellings which feature exterior courtyards derived from the precedent of the suburban garden. Each courtyard is to be planted with particularly fragrant species, every one unique, to evoke the experience of groves within a forest- pockets of woody, earthy, and fresh scents. The courtyards therefore afford personal and visceral experiences of nature - of relatable wilderness.