2015 Bmore Resilient Design Competition: Most Innovative Design – Wet Corridor

Team: Aziz Barbar, ChengHe Guan, Dima Rachid | School: Harvard University Graduate School of Design
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Project Narrative


The city of Baltimore is vulnerable to environmental and infrastructural challenges today. Not only is it faced with risks like overheating, rising temperatures, rising sea level and flashfloods, it has also been reporting infrastructural failures. The latter include sewage spills, street flooding, contaminated waters, and untreated sewage discharges.

While this project essentially rethinks the row housing typology in East Baltimore, it frames it within the above challenges by proposing a comprehensive landscape infrastructure approach. The proposal deploys the principles of decentralized infrastructure and ecological engineering in a design framework that is less typologically prescriptive and more adaptable to social and physical variations. In an attempt to plan in disassociation from the grid, the proposed decentralized infrastructure (street lighting, energy-generation, greywater treatment, storm water treatment, runoff treatment etc…) allows equal access of all residents and reduces post-crisis maintenance cost and processing time. The proposed strategies not only have infrastructural performances but simultaneously hold potential in being grounds for diverse public spatial experiences and animated communal spaces within each block.

This proposal takes the competition site in East Baltimore as a test ground for the above design principles, demonstrating how a catalogue of infrastructural systems can be incorporated in a site-specific scenario accounting for parameters such as: soil type, demographics, volume of greywater produced and the space required to treat it.

Ecological engineering deploys landscape elements, primarily constructed wetlands and landforms, as the skeleton of the design strategy. Constructed wetland systems are created on site, grow native phyto-remediating wetland species, and enrich ecological diversity by creating a fish ecology and attracting birds such as herons, geese, and eel. They are low maintenance and aesthetically pleasing. Engineered from existing soils into berms and trenches, the form and construction is guided by three main parameters: the rate of greywater discharge, precipitation, and the angle of repose of the soil. Wetland calculations are in conjunction with housing capacities, assumed here is a 3.16 average family size and a 20gal greywater production per person per day aiming at 100% treatment of 50% of the greywater produced. The system incorporates two kinds of wetlands. Subsurface flow systems act as performative buffer between the defined private space/ house and the sunken public space, while functioning as the preliminary greywater cleansing phase. It reduces risk of undesirable odors or mosquitos. Free water surface system is a 2-pond constructed wetland system in which greywater overflows from one pond to the other undergoing further phytoremediation before joining the underground water table. The flexibility of wetlands is in the possibility of reshaping and re-engineering the landforms upon any unexpected water input fluctuation, an adaptive wetland capacity adjustment within the given space.

Bio-swales are deployed at every opportunity to increase the pervious/impervious surface ratio and direct urban surface runoff. The root zone and soil layering function as a filtration system of runoff and storm-water before joining the water table. This is especially convenient to retain summer flashfloods. Lush tree canopies incorporated in the bio-swales and the rest of the landscape are also beneficial in retaining precipitation, while providing shade, under- canopy ecosystems, and new ecologies. While the proposal is speculative, it builds on existing initiatives. For example, as part of the Chesapeake Bay restoration project for the alleviation of water quality, the city of Baltimore has already initiated the deployment of floating wetlands along its harbors.

The creation of this infrastructure provides ground for community spaces. The system of bridges allows for internal pedestrian circulation encouraging jogging and biking in a lush landscape. The platforms along the bridges perform as community spaces and gatherings for block gatherings, sports hangouts, and neighborhood pop-up events. The wetlands themselves can become nodes of recreation, an extra incorporated phytoremediation buffer belt, for example, can create a green pool for the East Baltimore residents to swim in!

The spatial composition allows for a play on private/public space allocation. The public space is maintained at a sunken position with respect to the private space. The private space itself is the backyard lot of each housing unit, part of which is ceded for greywater treatment and compensated for as a rooftop garden space (ie. further house cooling, water retention, and green space).

The housing unit itself is designed to allow for maximized air ventilation. With the incorporation of stack staircase and a stairwell the internal air circulation is enhanced, also supported by the passive cooling of the water areas and the landscape. A key façade treatment, the terracotta evaporative cooling system, is deployed on the existing brick facades of each unit. While providing a wall aesthetic, these elements use collected rainwater to generate evaporative cooling that reduces the surrounding air temperature. Shaped as blades, these units also provide shade on the façade also reducing solar heat gain.

For overall alleviated air circulation at the scale of the block, a few housing units are selectively removed, based on ownership status and current condition.

Wet Corridor proposes the landscape as the framework that reshapes a healthy lifestyle to the future residents of East Baltimore, offers grounds for social infrastructure, enhances the living environment, meets infrastructural needs, and offers equal accessibility; it is responsive and capable of adapting to environmental, climatic, and demographic fluctuations while maintaining a choreography with the architecture.


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