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Tower Space

High-rise towers rarely develop the verticality of spaces they create, remaining instead only iconic objects in the urban landscape. Their interiors consist of stacked-up floor plates, maximizing leasable or usable floor area, and in urban centers where groupings of towers crowd together on the most expensive land, the spaces between the towers are ignored. No doubt, these conditions result from the single-minded interests of commercial developers and the isolation enforced by private property ownership. The potential remains, regardless of the limitations of current attitudes, to invest the latent and actual verticality of towers with new programs of habitation that expand the meaning and experience of urban tower space. This was the aim of the sixth semester design studio in the Graduate School of Architecture at Pratt Institute this past semester. It was realized in a one-to-one installation constructed by the members of the studio in the main space of a recent addition to the architecture building, designed by Steven Holl. 

“The studio set out to explore a ‘proto-urban’ condition observed in cities throughout the world,” write the members of the studio. “Tower projects are rising to previously unimaginable heights, employing the very latest in technology, materials, design, and construction methodology. While many such endeavors enjoy great acclaim, the projects, typically ‘single point’ towers, rarely address the existing or emerging urban landscape. In this way, the tower, despite the use of expressive shapes and complex skins, is rapidly becoming the world’s generic building unit. Regulatory and economic realities often force this unit’s construction in a kind of non-contextual vacuum. Our studio explores what might occur if a complex of interrelated towers were to be commissioned. What types of relationships, physical or otherwise, might be formed? How might these new relationships change (for better or for worse) the ‘proto-urban’ environment?

Our proposal emerges from the spirit of research and is born of a commitment to an entirely collaborative design/build process.  Our collective vision is the creation of four integrated towers. The structures are shaped and informed by a matrix of vertical urban planes based on an aggregate of the world’s many urban grids.  Three of the emerging towers stand vertically while a fourth is set on a diagonal. The complex composition permits rich relationships between the structures and the ground plane while also giving rise to an entirely new form of public zone. The architecture will incorporate interactive experiences that fuse light, sound, and moving images in order to explore our studio’s interest in programs for verticality that relate primarily to the psychological desires and realities of ‘proto-urban’ dwellers.”

The results are visually powerful and evocative of new possibilities. What remains to be accomplished is a critical discourse about them, and a way to evaluate—or even answer—the questions invoked by “for better or for worse.”  —LW

Pratt Institute Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design: Thomas Hanrahan, Dean; William MacDonald, Chair; Sixth Semester Design Studio: Liam Ahern, Tia Maiolatesi, Adam Grassi, Benjamin Keiser, Brian Choquette, Kurt Altschul, Johanna Helgadottir, Andrew Miller, Tapasi Mittal, Rob Jarocki, Dhruv Chandwania, and Lebbeus Woods, Professor; Guest critics: Narelle Sissons, Christopher Otterbine, Christoph a.Kumpusch, Steven Holl. This project was made possible in part by a generous grant from the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture (, Bern, Switzerland.