Breathe Design

Simultaneous Cities


Simultaneous Cities

An undergraduate architectural thesis on urban redevelopment and parametric authorship.

syracuse univeristy
School of architecture

Undergraduate Thesis 2013

Simultaneous Cities aims to reconnect two post-industrial neighborhoods while simultaneously producing moments of cross-programming, functional overlap, and social interface. As a means of programmatic distribution, three autonomous parametric species were developed. By starting with simple archetypes and embodying them with variability, behaviors become apparent. As a parallel exercise, the city was extensively mapped in a search for productive simultaneity.  The program, a Live / Work complex for young artists and designers, is systematically paired with each species, then is let loose on the cities. The site: the expanding gap between Fishtown and Northern Liberties in Philadelphia was chosen to investigate the thesis.

“The American city has become an urban model from times gone by.”

Like many of these cities, Philadelphia’s urban fabric embodies the residual memory of its pasts. Northern Liberties and Fishtown have a long and dynamic history. The current situation in which we find these neighborhoods, has emerged as a result of drastic changes in economics, infrastructure, and industry: a residue of what was once active. Abandoned factories and warehouses from the early 1900’s, vacant breweries, various types of three to five story row-homes, and blank lots populate this post-industrial landscape. In extreme contrast, the same landscape has recently been the site of rapid gentrification; an economic process of re-establishing culture and identity.  Bars, restaurants, concerts, and community parks have begun to fill the gaps.

We must reconsider our understanding of the “city” as a singular built environment. Informed by urban memory, the city should be understood as a multiplicity of virtual or parametric urbanities existing together.

These memories are the accumulation of alterations to the urban fabric: shifting streets, the dramatic separation of neighborhoods due to infrastructure, and the changes in economics reflected in vacant lots and abandoned buildings. The relationship between these memories and the built environment is never constant or concrete; becoming a mode of thought for investigation. By de-laminating the current city, through a rigorous, site-specific set of filtered mappings, the existence of multiple “Simultaneous Cities” becomes apparent. One can understand this concept as Koolhaas describes a similar understanding of cities suggesting the presence of “a kind of depth of memory.”

Conceptual Framework


OM Ungers investigates the formal artifacts of urban change in his essay “Collective Memory. The Infinite Catalogue of Urban Forms.” Ungers discusses Hadrian’s Villa as a kind of pure conjunction of urban memory. He describes the villa as a collection of places, each relating to a specific moment in the past. “A recollection of places: that was Hadrian’s concept of the city; each place with its own character and identity competing with the place next to it, contradicting but also mutually enriching.” He describes the relationship of “places” in Hadrian’s Villa as both contradictory and “mutually enriching.” This relationship of different forms isn’t possible without the event: the formal moment, regardless of time, when the two differences collide. The interest isn’t in the buildings themselves, rather in the collision.

Violence of the Event - Tschumi

The description of something happening, often of significance, can be understood by the word ‘event.’ I am not interested in the notion of a large gathering with cocktails and food on toothpicks; instead the kind of event that shapes the city. Since the beginning of man’s conscious creation of the built environment, there has been a combative relationship between the human and physical world. “There is no architecture without action, no architecture without events, no architecture without program. By extension, there is no architecture without violence.” Bernard Tschumi discusses notions of event in his essay “Violence of Architecture.” He describes two distinct orders, the order of architecture, defined by rigorous geometry and ideal spaces, and the order of the human, which is loosely defined by a field. By taking a hierarchical position on an order, it can be forcibly intruded on another. The reaction, human bumping into walls or corridors too narrow for large crowds, becomes the event of violence. Simultaneous Cities exists independently of each other but inhabit the same physical world. At the moments when two or more of these conceptually independent cities collide, a point, building, block, or park become the resulting site of event.

Process + Program

The program, a Live/Make housing complex is understood as suggestion and flexible.   The primary users of the complex consist of young artists and designers, immediately local residents, and patrons of Philadelphia’s breweries.  The initial step was to separate the program into three groups: Live, Work, Engage. Program as attractor.

Following the mapping investigation, one major aspect of the city became clear; its creation is absolutely dependent on its parts but each part is autonomous. For example, Interstate 95 cuts directly through existing streets and parks without regard for them.  Following this notion, three autonomous species were developed parametrically; but where does one start?  The answer to this simple question led to a rather complicated set of decisions; one on hand there is an interest in the collective while on the other, an idea about forceful collision. Each species started from a simple archetype, then was empowered with variability – the first step toward behavior.


The archetypes and their variability.

The three species have been defied as a courtyard building, an urban wall (with varying depths and ability to become occupy-able), and multi-story apartments (both as point-loaded towers and as town-homes). Each species has three modes of interaction. The following twelve studies for each species are illustrating the variability of their interactions.

As an example, the first row is illustrating how a courtyard building's form would respond to variability in the placement of the courtyard.


Feedback Loops

Once the species have been defined, they are introduced to the city. By parametrically selecting specific aspects of a few maps and using them as influences, a set of behaviors become apparent. These behaviors are not random, they are highly constructed based on the existing, extinct, and programmatic conditions of the city in testing, each of the species’ behaviors are based in aspiration on the part of the architect.

Diagram showing how the urban wall script finds vacant lots and builds its form.

Iteration and Authorship

As the three scripts played out on the various mapped cities, a large portion of the thesis led towards understanding the results of parametric modeling and learning to judge certain iterations over others. While there are methods of determining the 'best' version of the outputs through numerical information or data, as a designer there are non-scientific non-data driven decisions to be made based on beauty, proportion, habitation, and urbanization. One iteration was selected based on the defined program and was further developed.