Spring 2021

STITCH2 | austin

What is the future of urban highways?  
                                                 What will become of I-35?              
                                                                                                Bury it? 
                                                                                                            Bridge it?                 Or?

STUDIO DESCRIPTION_ Austin’s I-35 is considered one of the most congested corridors in Texas with an estimated quarter of a million cars each day. With about a 1000 people moving to Texas daily, and an average net migration of 100 persons per day to Austin, demand for mobility continues to increase for the foreseeable future. As well, like many other cities around the country, TxDOT is weighing the costs of the expected reconstruction of an interstate highway system that is aging and nearing the end of its lifespan. For many, this is an opportunity to increase the capacity –“bigger is better”– to facilitate more cars moving faster to greater distances.
Yet how do we decide our best path forward? In considering the past, present and soon to be future for I-35 in the downtown area, what is the criteria for assessment? Cost? Vehicles? Time? Ecological impacts? Health? Social benefits? Economic effects? Happiness? Public Space? Housing? Other?
The planning, and purchasing of right of ways, was underway for the “interregional highway,” or I-35, starting in 1946. Aligned with the former East Avenue, the completion of the interstate in 1962, and an upper deck in 1975, served to magnify (cement) the boundary that isolated East Austin residents, predominately Mexican Americans and African Americans, from the rest of the city. 
After suffering the repercussions of the 1928 “redlining” (a discriminatory practice by which services -loans, insurance, etc.- are refused or limited in a specific geographic area) that segregated the people and wealth (and potential) within the city, East Austin now faces rapid gentrification. Austin continues to see a decline in the African American population, specifically East Austin, while being the fastest-growing major metropolitan area in the country for the last eight years.
As architects, can we help shape this ‘wicked’ problem and its possible future solutions? Do we have a voice? 
This Intermediate Studio will grapple with the complexity of Capital Express Project in order to present other possible futures for downtown Austin. Building upon last spring’s efforts, students will explore infrastructure, in a multivalent manner, to address the consequences of the rapid growth of a city, including concerns for housing and the public realm, through design. In doing so, we will be coordinating with various entities involved in the project.