Arch 5550: Sustainable Infrastructure & Urban Renewal is a seven week vertical studio based design module offered to first and second year master of architecture students at the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. The course focuses on the exploration of the following questions. Can the urban renewal lead to scalable sustainable urban forms? How can appropriate development be determined? And, ultimately what is a good or proper fit to place giving consideration to a holistic, balanced and integrated approach to sustainability?
Beginning with an exploration of the city as it exists today—people, places, history, aspirations, fiscal reality; and an exploration of what is meant by sustainable. This module challenges the notion of the role of architect as a designer solely of buildings, and asserts that the ability to understand systems, networks, and flows can lead to opportunities to design not only concrete physical solutions, but the processes that underlie and support our cities and towns.
In addition to the context outlined above students were challenged to consider the following two issues as inspiration and challenge.
issue #1: BEYOND CAPACITY
The Earth is a closed system. Its ecology has limited resources and there are limits on the amount of waste it can absorb—in the air, land and seas. Prior to 1986 one earth was sufficient to support life for the full year. (Granted it was not an equitable distribution.) Expanding consumption by people since that time has caused deficit spending of resources and build up of pollution in the environment to begin earlier and earlier in the calendar year. In to 2008 it is estimated that deficit spending began 23.September.
Sustainability in the mainstream to date (architecturally and through popular culture) has focused primarily on improving energy and water efficiency and reducing resource consumption. This less bad approach does not address the fundamental challenge presented to us by reality. With the exception of solar energy, the earth is a finite closed system. Given ecological constraints, how can we house, cloth and feed the expanding and aspiring population of the planet?
issue #2: CITY AT A CROSSROADS
a. Minneapolis is facing a catastrophic crisis due to the foreclosure of thousands of homes—2,600 homes in 2007; 3,000 homes in 2008; and a projected 3,000 homes in 2009. The Hawthorne and Jordan neighborhoods and the north side have been particularly hard hit with 600 boarded and vacant houses, a third of which are beyond repair and will be cleared. The impact of foreclosure within the city parallels that in magnitude of Katrina in some sectors. Neighborhood and city leaders see not only loss, but also an opportunity to rebuild the north side as an example of sustainable urban renewal.
b. Outside of crisis the City of Minneapolis continues to grow and change. Fed by the hydropower of Saint Anthony Falls the city grew to be the milling capital of the world by the beginning of the twentieth century. At the dawn of the twenty-first century the Mill City has shifted from its agrarian and industrial roots and is now a regional center of banking and commerce. The Hiawatha corridor is a remnant of this industrial era, as light rail transit spurs redevelopment how can it be a model for sustainable urban renewal.