City Building Together / ARC 207: 2nd Year Undergraduate (1st Semester) / Fall 2020 / Syracuse Architecture


A City is a Language. Shane Lavalette, 2019

Studio Professors: Marcos Parga and Tim Stenson (co-coordinators); Ted Brown, Sekou Cooke, Gregory Corso, Aurelie Frolet, Joseph Godlewski, Terrance Goode, Valeria Herrera, Benjamin Vanmuysen.

Understood as a theoretical framework within which we will operate throughout the semester, this year the focus of ARC 207 (Second Year Design Studio, Undergraduate, 1st Semester) revolves around the role of Architecture as a resource in addressing social injustice in all its forms in our cities.
The current global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored what sociologists have been observing for decades regarding how networks of systems, institutions, and instruments that operate through the logics of complexity have produced a brutally “sharp growth in the number of people, enterprises, and places expelled from the core economic and social orders of our time” (Saskia Sassen, 2014).
It is time for designers to leverage that complexity and embrace Architecture as a collective form that integrates the cultural, the social, the economic and the political, bringing to the forefront, among others, the question of spatial justice and its impact in the redefinition of alternative social infrastructures.

The relevance of these two concepts, spatial (in)justice and  social infrastructure, lies in the fact that the former challenges us to evaluate how the built environment plays a role in the current configuration of disparate socio-economic realities within our cities, and the latter arises as a potential tool to stabilize and propel neighborhoods excluded from the economies of cities through the implementation of non-discriminatory socio-spatial networks.
Now the question is, what role can networked design interventions play in this crucial regenerative process of urban development?

Syracuse Southside neighborhood

According to several reports conducted by different organizations in recent years, Syracuse is the ninth most racially segregated metropolitan area in the country and home to large concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities, including foreign-born, resettled refugees in the city. This hyper-segregation is particularly evident in the enrollment patterns in Onondaga County School Districts, and mirrors differences in school quality, access to jobs and transportation, housing options and other opportunities.
In addition, Syracuse is one of the worst scoring cities in the country when looking at equality of opportunity based on race and ethnicity. Access to community assets is unevenly distributed geographically and across racial and ethnic groups. There are significant disparities in median household income and poverty levels between residents of Syracuse and residents of the surrounding towns. These same differences in relation to race and ethnicity occur within the City itself.
The city’s urban fabric displays clear demographic demarcations and acute forms of spatial injustice and racial segregation that have been forged through uneven planning and housing policies, exacerbated by the construction of the Interstate 81 viaduct more than 50 years ago.

Fig.01. The Williams brothers stand outside their grocery store in Syracuse's 15th Ward in 1920. The neighborhood was once home to many businesses owned by African Americans. Photo courtesy of Onondaga Historical Association. Fig.02. A woman walks past Schor's Market on Harrison Street in Syracuse's 15th Ward in 1965. Photo courtesy of Onondaga Historical Association. Fig.03. The I-81 viaduct under construction (1967). Photo courtesy of Onondaga Historical Association.

I-81 Viaduct


The history of this massive infrastructure is the story of an unsightly monument to the failures of top-down thinking. It cut through the heart of the city, erasing at that time entire neighborhoods like the 15th ward, a close-knit community of families and black-owned businesses. In 1950, it was home to nearly 90 percent of Syracuse’s black population, and a frequent stop for black travelers who needed a safe haven from “white’s only” establishments.
To city leadership, the 15th ward was seen as a failing neighborhood and its different areas were labeled “slums.” So, when Syracuse put in a bid for federal money for an interstate in 1958, despite disagreement from local elected officials, the city administration eventually agreed with Federal and State officials to run the elevated part of the highway through the center of the city. Ignoring protest from residents, district counselors and county legislatures, the entire 15th ward was razed, and with it the homes and businesses of most of Syracuse’s black community. More than 1,300 families were displaced to make way for the construction of Interstate 81, and when these uprooted residents looked for new places to live, blatant housing discrimination again limited them to specific houses and streets. Many of them ended up moving just south of the viaduct and forming a new black neighborhood, one with even fewer resources than the original.

Fig.04. Kids play basketball at Wilson Park near where Interstate 81 slices through a public housing complex in Syracuse, N.Y. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post). Fig.05. Capone, Celeste Wallace and 3-year-old Ezekiel Wallace sit on their porch at Pioneer Homes. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post). Fig.5. As night falls, Kendo relaxes near I-81 with friends and neighbors. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post).

Nowadays this area, the Southside neighborhood, remains one of the poorest areas of the city, with high unemployment rates, low educational outcomes, low housing opportunity, and with limited access to healthy food (food desert).
And as for the sixty-year-old I-81 viaduct, it has deteriorated to the point of near collapse and will require prohibitive maintenance just to keep it from falling apart. Local, State and Federal authorities are battling over whether to repair it, rebuild it, or tear it down - how to right past wrongs.
Thus, Southside Syracuse is an ideal site for investigation of the ways the built space reflects and impacts the definition of our cities, and how architecture can play an active and decisive role in the configuration of more equitable and resilient urban systems.


Project 1: FoodLab

Project 1 will be a 5.5-week studio-wide research and design exercise that integrates analyses of tectonic systems with strategies for forming architectural space within an urban context. Students will explore various definitions and scales of tectonics, analyze case study examples of tectonics as it relates to multiple scales of design, space-defining and space-enclosing systems, and expressions of architectural ideas.
Based on this research, students will develop tectonic and spatial form strategies for a shared project challenge: the design of the Rahma Edible Forest Community Center, located on 3100 S Salina Street, Syracuse NY. The project’s tectonics-focus will also provide an analytic lens to examine and respond to the surrounding context.
Following the experiences of The Edible Schoolyard Project started by activist chef Alice Waters in 1995 in Berkeley CA, students will design a community space that places the child at the center of their learning and uses food to engage all aspects of the child’s education. Through growing, processing, cooking, eating, studying, talking, and thinking about food, the younger generations will develop skills, knowledge, and behaviors that enrich their academic and nonacademic lives, bolster their growth as individuals and in relationships, and cultivate meaningful engagement with their own health, the health of their communities, and the health of the planet.

Fig.06. The Edible Schoolyard Project . Figs.07,08. Rahma Clinic Edible Forest Snack Garden, Syracuse. Fig.9. The Alchemical Nursery, Syracuse. Figs.10,11,12. Edible Schoolyard NYC at P.S. 216. WORKac. Brooklyn, 2014.

Project 1: Student Work

Works by Rui Cao, Sarah Fellingham, Eleanor Sedor, Arpi Cunigal and Jediel Ponnudurai.

Project 2: Building Together The Southside Socio-Spatial Network

Building on common ARC 207 theme and experiences, Project 2 will be a 7.5-week research and design exercise understood as part of a collective endeavor to expand the focus of design effort and envision new systems of social infrastructure that ensure equitable access to urban rights in the form of socio-spatial networks.
Taking the work of the Chicago-based Sweet Water Foundation as a reference, rooted in the holistic practice of regenerative neighborhood development, each section will choose a site within the defined Area of Intervention and contribute to the Southside neighborhood’s regenerative network with a specific (and complementary) program that will result in a collection of community assets designed to transform the ecologies of the area.
Using the same urban context as in Project 1, students will explore parameters of setting, tectonic systems, and program as interrelated factors in the design of a multi-programmed city building as part of a larger community network. Design process will integrate analog, digital, fabrication, and representational techniques to explore design development.

Fig.13. The Thought Barn. The Sweet Water Foundation. Chicago, 2017. Fig.14. AgroCité. Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA). Paris, 2016. Fig.15. Follie for a Flyover. Assemble Studio. London, 2011. Fig.16. Kibera Hamlet School. SelgasCano. Nairobi, Kenia. 2016.

Lecture, Syr SoA DEI Mini-Series: Katie Swenson, MASS  Design Group

Thursday, October 29th, 4-5:30pm


Project 2, Marcos Parga's Section: Homelessness. The Architectures of Reintegration

During the last months we have seen how the number of people facing housing insecurity in the United States, already on the rise, began to climb more steeply as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis. This upward trend will likely be exacerbated if the actual Government’s proposed cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies are enacted, which will force even more to make a choice between food on the table and a roof above their heads.

To those who are safely housed, a homeless person is apt to inspire feelings ranging from fear and disgust to pity and guilt.

Such negative responses are rooted in longstanding myths about “hobos,” “Bowery bums,” and “bag ladies.” Some may believe that homeless people are free spirits who simply prefer to live outside. More likely, they are viewed as misfits – dysfunctional, threatening, potentially criminal.

Above all, they are not like us.

But in her book Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins, Professor Susan Fraiman tries to counteract some of these misleading ideas. She examines ethnographies, journalistic accounts and memoirs that have been written about homeless people and communities. While the accounts describe individuals living in different decades, cities and circumstances, the homeless people portrayed all possess an impressive degree of agency and resourcefulness, even though they can’t take the comforts of home for granted.


Image: Karen Souza, 55, poses for a portrait with her dog Handsome by her tent under a Los Angeles freeway. Lucy Nocholson/Reuters

In Syracuse, the number of homeless people has risen in recent years from 461 in 2016 to 613 in 2020, according to an annual count from the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Central New York. But since May 2019, the city is working to combat homelessness through the implementation of the Hire Ground Workforce Development, a plan that provides some of the most vulnerable a path out of poverty rooted in economic viability and support services.

Our contribution to the Southside Socio-Spatial Network is linked to this initiative and involves the design of new types of supportive living environments that will help formerly homeless individuals re-enter society as recovering, productive, independent and contributing members. Following the premises of Housing First, an innovative strategy that prioritizes the security of a permanent home as the first step to ending homelessness, and some of the experiences of the Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles, CA, Project 2 will provide transitional and permanent affordable homes coupled with the help needed to permanently break the cycle of homelessness. By creating dignified buildings with on-site support services, the project aims to alter both how people view the residents and how the residents view themselves, therefore building a positive tie between both of them.

Comprehensive support services will include, among others, a Medical Clinic, Social Services Offices, and Health & Wellness Center. But beyond these programmatic requirements, and as stated in the Trust philosophy, in the end it is the residents who make the buildings homes and communities, whether it is cooking a meal for neighbors or holding the door for another resident. Thus, the final proposals should work as open frameworks within which life unfolds in many different forms, fostering and enabling alternate ways of building a much-needed new community.

Project 2: Final Reviews

Tuesday, December 1st, 1-5pm


Prof. Debora Mesa, Thomas W. Ventulett III Distinguished Chair in Architectural Design at Georgia Tech School of Architecture and Principal at Ensamble Studio (

Prof. Luis Pancorbo, Assistant Professor at UVA, University of Virginia School of Architecture, and Principal at Pancorbo Arquitectos ( ).

Prof. Joseph Godlewski, Syracuse SoA.

Prof. Valerie Herrera, Syracuse SoA.


Project 2: Student Work

Works by Rui Cao + Leo Friedman, Jediel Ponnudurai + Eleanor Sedor, Sarah Fellingham + Arpi Cunigal and Greta Ulatowski + Danny Horan.