Precedent Research & Mash-up Illustration (First Iteration)

AB Walker – 1909 Life Magazine Cartoon

The above image is a 1909 Life Magazine cartoon by A.B. Walker, showing a skyscraper re-conceptualized as a series of conventional houses stacked on an open skyscraper frame. Its caption reads, “‘Buy a cozy cottage in our steel constructed choice lots, less than a mile above Broadway.  Only ten minutes by elevator.  All the comforts of the country with none of its disadvantages.’ – Celestial Real Estate Company

The cartoon was discovered by Rem Koolhaas and discussed in his book, Delerious New York,  writing ”a theorem that describes the ideal performance of the skyscraper: a slender steel structure supports 84 horizontal planes, all the size of the original plot.  Each of these artificial levels is treated as a virgin site, as if the others did not exist, to establish a strictly private realm around a single country house and its attendant facilities, stable, servants’ cottages, etc.  Villas on the 84 platforms display a range of social aspiration from the rustic to the palatial; emphatic permutations of their architectural styles, variations in gardens, gazebos and so on, create at each elevator stop a different lifestyle and thus an implied ideology, all supported with complete neutrality by the rack.”

“The ‘life’ inside the building is correspondingly fractured: on level 82 a donkey shrinks back from the void, on 81 a cosmopolitan couple hails an airplane.  Incidents on the floors are so brutally disjointed that they cannot conceivably be part of the same scenario.  The disconnectedness of the aerial plots seemingly contradicts the fact that, together, they add up to a single building.  The diagram strongly suggests even that the structure is a whole exactly to the extent that the individuality of the platforms is preserved and exploited, that its success should be measured by the degree to which the structure frames their coexistence without interfering with their destinies.  The building becomes a stack of individual privacies.”

I decided to further my thesis research by thinking about the ground as an inhabitable framework, with the ground being a similar spatial “frontier” to the sky. While space in the case of the skyscraper is divided using a framework, the ground is divided into plots of inhabitable space using the method of subtraction. As one would divide a horizontal urban space into two dimensional grids, the underground plots are three dimensional and confined on all sides.

The sterile and organized grid is seen from a real estate developer’s perspective, maximizing space in order to maximize profit. I then deformed (or designed) this organizational system, looking at the planned system of space from an architectural perspective. The diagram can also show the difference in a “top down” methodology of urban planning versus an emergent or “ground up” version. If space is pixelated and sold, how would this system organize itself over time. Here, the framework is set into place as a static condition. Variables (the inhabitants of this new urban underground) are then able to organize themselves organically.

As in A.B. Walker cartoon, life within the framework is fractured and vibrant with activity of all kinds. Below I speculate upon who the inhabitants of this new urban underground would be if let “loose” upon a framework organized system. Would capitalism take over to create a corporate wild west within the ground? Dystopian in theory,  the colorful ads act as a visual contradiction in this fictional view of the underground.


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