Seamless urban topographies
The introduction of the automobile drastically changed the urban fabric of our cities. Cars offered unprecedented mobility, so middle-class Americans fled cities in the endless pursuit of personal space. It became necessary to construct a vast network of infrastructure to accommodate the infinite expansion of peripheral districts. So, in the mid-20th century, public works projects were undertaken throughout the country in order to modernize cities around the vehicle. There was great excitement over the engineering feat of the elevated freeway as "an urban sculpture for motion." 1 However, the inevitable enormity of vehicular infrastructure became problematic in historically dense urban centers. Architects and planners accepted the increasing importance of the automobile but were wary of its imposing infrastructure. They understood both the potential of freeways for expansion, as well as the drawbacks of their "mere physical form ... sheer bigness and muscularity." 2 Earlier projects were more mindful of urbanistic principles integrating topography and pedestrian movement into a sectionally-rich infrastructure. There were theoretical projects suggesting a "multilevel metropolis" 3 that argued for the careful integration of buildings and alternative transportation as a way to mitigate the impact of daunting elevated structures. Unfortunately, the rapid expansion of the interstate system began to ignore these strategies. Instead, most cities received the universally engineered solution to simply elevate the highway and obliterate anything in its path. Furthermore, the insertion of massive highway infrastructure occurred overwhelmingly through lower-class neighborhoods under the guise of fixing urban blight. Once vibrant neighborhoods were plowed over with asphalt and isolated from the rest of the city. Some fifty years later, the relevance of the automobile is dwindling, and designers are questioning this invasive highway infrastructure. The elevated highway became a physical and perceptual barrier that has inhibited the growth of countless urban communities. While the simplistic solution argues total removal, or capping, this process is expensive, unsustainable, and only masks the problem. These structures have a legacy and permanence as an architectural element, and have the potential to be part of a larger system for mobility. This thesis argues for the return to more sustainable solutions for a multilevel urban condition with the capacity to reconnect isolated spaces.