East Austin is comprised primarily of older neighborhoods with single-family homes laid out in a traditional city grid. Many of these neighborhoods have back-of-house service infrastructure—what we commonly refer to as alleys. These often-neglected transits tend to be stagnant and overgrown, little more than the place where trash is collected each week. The City of Austin, working with the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, has developed a program to address these mostly neglected service corridors—the Green Alley Demonstration Project (GADP). The project is in response to UTSOA’s Alley Flats Initiative—reasonably priced housing for those increasingly pushed out of East Austin. These affordable new homes are accessed off alleys. With alleys as the primary means to new urban housing, the GADP’s goal is to re-imagine Austin alleys as inhabited infrastructure. To enliven alleys this way, the Demonstration Project proposes a low impact development (LID) approach where alleyways become activated locales for the community—places for neighbors to gather in green spaces, areas to collect stormwater, rain gardens to cleanse it, community artwork, as well as areas for public gardening. The city’s kit-of-parts approach plans to test some of these features in East Austin, which can then be adapted throughout the community.
Your work this semester is to design and build a series of projects that convey GADP’s goals. You’ll critically assess the City’s program, build on that and imaginatively respond to it through a design/build process. You should take a poetic approach, one that provokes the imagination and utilizes innovative thinking. The alley you’ll work in is between East 8th and 9th Streets and runs between Lydia and Waller Streets. You’re expected to incorporate resilient design methodologies and introduce imaginative strategies that integrate environmental stewardship with the cultural aspects of the place in which you work. All this is to be skillfully woven into your design and is meant encourage a greater sense of belonging to place.
Integral to Public Interest Design you’ll work closely with the community for which you’re designing and building. To achieve this, your design/build work will be coordinated with the City of Austin Public Works and the Guadalupe Development Neighborhood Corporation (GDNC). The neighbors who make up the GDNC live in the community in which we’ll work. To fulfill their desires and get a better sense of what it means to work with a community group you’ll work closely with them, to assure that you’re not only meeting their goals, but exceeding their expectations of design.
Your work this semester will focus on environmental stewardship. Through reinvigorating traditionally underused urban areas you’re improving the overall environmental quality of our community in several ways: 1) helping to reduce the carbon footprint by contributing to denser neighborhoods closer to workplaces; 2) helping to cleanse stormwater runoff that otherwise finds its way into the city’s urban watershed; 3) helping cool urban heat islands through greening strategies; 4) offering more porous surfaces, which increase rainwater absorption; 5) offering places for neighbors to gather together in semi-public settings to work together on common “greening” projects. To achieve these, you’ll be asked to investigate and incorporate proven technologies that demonstrate and promote resilient practices. What you design should employ as much recycled material as possible, with new materials sought out within a 200-mile radius of Austin, to down on long-haul transportation and associated increased carbon footprint. The embodied energy of project materials will be taken into account in the design. As your design develops you may choose to include “living” components. As example, green walls may be used, giving those in the community the opportunity to see how they might use them to grow vegetables or provide cooling opportunities. Part of your design will identify and employ other environmental stewardship approaches that highlight environmental stewardship.