RISING MASS

How Can Standard Building Parameters Help Reimagine the High-Rise?

While the dramatic forms and symbolism of the high-rise typology are well known, the economics of this building type are largely unappealing and undeniable to architects. Meanwhile the development of digital design methods has begun to facilitate liberation from the chains of conventionality, yet it has also produced a culture of uninhibited and unrigorous formalism. Despite the emergence of arithmetically parameterized design, many architects have conspicuously avoided performance ratios and equations, the mathematic language that the high-rise has developed around, as banal. Without a proven fluency in this language, architects have literally been pushed to the periphery of high-rise design.

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As the high-rise has increasingly become the solitary building type capable of accommodating the rapid densification of the modern metropolis, a high-rise vernacular has filled the vacuum where many architects have been unable to capitalize on. Defined by quantitative parameters and programmatic functionalism, the high-rise vernacular has little apparent architectural intrigue, yet this vernacular makes up the majority of our stock of high-rise buildings because it rigorously adheres to quantifiable parameters defined by developers, codes, and the market that it is targeting. If architects can not recognize this fact they will forfeit any agency to truly affect the largest sector of our growing global cities.

This project was developed from the dichotomous paradox in high-rise design between what we call real and imaginary variables. In this context, the high-rise finds its natural identity in-between form and efficiency. Embarking from a study of the highly specific rules and guidelines that establish the armature for the high-rise typology, we synthesized these variables into a written script for a parametric surface, producing a hybrid between the quantifiable variables of the high-rise performance ratios, the zoning codes, and the aesthetic variables that define the formal massing.

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The looping form of the buildings is derived from these parametric operations. It is in essence a single extrusion coiled onto itself. The intersection of the volume as it weaves through itself produces voids and layered programmatic spaces that connect and juxtapose different programmatic spaces, integrating mixed uses into a unified volume determined by their programmatic functions. The variation in the buildings section, in addition to the staggering of the vertical circulation produces spatially layered interiors that disrupt and contradict and heighten awareness of traditional notions of vertical circulation.

An additional pressure on the future of the high-rise typology that is becoming increasingly prevalent in our global cities is their slowing with age, as preservationists and a conservative citizenry vehemently protest demolition and new additions to ostensibly historic cities, often delaying, dismembering, or discarding projects that contradict wistful visions of previous times. By locating the building in New York City directly adjacent to the United Nations building and Tudor City, we were forced to confront the challenge of negotiating this highly contentious context. Due to this pressure, the way that the building fits into the site had to be equally rigorous as the production of the building itself. Formally, the building is a mutant or hybrid architecture that finds a balance between imitation and deviance. It gestures towards its context and local antecedents, while proposing a new perspective on that type. The plaza like the building mediates between its own contexts, between the building and the street, as well as the surface and the subway. The surface of the plaza weaves together the neighborhood on one side to the river parkway on the other around the porous footprint of the building, and maximizes valuable public space to the dense urban environment.

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Our project proposes a return to a more critical and rigorous model of formalism, one based on a syntactic and procedural process that can accommodate the multiplicity of variables and technical parameters that are inherent to the structural logic of the high-rise typology with the visionary creativity that architects are best at.

Designed in collaboration with Jian Huang, under the guidance of George L. Legendre at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.