This thesis aimed to select a site for its position as a hinge in the global economy. Building on the processes ongoing on the site itself, the thesis choreographs processes that exaggerate the site’s conditions. Blurring disciplinary boundaries and false binaries, the project forces a confrontation with the unnaturalness of the anthropocene.
The flows of speed and connectivity in the New Jersey Badlands are channeled through a highly visible distribution landscape that operates as the backstage of New York City and its metropolitan sprawl. This liminal landscape of movement and transition is ripe with the conditions that make New Jersey, quintessentially, New York’s ‘other.’ The area, once Robert Smithson’s muse, has remained tenuously suspended on a swamp. A beautifully entropic waste landscape, experienced only from the height, distance, and speed of transit. The form is incidental, the spaces in between the accumulation of infrastructure.
The design is a process of pulling the site’s flows into and through Snake Hill to, over decades, mine out the remainder of the mountain while replacing it with a tollbooth of toxic dredge tombs. The three Westbound lanes of the NJ Turnpike are pulled through seven separate toll lanes forcing confrontation with our externalities in this new Mount Purgatory. The design constructs and destructs Smithson’s vision of a Site/Nonsite.
The design is an amplification of the displacement processes on the site to create a thickened tollbooth condition through Snake Hill. It utilizes material flows in existence on the site, including dredge cycles, in which relatively clean dredge is removed from navigation channels to the HARS (Historic Area Remediation Site) and deposited in an underground bathymetry of toxic waste that has been accumulating for half a century. Some of the toxic dredge from the various Superfund sites is currently being brought to a CDF (Confined Disposal Facility), an underwater tomb filled with toxic dredge and capped for eternity, hidden beneath the bustling port. Other toxic dredge is being transported to Central Pennsylvania to be part of coal mine reclamation. Fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal, acts like Portland Cement to solidify the dredge in a new form of concrete that fixes the toxins and is used to cap abandoned coal mines.
The existing Turnpike’s pylon structures create the primary radial axes that govern the organization of the dredge walls. Working East to West over many years, the diabase is vertically extracted for use as asphalt to pave the toll lanes. The remaining void is filled with the toxic dredge concrete from the Superfund sites. Next, the Westbound extension is created by widening the existing mining benches into the mountain. The offset secondary walls are installed so that rock can be voided in between the secondary and primary walls. At this point the rock is mined for the toll lane to push through and meet up again with the Turnpike. This process progresses through the mountain until all seven lanes are installed. For further excavation, perpendicular tertiary walls are installed, creating space for deeper mining pits to be extracted and then filled with dredge columns. The mountain is dismantled over a period of decades, while the commuters are on a daily cycle of confrontation with this new Mount Purgatory.
Plan in Wind
Emily Wettstein - Thesis Process Film
An important part of the thesis, Nonsite, was developing a narrative that ran from site selection to representation, in which the program would develop from the analysis of the site itself.
In our archipelago economy, exchange networks leap space, and hinterlands are created as the land left behind. The NJ Badlands is a hinge between these export and import hinterlands. At the confluence of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers at the bottom of the Meadowlands, the site is in close proximity to Manhattan. The Badlands are a highly visible distribution landscape that are cited as the only place on earth in which all major forms of transportation are within one quarter mile of one another. That includes Newark Airport, Port Newark- Elizabeth (the largest container terminal on the East Coast), extensive rail networks for goods and people, as well as the major trucking and commuting arteries that connect New York City and it’s sprawl to the rest of the country (including the New Jersey Turnpike, I-95, Route 78).
The landscape is an accumulation of self-perpetuating infrastructural interventions within collisive territories, that produce a highly incidental landscape. For example, the Panama Canal Expansion Project, which allows larger ships to pass through the Panama Canal has resulted in the raising of all of the bridges in the Badlands, as well as much more extensive dredging, leaving these highly unintentional reactionary landscapes.
The NJ Badlands were Robert Smithson’s muse. He was from Passaic and developed and defined his art through engagement with the region. He wrote about the false nostalgia for nature of his New Jersey youth and the later realization that he had grown up in industrial blight. This realization is epitomized by phragmites, an invasive species, a result of exchange, that has taken over the area. Smithson loved the “chewed up” “landscape ambience” that was New Jersey, “a historical and cultural junkheap” - the Badlands contains 8 Superfund Sites. The site is highly toxic, and constantly under EPA supervision and very long term remediation attempts. It is covered in landfills; a dumping ground not only for industry, but for much of New York City. Even the remains of the old Penn Station were unceremoniously dumped in the Meadowlands.
There is constant construction and destruction in the badlands to facilitate exchange, reminiscent of Lewis Mumford’s concept of Abbau, which is the unbuilding or mining of one place to build another. Due to this constant flux, much of the landscape consists of voids between investment cycles. They are highly liminal sites, spatially and temporally ‘in between’.
Snake Hill, also called Laurel Hill, is in Secaucus, NJ on the edge of the Hackensack River. The landscape is highly incidental, the result of rail lines and highways that choke the Meadowlands into strange geometries of impoundment ponds. Snake Hill was once the site of alms houses, an insane asylum, a penitentiary, and a hospital. It was an island of unwanted exiles from the city. Eighty percent of the hill has been mined away for diabase, beginning with a penitentiary quarry. At one point there were four asphalt plants at the base of the hill, pumping out asphalt to pave over the Meadowlands The remaining crescent of Snake Hill serves as a shoulder for the New Jersey Turnpike, whose structural dependence on the hill is all that has saved Snake Hill from being removed entirely. In 2003, during the construction of Exit 15X to Secaucus Junction, a cemetery was uncovered, and 4500 bodies were displaced in the largest disinterment in American history.
As the major commuter stream in and out of New York, the Turnpike exemplifies what Smithson calls the “Black Hole” of commuting. Smithson wrote:
"A departure from urban to suburban consciousness changes one’s [temporal sense]. Travel from urban to urban area keeps one at the center of temporal order, but travel from urban to suburban takes one to the edge of the temporal. The duality between urban and suburban seems especially acute in NYC, so much so that one’s consciousness of time becomes dual."
Snake Hill is a highly entropic condition, clearly referenced in drawings from Smithson’s ‘Entropic Landscapes’. It’s condition, and the commuting flow up the side of the mountain is programmatically, spatially, and formally reminiscent of Mount Purgatory.
Purgatory is the ultimate liminal space. Travelling from Hell to Heaven, people must spiral up the mountain, through seven levels (for the seven deadly sins) while they pay for their sins. Mount Purgatory was formed by Lucifer falling from Jerusalem, thus creating inferno and displacing purgatory on the other side of the planet. There are important parallels between Mount Purgatory and the site. First, you must pass through. You can’t live there. It’s a state of constant temporality. Second, you are forced to face your externalities in a site of remediation and cleansing parallel to angels cleansing your sins. Third, and perhaps most important, is the Gate to Purgatory, which parallels the Toll Booth, which has been called the Official Building Type of New Jersey, in which you pay for your role in the construction and destruction of infrastructure The design is an amplification of the displacement processes on the site to create a thickened tollbooth condition through Snake Hill.
Wettstein Thesis Site Film
constantly shifting topography
temporality of tectonics and sedimentation
THE USUFRUCT RIGHT TO THE CITY
It is in the act of farming, not in food alone, in which the collective memory of agriculture lies. Mexico has a long history of agriculture that operates as more than the production of food but rather, as a generator of greater socio-cultural constructs. The ejido was a communal land tenure system based on usufruct rights; the milpa was a farming technique of crop rotation through forest succession; and tianguis are contemporary informal markets which temporarily occupy public spaces on a cyclical basis.
By importing the qualities of these traditional Mexican farming and market practices, and appropriating modern agricultural forms, we extend “farming by proxy” to the urban landscape. Through a choreography of urban succession, a usufruct-based zoning creates spaces that are productive in their fluidity and informal transitional use, while they recreate processes of farming and mirror agriculture’s temporalities. The city is constantly harvested as it is disassembled and reassembled. It is thinned and thickened as the city is cyclically coppiced. New adjacencies are continually being created as kinetic boundaries constantly redefine the edge condition.
The city is thinned in a slow rotation. It is coppiced, stimulating regrowth on its raw edge. The usufruct right takes over and the regrowth is rapid. New shoots sprout into a thick diversity of new uses.
After the burn the ground is most fertile. The city is cyclically harvested, constructed, rationed, deconstructed.
It is only over time that a dominant leader takes over, sucking the nutrients from the smaller branches. And that is again when the edge comes to pass. To fight the rigidity of privatization. When the forest is again thinned. When the ash is again dug into the ground.
The rotation is always felt, gnawing at the edge of time.
As the edge moves the urban fabric is unwoven. Though some threads must remain. Always enough to tension the tianguis tarps. For they now move the streets.
Sometimes its the machine itself, slowly crawling sideways. A kinetic scaffolding dissecting the city through a living infrastructure that carries the collective memory of these deconstructed landscapes.
Other times the edge is only felt in section. As the rotation cuts the overgrown canopy.
Though we grow to need it, to feel the passing of time.
Though cyclical, the cycle will never begin at the same starting condition. For the eraser does not erase, but only flattens and redistributes.
The city is now a palimpsest of these failed erasures.
The planter table was a design to rethink the possibilities of the materials at hand. The idea was to create a table with an interactive "runner" made of wheat grass or any other plant or herb to be consumed at the table. Perhaps a literal play on the idea of the "farm to table" movement. The wood was from a fallen tree in a neighboring farm, milled by my father and grandfather the year that I was born that had been drying ever since in our barn. When considering the possibilities for the legs the rusted steel that sat in the metal shop needed only to be notched and I wanted to leave its texture pure in its age. The acrylic planter is designed to show to the root system from the sides and allow for easy removal. The table can be used with or without the planter depending on the state of the plants or the whim of the client.
The table has been published in various magazines and on many websites. I have built a number of similar commissions; the one shown here is for the client Corri Goldman. Another has been built with straight exterior edges for the Richard Avedon Foundation Executive Director's office in the MoMA building. Each table is unique depending on the wood and the steel and the client's preferred character.
photo by James Martin
My Partner for this Project Is: Nina Phinouwong She is co-credited for all the images and ideas in this project.
Video created with Nina Phinouwong.
Video created with Nina Phinouwong.
Stop motion created with Nina Phinouwong
My Group for this Project Includes: Hillary Archer & Timothy Wei They are co-credited for all the images and ideas for Operation Remedium.
The first semester in the Master of Landscape Architecture 1 AP program at the GSD was sited on the Joint Base Cape Cod under the instruction of Pierre Belanger and my critic Kelly Doran.
The 200,000 acre site has extensive groundwater contamination from many years of explosive devices on top of the single source aquifer centered on the site. The project was focussed on setting up a landscape infrastructure that could both treat the contamination on site and change the current programmatic usage of the military site as downsizing continues.
The project titled Operation Remedium revolved around a series of permeable reactive barriers made of mulch. Mulch is a filter that, like a carbon filter, uses chemical absorption to pull out the RDX, TNT and perchlorate, all of which are found on site. When inserted into the groundwater in a series of columns that form a wall underground, the water passively travels through as it moves towards the shoreline. Since the mulch is more permeable than the adjacent soil it attracts the water, thus reshaping the plume itself. The mulch from the walls should be sourced from wood with a high cellulose to lignin ratio. The forest cover on the Cape consists of the Pitch Pine - Oak community which is one of the optimal pairs for filtering decontamination.
Through forest management techniques, primarily thinning, these trees are mulched and doubled with a process of reforestation involving the planting of black cherry and quaking aspen. This reforestation involves various planting patterns that create different spatial typologies within the forest which leave open different programmatic possibilities. The mulch is installed in the site with the creation of a berm and ditch module, made from the soil excavated for the column insertion. This module is infinite in its formal arrangement and serves as a new topography to create different conditions of water levels, storage and programmatic variety.
Sited in Caen, France this project is both landscape and building housing dairy cows, Camembert cheese production as well as the next iteration of the Fnac store. In post-industrial France, the country must continue to sell the image of itself and imagine new ways in which the "terroir" can be created, recreated, bought and sold. In Normandy the terroir reaps lush grass and dairy cows as well as Camembert cheese. The Fnac needs to adapt to the changes in the economy by having all its sales online and focussing on the human interaction that you cannot get online. Thus a small restaurant, and community based gathering spaces, and small theater enable both interaction with each other and unexpected adjacencies with the cows that occupy the landscape. The cows share their heat as they did centuries ago in the rural house-barns of the past as their milk is made into cheese in the underground cheese cave. The project is intended to push the idea of the local to its furthest extreme. It hopes find a balance between seriousness and irony in light of the current food culture.
In collaboration with: Charavee Bunyasiri, Ellie Lee & Peter Sprowls They are co-credited for all the images and ideas for Airborn.
The fourth semester of the MArch core program at the GSD is focussed on urbanism under the instruction of Florian Idenburg, also my critic. Through the lens of zoning we design a new typology of urban fabric. The project is sited on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY. However the site is to be merely a launching point for reconsidering urbanism that has the potential to proliferate outside of the site boundaries. The majority of the semester is working with groups to design the zoning parameters for your urbanism, while the last few weeks is spent individually designing a building to fit into this fabric.
Airborn was our proposition to consider zoning blocks three dimensionally in the form of spheres. The sphere is one the worst geometries for packing which guarantees air and light to the blocks as they stack and pack into the fabric. A spherical zoning block allows for abandonment of the ground as it becomes increasingly unstable.
The spheres do not imply a spherical building or agglomeration of buildings into a sphere but instead a spherical zone within which a building can be built. The contact between two spheres geometrically is only a point. This point becomes an important transition in the project for it thickens to become the web that connects the blocks.
The lock project was sited on the locks at the Charles River dam. The project was to be kinetic structure that performed or engaged with the opening and closing of the locks. My final form was a folding landscape that inverted and folded upon itself to create a partial enclosure at various points in its iterations. The form has less of a prescribed program and circulation, as it has potential for occupation and experience. Its nearly flat condition in the first state leaves tectonic traces in the terrain that clearly signal the kinetic potential of the form to come in later iterations of its movement. The initial exercise was to embrace a mechanism and to utilize it to explore the spatial potential of its movements. I began with the Jansen mechanism and explored through model, member duplicity and section changes throughout the mechanism. Eventually I came to a sizing of the mechanism that allowed the structure to fold completely upon itself in one of its positions. Then through paper folding exercises I discovered a condition through which the exterior of the mechanism would fold allowing the Jansen-like movements to occur. From this exercise doubled with the section changes the final form was found.
The Wellesley College greenhouse project was one that explored our relationship with the ground and the program of housing and analysing nonnative species in a "native natural landscape". The project created a bridge that connected the existing science center with the woods that sat on a large hill adjacent to its site. Throughout this bridge hundreds of test tube like forms would pixelate the picturesque within, allowing a more conceptual critique of what was actually taking place within them: a scientific study of the plants and habitats that housed them. Through undulating surfaces that only upon closer view break down to be orthogonal stepping of the terrain one's perception of this seemingly smooth transition becomes more methodical and scientific in its origin.
The test tubes in this modular system would often combine to create much larger spaces without walls between them for larger habitats. Some would remain as six foot square extrusions allowing for a high level of scientific variability between those adjacent. I was particularly interested in emphasizing the highly artificial relationship that was occurring within the greenhouse and that with the passage of the bridge would mirror the highly mediated relationship with the wooded hill that is viewed as "wild" by the students that occupy the campus. This project was an exploration of the mediated relationship that we have with a highly artificial nature and our contrived experience of it as "wild".
The pragmatics of the brief were to find a way to cantilever our fitness center over the adjacent bank in Brookline, MA while accommodating a large amount of both private and public program. My approach to this project was two-fold: to have a large mass rotate over the bank to hold the majority of the program and a smaller mass rotate within the larger mass providing the circulation. In this circulation helix the interior would be for the member circulation and would house various private programs and the exterior of the helix would be non member circulation on its open, monumental-like stair. As the circulation core rises it expands until it fills the exterior envelope of the program in the roof terrace as the public and private programs blur and merge together.
I was interested in not only the formal potential of this system but in the existing paradigm set up by the fitness center to be primarily a place to see and be seen, not only by fellow members. Therefore I set up a terracing system through this large, expansive, landscape-like stair for members and non-members to be en route and to take in the activity of the fitness center in their journey to their destination. The circulation helix morphs and becomes the envelope at times inverting itself to become stair again, ceiling on one side, stair on the other, sometimes forcing occupants even to the exterior of the building which is wood clad with glass slats. I think this potential for inversion of visibility and ownership are highly interactive for the occupant and serve the program well in its intention.
This project is from the 2009 Intro to Architecture program at Columbia University. From a time before computers when drawings and models were made in real time and space. They manifest themselves as they are created. They are generative. These models were made without a laser cutter, 3d model or plan and are handcut.