The Meadowlands Studio

In 2012, The Meadowlands studio dovetailed with a post-Sandy recovery study by the MIT CAU+ZUS+Urbanisten consortium, commissioned by HUD’s “Rebuild-by-Design” effort. However, its efforts and output were performed in a spirit of academic independence. The studio took as its primary assumption a need for 15,000 multi-story residential units in proximity to a continuing (and growing) presence of distribution centers and near newly defined regional park. This need was explored on three scales: where in the overall Meadowlands basin should these developments be accommodated? How should they be configured? What kind of typologies can we invent or fine-tune that will allow for the co-existence of residential and logistics programs? This latter question is of great importance for any vision of the future Meadowlands as a basin where urbanization, ecology, and logistics can co-exist.

Developed largely at MIT, Systemic Design merges the existing stresses on a particular urban area or site with multi-layered, time-based strategies. Systemic Design seeks to interact with the environmental, economical, and programmatic stresses across larger territories than only singular locations. 

The deliberate semi-independence from the surrounding systems liberates a project from conforming to that which surrounds it, and ultimately, allows it to change the status quo within an urban system. An object-based approach interprets urbanization not as a system but as a finite accumulation of discrete decisions by different individuals and decision-makers.

The Meadowlands is a large former marsh and flood zone just west of Manhattan. Over the last century, the basin has collected an impressive quantity of critical infrastructures (port, utilities), while partially crumbling under an increasing pressure for regular residential and urban development. Most of the stakeholders agree that development and ecology should have the capacity to reinforce each other’s value. Today, however, we are in a situation where the proximities and adjacencies between the different programs and systems deployed throughout the meadowlands are not reinforcing each other positively. Recent efforts by the Meadowlands commission have stabilized the ecosystem, but overall there is no vision about how to address the continuing pressure for further urbanization.

The studio aimed to arrive at a 2-3 distinct overall visions for the Meadowlands, elaborated at different scale levels. Above all, the themes and topics of the studio involved design of resilient urban districts, including urban forms and typologies that mix logistics/industrial uses with residential development. Additionally, it considered the design of a functional wetland system to increase absorption and reduce flood risk, and the creation of critical infrastructure (transportation, energy distribution) that multi-task beyond their initial program and are able to become civic, public objects and monuments for the new Meadowlands.

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