2013 Projects
Urban Utopia
Lauren Slowik

At some moment in 2008 the world passed a milestone as more people became urban dwellers than in all of human history. Here in New York City, we will have one million new residents by 2025 for a total of 9 million residents. Because of this dramatic and meaningful increase in population, almost all urban communities struggle to meet the basic human requirements of shelter and space for their entire population. In addition to the shortage in shelter, safe, durable, and environmentally responsible urban construction projects are anomalous in the first world and the global south. Marjetica Potrč–architect, artist and Vera List Center Fellow–directs her work and associated research towards the most innovative solutions to urban dwelling issues. Many of the ideas come from places that Potrč calls ‘informal cities’, edge towns in places like the Caracas, Rio and Rajasthan. Case studies can be applied to our own communities. When the slums of early 20th century New York were finally toppled by activists, they were replaced by modernist project housing whose reputation would quickly become as hopeless as the urban ills they aimed to solve. The back-to-the-land movement purported to solve these ills by transporting urban dwellers to their own sustainable plot of land in the countryside. This solution is simply a luxury and denies the trend towards an urban global population. The decision between modernism and romanticism is a false one. There is a 3rd way, if we are brave enough to find it.

My solution investigates modular building components for lightweight, earth-friendly structures that are inexpensive and portable. Key to my concept is the elimination of wasted materials and resources by excluding shipping from the making process. Using consumer 3D printers to generate complex connecting mechanisms would allow for small footprint buildings with more complexity than is usually available to homebuilders. Taking the attitudes of the back-to-the-landers, sometime called distributism, seen as a third way between capitalism and socialism! and supplementing them with the architecture and collectivism of the urban environment, my effort towards a solution is to research the potential for consumer 3D printing technology to revolutionize construction on a communal scale. William McDonough, founder of the Cradle to Cradle movement, says that by saying a building is “zero-carbon” we are describing it by what it is not. My project aims to embrace new modes of inhabiting space especially in cities. Urban areas are only going to continue to grow and the need for safe, sustainable housing with them. I will be teaching workshops on lightweight building construction to communities in the spring semester. by empowering communities with the knowledge of sustainable building techniques we will be preparing the growing urban population to demand further support for sustainable housing plans from city government and developers alike. i believe it is this combination of new construction methods and civic engagement that makes my solution to this issue a unique and needed addition to the problem of urban housing.

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