© 2008-2016 Alexandra Gens   
Knowledge Exchange
Instructor Brian Goldberg    Course RISD, The Open City, Fall 2009

0, Overview
A proposal for a play and information based nodal wayfinding system that symbiotically links with The Hub, a hybridized community center / library / school.

1, Synecdoche and Asyndeton
Michel de Certeau's theory of the synecdoche and asyndeton from his The Practice of Everyday Life lead this project's beginning. I used his conceptual framework to explore the neighborhood in west Providence known by some as the Column. The initial mapping attempted to find the Column residents' sensations of synecdoche or asyndeton: were there landmarks in the neighborhood that broadly defined it, or was the Column comprised of a series of amenities that meagerly existed, stitching together a blanket of nothing? After interviewing locals via mind-maps (a la Kevin Lynch) I found the latter to be true: the column lacked a concrete icon. Yet, there was a series of landmarks that, while not shared amongst any one majority, still shared a dominant trait: their old age. Perhaps the density of age had the potential to register strongly in the subconscious? To qualify this, an extensive historical mapping of the neighborhood was undertaken (A).

Ultimately, the historical investigation failed: the age and resulting charm of the older streets were quickly overpowered by the convenience of the main arteries that hosted public transportation and commuter flows. The importance of large historical buildings was equaled by the importance of large new buildings and so on. Instead, the historical mapping revealed something else entirely. As far back as the early 1700s, the road names of the Column possess an interesting directionality; the phrase "All roads lead from Rome" is applicable in that it describes the recurrent naming of streets as to their destinations from Providence (A). The most interesting example of this is Plainfield road, now Westminster street, named so because it was the path from Providence to Plainfield. The question then was: how can naming not just indicate but also influence urban flows in a way that acknowledges and generates synecdoches in the column?

A. Historical mapping of the Column in Providence, RI/

2, Nodal Wayfinding
A nodal wayfinding network (B) possesses the ability to not only direct with its words, but also, when digitalized, to adapt. The neighborhood could be seen with a lens of the current. Events (future, current or past) could be read in an adapting network of directional information. The nodes are initially placed by someone identifying moments remarkable to perhaps only themselves (a certain place during a certain time of day where the high schoolers burst from their bounding box to redefine who possesses the street, a bakery with fantastic panini, an old but disused theater). A designed game formulated the dual roles of the nodal network (C): the local is made aware of events in their neighborhood (garage sale, farmers market, public hearing), while the non-local is playfully tasked to locate various nodes. Essentially, the marriage between a sign system and a bulletin board is modernized and its nodes located to highlight wonderful inconsistencies in the neighborhood, constantly generating event knowledge for locals and drawing non-locals to the spectacle of its game. A node placed at a neighborhood inconsistency is shown in E (where two buildings slant dangerously close together, and bounce light between their white siding), while a node placed at a proposed neighborhood amenity is shown in F (a sheltered bike rack for one of the few markets in the neighborhood).

B. Nodal wayfinding network/

C. Mapping the game and resulting awareness [Detail] ― D. Urban nodes to building parti/

E. Example node, highlighting where two buildings slant unusually close together/

F. Example node, sheltered bike rack for one of the few markets in the neighborhood/

3, The Hub
Few of the current Column residents own the space they live in. The project very quickly became focused on preventing the gentrification, and eventual removal of the current population that the wayfinding network could provide a catalyst for. There needs to be an enlightenment in the Column, not an enlightenment brought to the Column. Spiraling and expanding from the wayfinding system (D), if the network shared information between people about an event, then what other forms of information could be shared? What type of building could provide the forum where these materializations of knowledge would need to manifest, to be taught, to be learned? The various programs (L) aim to provide the space for as many forms of knowledge as possible while simultaneously linking themselves in a potential commonality (the library to the printshop/bindery, the performance space to the recording space). This interdisciplinary blur is largely achieved by a very large circulation path that snakes around the fixed, programmed space (M). The result is a series of soft zones: places of gathering and observation that simultaneously provide deliberate and accidental cross-contamination. The Hub then feeds back to the wayfinding system. A Column resident's porch (from a class taught by a retired carpenter), a music video (from a collection of aspiring musicians), a blog (from a writing workshop) flashes across a node and quietly points the way to the Hub.

G. Hub design process axon/

I. Hub final floor plans/

J. Hub perspectiveK. Hub section/

L. Program and cicrulation diagram/M. defined spaces, circulation paths and resulting soft spaces diagram