Student Project: Grounded Structuration | Laura Sasso | MLA University of Virginia

During times of low flow the central area becomes an active recreation area

Grounded Structuration investigates a process for amplifying the potential relationship between the design of the public realm and the politics of community. The design explores how site specific meaning and meaningful experiences can be associated with the retrofitting of infrastructure in New Orleans’ St. Roch community. St. Roch is named after the patron Saint of Good Health, memorializing the community’s auspicious beginning. Ironically, a fragmented drainage network, contaminated soils and blighted properties now threaten the vitality of the once thriving community. Reimagining the community from the ground up is an opportunity to reinvigorate the health of St. Roch.

Context: From the scale of the Mississippi Delta region to a block in St. Roch.

Since 2007 over half of the world’s population lives in urban communities; a sustainable response to changes in urban population densities requires a critical reexamination of the social and ecological function of our urban environments. Strengthening the value of community and developing an ethical stance towards the environment can develop from learned experiences in the public realm. The design of everyday spaces in urban environments, therefore, offers a significant opportunity for linking ecological and social agendas into a holistic, sustainable structure.

Diversity of opportunities and program dispersed throughout the public realm.

The scope of the inquiry occurred at multiple scales. Initially, the research examined the region’s dynamic delta context and was subsequently narrowed to a 17 acre site dispersed within eight blocks in the southwest portion of St. Roch. Fundamentally, the design strategy sought to diversify the experiential potential of the public realm by inspiring engagement on multiple levels on multiple sites. Although the strategy relied on a diverse, distributed program, Ground Structuration predominantly focused on the exploration of one set of contiguous corner parcels and the adjacent street right-of-way. The smaller scale allowed for the proposal to test methods for heightening an individual’s experience within the site. Engaging with our environment is one way we can start to negotiate meaning and developing knowledge about place.

The south entrance to the park along Villere St. just after a rain storm. The furnishings are the entrance railings are constructed using repurposed and reimagioned architectural elements from the city’s salvage sites.

The street sponge resurfaces the ROW using recycled glass pavement and porous concrete.

Breathing Corner provides a place for the ground, water and community to breathe.

The furnishings for Grounded Structuration are mobile which invites the community to participate and adapt the public realm to an improvisational program. The diagram depicts potential program inspired by interests expressed in the Living in St. Roch survey.

Grounded Structuration explores how the physical manifestation of the built environment, specifically its aesthetic and function, can potentially activate and inspire a community to rebuild. Coined by the sociologist Anthony Giddens, Structuration is defined as the dynamic reciprocity between the way in which individuals are both shaped by and shape their social institutions. Everyday places, the spaces of the in-between, are places for the development of community. The intention of the in-between places in Grounded Structuration is to develop a public realm that strengthens community relationships through a diverse set of embedded experiences, inspired by the community’s interests.

Three obstacles to a healthy community: lack of drainage infrastructure, contaminated soils and lack of diversity in zoning

Distribution of social networks and demographics for the community of St. Roch, Louisiana.

The Living in St Roch survey assessed the community’s priorities, values and concern. The word clouds are generated from the aggregation of the written responses for each question.

Embedded in the spatial strategy is a language that translates local cultural patterns and practices into a visual and spatial language of public places. This language is based in the concept of being at home everywhere, thereby expanding what is potentially meaningful to an individual. The strategy utilizes elements of a home such as a foundation, landing, threshold, passageway and porch as the basic vocabulary for spatializing a sense of belonging in the public realm. The in-between place of Grounded Structuration blurs the separation between public and private places in the community.

Spatial language and engagement process of Grounded Structuration.

Furthermore, the spatial strategy builds on the community’s values by adding a narrative of the Mississippi delta into the community infrastructure, remediating the contaminated soils and striving to reclaim the public realm as a place that belongs to the community. Grounded Structuration explores the potential of integrating a multifunctional ecological and social framework as a method for bolstering the health of St Roch.

The resilient, three part strategy includes the street sponge, parcel overflows and a hydrophilic tree network

Section of the Street ROW without drainage infrastructure (top) and the proposed strategy (below).

The aesthetic and design of public infrastructure has the potential to create new metaphors and broaden our understanding and relationship to our environment. Grounded Structuration explores the possibility of amplifying the meaning and the potential of the public realm as part of a strategy for revitalizing a community limited by social, economic, political and environmental inequities.

Seasonal variation in the planted form animates the public realm throughout the year

Laura Sasso | Masters of Landscape Architecture | University of Virginia
I graduated in May 2011 from the University of Virginia with a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture. My graduate studies have been dedicated to exploring the social, ecological and civic potential of the public realmwith an eye towards fostering and maintaining vibrant, diverse and ultimately sustainable communities.

Image Credit: Laura Sasso © 2011

Project Type: Conceptual Design

Project Title: Grounded Structuration

Designer: Laura Sasso, Masters of Landscape Architecture

Advisor: Kristina Hill, PhD

University: University of Virginia

Project Year: 2010-11 (research and concept design)

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