O.V.E.R. It was a big push right to the end, but somehow I finished (mostly). The final review was very insightful and the jury fully bought into the project, always a plus. The discussion mostly focused on how the project could be expanded, particularly how the structures built here could then create a new urban structure for the west Baltimore community. Below are the final results of my independent degree project.
As I alluded to in my last entry, I recently spent about a week participating in a workshop at USC called Top Fuel. It was a week long design-build workshop, focusing on pneumatic structures, i.e. structures supported by air. We were led by Thomas Auer from Transsolar KlimaEngineering, and Achim Menges from the Institute of Computational Design at Stuttgart University. They are both very awesome people. You should look them up.
I have to say, I am really happy with the results. Our team of nine developed a structure we called “Pneus Bridge”, a covering for the south bridge between Watt and Harris Halls. The structure was designed with environmental concerns in mind, and uses the Venturi Effect to funnel air and cool the space. It consisted of 320 tubes divided into two parallel sets, each forming one side of the structure. All tubes on each side were fed air from a single manifold. The two sets were tied together at the top, creating something resembling a gabled roof, but held up by air! The only support are two cables that are running down the base of each side (that means nothing is supporting the middle folks). Not sure what all that means? Take a look at some pretty pictures!
It was insane actually making this thing, but we created a very straightforward system, which allowed us to make 320 tubes (all different, computer calculated lengths mind you) in less than 60 hours. All it took were over 600 grommets and over 2200 seals (every end was sealed three times to be on the safe side). And every single tube inflated with air on the first try. We took over the hall of Watt at about 3 in the morning to tie it all together and test it. That was probably the first time we realized how huge it was.
Even for me, it was insanely ambitious. And in the end, the whole thing was a bigger success than I could have ever hoped for. Now, back to a certain thesis project…
Turn in for my degree project is 37 days. I just checked. Twice actually. Because it can’t possibly be that soon. I feel like I’ve been working on this project for years, so the fact that it’s due in a little more than a month is incomprehensible.
I still remember the first time I saw the Highway to Nowhere, the summer of 2008, driving to my first day working with/for/at the Rebuilding Through Art Project. My first thought was “that could use some some architecture.” I have yet to let go of that feeling. Though it ended up being way more work than I could have possibly imagined.
I still remember the night in studio when John asked me what my dream project would be. After a little thinking, I said to redevelop the Highway to Nowhere. I failed to properly explain the site. I still have a hard time explaining it. It’s hard to shake the preconception that freeways always connect to other freeways.
I still remember eating at Dogwood and explaining independent thesis and accepting the inevitability that I was going to actually pursue this because if I took the easy way out I wouldn’t be me.
And now it is almost over. Should I be panicking? I guess I should explain the lack of recent posts. First the posting stopped because of midreviews, which fell on the last day before spring break. My boards were 6 feet tall by 15 feet wide. So at 90 square feet it was big enough to be a fairly decent sized bedroom. The site plan alone was 11 feet long. It went fairly well. The panel consisted of Marcos and Lorcan, who in the past have had completely different conceptions of the project. But the three of us were able to collectively agree the thesis part of the project had solidified itself, the spatial and tectonic aspects not so much. That’s kind of a good place to be, but that means there is a ton of work left. But I left feeling good about the push I made to get an actual design on the wall.
Less than 24 hours later I was on a plane to Baltimore, where I did have a chance to visit the site again, but generally took a break from thesis, after thinking about it nonstop since August. I came back to school re-energized and ready for a final push.
In the week since I have been back I have been a part of Top Fuel, a design-build workshop in pneumatic structures here at ‘SC. Maybe I will go into it more in a later post because it was a fantastic expierence and the result is pretty tight if I do say so myself.
But right now, its getting late and I need to put some good hours into this thesis project before studio tomorrow. And I have this little problem that I have run out of coffee. But I like to tell myself sleep is for the uninspired. So we will see if that holds true tonight.
My name is Aaron (AJ) Benjamin and I am an undergraduate student at USC School of Architecture. This blog is to document my independent degree project. I have decided to propose a revisioning of the Highway-to-Nowhere (more formally the Franklin-Mulberry Corridor) in west Baltimore. My reasoning for this blog is twofold.
1. Everyone I have ever met who has spent any time in west Baltimore has an opinion of this site, and no one I have ever talked to is happy with it the way it is. Rather than concieve of my ideas in a vaccuum, I would love to hear from each and every person who has an idea.
2. As the flipside of this, west Baltimore could use some good analysis and some good architectural ideas. I humbly hope that the ideas I develop over the next few months these ideas could offer a different vision of what the Highway to Nowhere can be, and maybe someone can make some use of them
So lets go on this crazy adventure. And see what happens.