THICK INFRASTRUCTURE is a design research project investigating the intervention, expansion, and re-design of public infrastructure to include elements that enhance civic and public spaces, transforming single-purpose infrastructure landscapes into multi-functional systems. The project advances the vision of infrastructure as integrated into the fabric of the city, replacing the reality of single-purpose, engineered, and disconnected infrastructural landscapes.
The project tested design ideas and strategies by looking at a selected number of the 28 park and ride lots, 19 transit centers, and linear segments of both the 2500 miles of waterways and ditches and the 200 miles of utility easements in the city. The ideas and designs provide a window into the potential future of our infrastructure systems and landscapes, and illustrate new ways to merge these systems into our communities and make them more useful and valuable, serving multiple purposes.
19 Transit Centers are located throughout the city, serving the 200,000 people on average who ride the bus everyday. In many cases the Transit Centers sit like objects in the center of their large sites, isolated and disconnected from the streets and neighborhoods that surround them, and the people who depend on them. We want to know how Transit Centers can simultaneously accommodate buses and add value to the neighboring communities? There are two ways that we have approached intervening in Transit Centers. The first is to add programs to the Centers as a means to add value and serve the surrounding neighborhoods. The second is to re-think the location of the Transit Center itself. So, instead of proposing to improve transit centers located at the intersection of major freeways, we have proposed that they be re-located to, for example, the heart of a shopping district or near other services and amenities people need.
In the end, we believe that Transit Centers should be the “center” of something. That they should support those who ride transit everyday by being conveniently located and packed with amenities and services. Specifically, the centers should be located in high-density areas, not next to freeways, and be re-thought in way that allows them to become part of their neighborhood, and not air-dropped onto a large site.
PARK AND RIDES
28 Park and Ride lots are distributed around the periphery of Houston. Nearly 30,000 people use the park and ride system each day. However, approximately 40% of the 32,000 parking spaces are vacant everyday. We want to know how we can make use of vacant parking, especially in the evenings and on weekends, and how the park and ride lots can add value to the surrounding area? It would be easy to transform Park and Ride lots into something valuable. Temporary uses for example could keep the Park and Ride lots active on the weekends and in the evening. Temporary programming could focus on recreation, events, community gatherings, and sports. Permanent programs, such as car detailing, cafes, movies, or book share programs, could encourage more people to use the system and take transit to work.
Park and Ride lots are not centrally located in the heart of our neighborhoods, instead the lots hang off of the high occupancy vehicle system like threads. We feel that if these lots were part of our neighborhoods, were designed as centers, and had amenities, that more and more people would ride transit.
Our houses and neighborhoods mostly turn their backs on the 2500 miles of waterways, bayous, and ditches that wind through the city. Instead of considering the drainage easements as an amenity, they are something we turn our backs on. What would it take to change this? Thickening our drainage easements by adding amenities like trails, paths, seating, shade, and lighting has the potential to create an alternative pedestrian network, and new green corridors winding through our neighborhoods.
In the end, if drainage systems were proactively planned and designed as an integral element that added value to our communities, instead of turning our backs on these systems we would embrace them. Our houses would face two ways, to the front yard and the street and to the drainage easement. We would have a completely new pedestrian network and additional wildlife corridors and linear parks that would wind throughout the city.
200 miles of Utility Easements cross the city. Many of these easements are 200’ wide. While there are a few exceptions, most of the easements are large swathes of mowed grass. What would it take to change this? Thickening our utility easements as a means to transform them into new networks and trails would first take legal action, but second it would take decision-making. Clearly, prioritizing the transformation of easements that would most readily serve dense neighborhoods, schools, parks, and the proposed Bayou Greenway system would be of the highest priority.
If we find new ways to think about high voltage electricity corridors, develop new design strategies to better integrate them into our communities, and new safety measures that would make them a viable and safe alternative pedestrian and bicycle network, the whole system could transform.
Together the strategies illustrate just some of the potential transformations of our easements, waterways, transit centers, and park and ride lots. Our goal was to illustrate that both large and small changes were important, and have the opportunity to substantially transform our existing infrastructure systems. That, for example, opening a farmers market at a Transit Center in a food desert makes sense. That utilizing park and ride lots for community movie nights would bring people together and make the lot more useful. However, our real goal was to suggest that infrastructure should be considered an integral part of our communities and cities in the beginning, not in the end.
The opening reception was held at the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture Atrium on October 4, 2012. The exhibit will be open until November 21, 2012.
Project Team: Susan Rogers, Ruqiya Imtiaz-uddin, Alex Lara, Rose Lee, and Xavier Vargas