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Building Dignity

Spring 2023

GSAPP Adv IV Studio
Instructor: Ziad Jamaleddine

The histories of immigrant racial conflicts are deeply rooted in the Staten Island, a conservative borough predominantly white for decades. From the initiation of the post-911 Muslim surveilance, Trump’s ‘No-Foreign Ties’ policies, to violence on the black community, immigrants have continued to face hardships and protested for their rights.

The newly arrived immigrants of Staten Island are a group often overlooked by the public, yet makes up a huge essential labor force driving socio-economic developments and growing at an unprecedented speed in recent years. While most of these immigrant workers long for a humble way to make a living and support their families, their wages are shockingly only a fraction of the same job earnings for non-immigrants in the rest of NYC. The majority are employed in blue collar jobs such as construction, maintenance, cleaning and service industries.

The project is a self-sustaining educational institution that provides essential labor training for newly-arrived immigrants awaiting their legal status of employment. It is a shared community asset of knowledge, and support, during their most vulnerable period of awaiting their legal working status.

The Vulnerable 180 Days of Invisibility

A huge factor for the inequality in wage and employment rights can be traced back to the notoriouuss 180 days of processing period for the immigrant legal work status application. As one first arrive in the borough, they need to formally request a work permit called an employment authorization document. This period leaves many with no means to support themselves legally. Many of them resort to the streets for informal day labor pickups with harsh working conditions at the risk of exploitation with no negotiation power. Without any formal training and legal knowledge of their rights, this exploitation continues even beyond earning a legal working status.

Site Context

The geographical tracing of political conflicts shows a scarring spine of concentrated regions of poverty, crime and labor insecurities for immigrants on the SI Northshore. Zooming in the center of this spine is the Stapleton District, where two vacant lots directly adjoin the Stapleton subway stop. The Site is also special as one of the most vibrant and densely populated immigrant communities on the island, adjacent to the only immigrant job resource center-La Colmena. The nonprofit with huge social significance in empowering immigrants through education, organizing, culture and economic development. Yet their physical space of a single storey room could no longer accommodate the overflowing needs for training courses for construction and service industries

Regenerative Building

The project provides resources, networks, and training to transition immigrants to a stable and formal source of employment focusing on their most vulnerable period of 180 days and beyond, administered by la colmena. In addition, it is an evolving experimental ground where the majority of trainees in the construction industry can practice building techniques within a regenerative design-build project, in working with bamboo as a construction material in addition to their general knowledge training. It is constructed, maintained, and partially rebuilt bi-annually every 180 days through the growth and upkeep of a bamboo field by workers in the construction industry as a renewable building resource on-site, with collaborators of bamboo nurseries in NJ, Massachusetts, and Oregon as part of the American Bamboo Society northern chapter expansion effort.

The Bi-annual cycle of the educational training curriculum corresponds to the annual bamboo growth cycle of Phyllostachys Atrovaginata.

Phasing: Structuring, Harvesting, Experimenting

Reaching a self-regenerative field takes time. Upon the initial plantings and maturing of the bamboo field, structural brick walls are first constructed to host utilities such as kitchen sinks, bathrooms, and equipment storage walls. They are carved to be inhabitable and host programs in a semi-conditioned enclosure in the first 4-5 years.
As the bamboo field matures in year 5, 25% of the culms can be harvested annually. Bamboo roofing is constructed to enclose the program spaces started by the structural brick wall. The negative spaces between the enclosed programs serve as construction workshop and experimental grounds, where every Spring and Fall, new bamboo roofscapes/ pavilions are experimented with as part of the training and inhabited in summer and winter.

Linear Journey, Non-Linear Timescale

The Long Section Perspective collapses the linear journey of the project at the cross-section between the subway commuter spine connecting two existing public parks - in a non-linear timescale capturing moments throughout the evolving calendar. Recycled poles at the end of each cycle have the opportunity to be fabricated into modular pavilions for canvasing events spreading any news or knowledge to the wider community beyond the physical site. The placement of programs radiates from the subway, with more noise-resistant programs located in the center, and classrooms, daycare and prayer spaces in the periphery. The prayer space breaks the orthagonal grid to face Mecca and the waterfront. The entire sequence can be experienced linearly yet offering unique educational and workshop opportunities unique to immigrants in different occupations and needs.

Symbol of Dignity in the Public Landscape

The speculative project challenges a typical building typology as a regenerative infrastructure, where it experiments with the possibility of being self-grown, self-built, and self-sustained with the input of its inhabitants. In training and building collectively, knowledge is shared and practiced on-site while building a cohesive immigrant community. Seeing the architecture manifests becomes a symbol of dignity recognized in the public landscape.