Manifesto for a Broken Urbanism

Elle Gerdeman (website)
Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Core Studio
Brief: Performing Arts Center
Faculty: Danielle Etzler



The urban condition of Government Center, a fabric of a distinct parts dictated by the nothing and divorced by the elevator, stands as a relic of a diluted modernist testimony. The decline of the modern ethos is the final declaration of (), torn between positive social objectives and the inward self-exploration of its own objective. No salvation is any longer to be found within it: neither wandering restlessly in hopeful ideas so heroic they end in muteness, nor enclosed in the stubborn silence of geometry content with its own perfection.[1] Its fall is as definitive as the commitment to functionalism that modern architecture rallied in the process of its development. It is this which most distracted the after effects from modern architecture’s most genuine, original objectives.[2] They never achieve the radicalization of Mies’s plinths, which reinvent urban space as a collection of limited urban artifacts. In its gestation, Modernism confronted the conflation of the city. It is this emphasis on finiteness and separateness that makes artifacts like these the most intense manifestation of the political in the city.[3] This is diametrically opposite to the following architecture, one so obsessed with authenticity, it became tied to the replication of itself, ironically leading to its own sterility. The overzealous ambition for sheer heroism and total authenticity relies on the didactic; a shift to total authority – a single dictator with lost claim: architecture is the city.

What sort of architecture incarnates the city? The iconic building – which affirms its own singular presence through the appearance of its image cannot be a valid part of the city. Presence in a city can be defined as a constant state of liminality – that of passing through borders. Our public encounters are an oscillation through space defined by threshold. One cannot define the outcome of the threshold as urbanization: how program evolves, how movement performs, how flows unfold, how change occurs. Delineating the fabric of a city is to make way for relationships which are at their most complex and intense. This does not lead to simplification, but rather the opposite, a city cannot sustain as a work of art. Since the urban is now pervasive, urbanism will never again be about the ‘new’, only about the ‘more’ and the ‘modified’.[4]

We cannot be concerned with arrangement of permanent objects, but rather aim for configurations to (enable field and refuse definitive form.) Our ability to achieve the more, the modified is via expanding transparency, (denying boundaries, as an act of identifying threshold to pursue conflation). Our obsession with urbanism is misguided, instead we must aim for the manipulation of infrastructure, a layering of intent and reduction of authority as the (opaque) to favor endless diversifications.

  1. Manipulate Infrastructure to adjust to new needs.
  2. Deny Boundaries by changing scale and therefore altering the original.
  3. Identify Threshold through resolution of the void and facade within the city: observe the relation of people within and without.
  4. Conflation of intent and space causes ambiguity and dissolves monumentality, thus creating an architecture that can exist within the city.
  5. Deny Permanence by allowing for multi staged use; this cannot be naive by simply providing space, but instead be pointed.

[1] Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia 1973
[2] Moneo, Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies: Peter Eisenman 2004
[3] Aureli, Toward the Archipelago 2011
[4] Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism? 1994



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