Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Final Thesis Document

Over the past few months, I have focused on my final thesis project to complete my Master's degree in Urban and Rural Design. The project resulted in an Urban Design strategy for a 12-block area in the Sherman Park Neighborhood of Milwaukee. Please feel free to view and share the final document (below), which I have delivered to Queen's University in Belfast as well as my client groups (Common Ground and Sherman Park Community Association). I was well supported in my efforts for this project and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the residents of the area. It is hoped that this project will assist the fundraising efforts for improvement projects in this area moving forward.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


As of 5pm yesterday I my work in Belfast is done... With the final submission of my project on North Belfast I begin a month-long farewell European tour before finally making my indefinite return to US soil. Here's the itinerary:

5-day trip to Denmark & Copenhagen

10-day trip with the family around Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland

Another 10-day trip with my girlfriend's family in the opposite direction around the island of Ireland

And finally, a 5-day trip to the architecture and beaches of Barcelona

The past two years have provided me with timeless memories and life-long friends. I've also grown a tremendous amount personally and academically, and I've achieved things I never thought possible only a few years ago. These travels and experiences have left an indelible mark on my life and I consider this to be a fantastic beginning to an adult life full of adventure and an undying hunger for exploration.

Thank you all for your steadfast support throughout these years because, as many of you already know, it wasn't always easy. I couldn't have done it without you.

Moving forward, I will be developing a master plan for a low-income, under-served area on the west side of Milwaukee (Between North and Center along 44th and 45th streets). Following the submission of my thesis project in September, I hope to establish myself in a community and make a difference through design or community and urban activism. I am currently looking in Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities.

Please note, this does not mark the end of my blog. I plan to post about the other design projects I worked on this year as promised and I plan to continue my updates through my summer thesis design project and into the real world. Please forgive the lack of posting over the next few months as I transition back to life at home.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Design Project: New Lodge Towers

My postings had been sparse over the past few weeks during a long break for Easter and a heavy work period for a final project and exam. In the next couple of posts I'll highlight some of the project's I've worked on this year:

The most recent project asked myself and a group of team members to analyze the change in the built environment in North Belfast over the past 40-50 years (pre- to post-troubles). Through a series of maps and photographs we discovered that through systematic slum clearance and the implementation of motorways through the area, the landscape today has become pockets of insular/'cul-de-sac'd' housing developments and disconnected from the surrounding hillside, waterfront and city center. Our goal was to increase the permeability through the area while also improving movement patterns for cyclists and pedestrians into and through North Belfast. Through a path network system and a long-term cul-de-sac redevelopment proposal among other suggestions, we proposed a more inviting and accessible North Belfast.

The following are an existing and rendered image of the area surrounding the New Lodge apartment blocks transformed from a vehicular dominated space, to a pedestrian friendly area with a walking path system between the buildings and concentrated parking area out of the picture. 



Notice the close proximity between the tower blocks and the city center.

We are currently completing the project with a final report that will be used in ongoing research on "Planning for Spatial Reconciliation" at Queen's.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Comber Theatre Visit

Since we’re on the topic of theaters, I forgot to mention my visit to a very interesting rural theater in Comber. Opened in 1974, the Tudor cinema is one of the smallest theater's I've ever seen and it was built on someones residential property. I visited the theater with the Rotary Club of Belfast to watch the movie "The Prestige". Although it was a movie I'd seen sitting in the small, neo-art-deco interior for 3 dozen viewers was an absolute treat.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

MAC Theatre

Belfast is full of excitement in the past few weeks as high time for tourism approaches. A major ad campaign called "Our Time, Our Place" run by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has garnered international attention as the province celebrates the nature, history, and industry that make it a unique place to visit.

One of the most recent additions to Belfast is the Metropolitan Art Centre (the MAC) which has numerous at galleries and theaters. It is located within a new development known as St. Anne's Square because of its adjacency to the beautiful St. Anne's Cathedral (or Belfast Cathedral) north of the City Centre. The MAC is a welcome addition to the cultural "Cathedral Quarter" where many of the cities finest and oldest monuments are surrounded by surface parking lots as well as vacant shops and offices.

Last week I visited the MAC to watch a play they are running for the 100th anniversary of the launching and sinking of the Titanic. The play was called Titanic (Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry, 1912) which was a thrilling courtroom drama highlighting the unexpected and tragic events that led to the sinking of the largest ship of its time (by far). The video below explains a bit more about the play.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Alexandra Park Gate Open

Alexandra Park is tucked in the heart of North Belfast between the nationalist New Lodge community and unionist Tiger's Bay community. The interface between the communities physically manifested itself in a Peace Wall after "peace" was found in Northern Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement.

Shortly after my arrival in Belfast in September, a gate at the center of the park that had been closed for years was opened during certain hours of the day, marking the end to the last public park divided in Europe. However, during my subsequent visits to the area I hadn't experienced the park opened because the gate closes at 3pm on weekdays and is not open over the weekends.

Just a few weeks ago I finally passed through the park when it was open in the early afternoon. There were very few people using the park at that time and, unfortunately, the people we did see using the space turned around when they came to the wall. Essentially, each group continued to use the area of the park that they felt most comfortable with. Even though the gate is open, the peace wall still completely bisects the park and clearly defines whose space you are in. Until the opening is more permanent and people can regularly move throughout the park this will probably remain. However, strengthened mutual trust and diminished (perceived or real) fear in the surrounding residents must first be achieved.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gaelic Athletic Association

A week ago I ventured to Casement Park in southwest Belfast to watch two of the original Gaelic sports: Hurling and Gaelic Football. Both of the games are played on the same field with the same scoring, but while Football combines hand and foot with a soccer sized ball, hurling includes a field hockey size ash-wood stick and a baseball-size ball. Football is a bruising game full of hits and rugby tackles (without pads), and Hurling is the fastest ball sport on grass.

Gaelic Football:


Yet again, I was very impressed with the sportsmanship involved in the activity. The athletes and the coaches are unpaid/volunteer athletes that play for local club and county and the fans travel from around the country to support their local athletes. This is how sports should be supported.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Titanic Anniversary - "White Star of the North"

Photo from the Guardian

On Thursday I attended a performance at a local theater called "Lyric". The new performing arts center is a building that I see regularly when running along the River Lagan and it inspired me to see a show. The performance on at the moment is "White Star of the North" which was written by Rosemary Jenkinson and is performed by local talent. The play commemorates the centenary of two major milestones in Belfast: the building and sinking of the Titanic, and the Ulster Covenant. The Ulster Covenant was drawn up in opposition of 'Home Rule' in Ireland, essentially proclaiming allegiance to retain the British rule that had existed for the previous three centuries. It was a truly Belfast story in that it celebrated the great achievement of the Titanic as well as a number of perspectives on sectarian issues from the early 20th century.

One hundred years ago today the Titanic was launched from Belfast's harbor on its first and final journey. The Titanic Belfast visitor center opens today to commemorate the ships short life as well as the rich industrial heritage of Belfast.

Friday, March 30, 2012


The final city on my short trip to the European mainland was Prague. Unlike Berlin and Dresden which were devastated or at least stunned by conflict, Prague has retained its historic charm with massive cathedral squares and its hill top castle. The Vltava River runs directly through the center of the town dividing the older section of the city, along the west with the castle and fortification system, from the newer section, which still has numerous old cathedrals and attractive facades.

I had a beautiful day to explore both banks of the river. The Charles Bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans the river and is lined on each side with elements of religious sculpture (seen below). 

There is also a monument of contemporary architecture designed by Frank Gehry. This name may sound familiar to most readers of this blog due to the fame he's amassed from numerous flamboyant projects all over the world including the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, and 8 Spruce Street in NY. This most recent piece* is called "Dancing House" due to the contorted cylindrical forms and wavy window patterns. It has become a tourist attraction in the town and is actually located on the standard tourist maps of Prague.

*I call this a "piece" rather than a building because I find the structures he's designed to be largely sculptural in form with little concern for the surrounding context. Rumors have swirled since some of his early projects that he finds inspiration through crumpled paper and there have also been serious issues with the functionality of his buildings. On the other hand, his projects have proven that iconic pieces of contemporary architecture have the power to generate major income for an area, which has become a movement known as the "Gehry Effect"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dresden Bombing

I suppose it would help to provide some more information on the bombing of Dresden during WWII that I mentioned in my previous post. Here is a brief history of the bombing campaign and the controversy surrounding it:

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Back to my trip to Germany a few weeks ago...

After thoroughly enjoying my time in Berlin, I journeyed south to spend a day in Dresden. Many will recognize Dresden as the site of a major US and British bombing campaign at the end of WWII. This infamous attack used extensive firepower, including incendiary bombs, to completely reduce the German city to rubble. The raid is extremely contentious due to the massive number of civilian casualties and extreme destruction to non-military targets.

As a result, the city was forced to rebuild itself in recent decades. Primary monuments throughout the city that were destroyed have been rebuilt, and the surrounding urban fabric has been completely reconstructed as it was 60 years ago. In the images below you can see the central cathedral of Dresden with black stone interspersed throughout the building. Those dark stone are the pieces of the original cathedral that survived the bombing campaign. In addition, you can see the brightly painted buildings and the cobble stone square which complete the romanticism of an old European square.

But as I walked around the square I realized something felt like it was missing from the experience. The buildings were beautiful and the cathedral was impressive, but all feeling of local character - personal and architectural - were absent. The square was flooded with tourists taking group photographs in front of the rebuilt cathedral and along the row of bright paint colors, but I didn't see a single person that looked local, which was further emphasized by the large amount of gift shops, hotels, and English language restaurants that surround the square.

My suspicion is the managers of the rebuilding process in Dresden intended to focus the effort exclusively on economic regeneration through tourism and commercial activity. Although economic activity is essential to the continued revival efforts in the city, reconstructing a bright and shiny town center for tourism ignores the character and depth that a local population provides to successful public space which would undoubtedly provide more sustainable economic activity in the area for long term growth and prosperity. 

Now don't get me wrong, Dresden is a beautiful place to visit, and many of the more historic structures in the city are very impressive architecturally. The city is very pedestrian and bicycle friendly and is rich in arts and culture with the Semper Opera House (above) and one of the best art galleries in the country.

The sculpture is photogenic as well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mini Berlin

Here's one final video of Berlin just to make sure you understood that I thoroughly enjoyed the city. This video uses tilt-shift photography and increased saturation to transform time lapse photography and video of street life in Berlin into a miniature or 'lego' world. 


Monday, March 19, 2012

Controversial Kicks

In an article on St. Patrick's day the Belfast Telegraph wrote about a controversial shoe that was soon to be released by Nike. As pictured above, the St. Patrick's day themed "Black and Tan" was to relate to the popular drink where a 50/50 mix of Guinness and Bass Ale separate in the glass with less dense Guinness floating above the ale.

Little did Nike realize that an infamous group of WWI veteran's formed a paramilitary group called the Black and Tans in the early 1920's, which was encouraged by the Royal Irish Constabulary to suppress any uprising against British Rule. The group is particularly known for its ruthless and indiscriminate violence. The following is a quote from Lt. Col. Smyth in the Belfast Telegraph article from 1920:
"If a police barracks is burned or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter. Let them die there - the more the merrier.
Should the order (Hands Up) not be immediately obeyed, shoot and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching (a patrol) carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down.
You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time.
The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man."

As expected, Nike apologized soon after it realized its mistake.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Patrick's Day in Dublin

The streets of Dublin were draped in green and covered in Guinness yesterday. After a massive parade, the hundreds of thousands of spectators poured into the nearby pubs and the cobble stone streets of Temple Bar partying in full force.

I knew pictures wouldn't quite do the atmosphere justice so here's a quick video in Temple Bar.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cultural Plan for Chicago

A fellow blogspot user that I am following is the Chicago Cultural Plan, which is currently being developed as a premier objective of the early part of the Rahm Emanuel mayorship in the city. After nearly 40 almost-continuous years of leadership under the machine politics of the Daly Mayors (Sr. and Jr.) where most of the energy was focused on the Downtown/Magnificent Mile/Michigan Avenue/Millenium Park/Central Business District a sea-change is occurring as more focus is being placed on the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Chicago Cultural Plan is an attempt to understand emphasize the existing arts and culture scene that is so vibrant within many Chicago neighborhoods while also showing support for future cultural initiatives. A senior leader of the project in Chicago recently wrote a blog entry highlighting the duties of a "Cultural Planner" and also shared how important strong support for the arts are in enriching our communities socially, culturally and economically:
"... Ask anyone what they love most about their community and they are very likely tell you about the architecture, the history, the parks, and the ethnic restaurants. The culture is what makes a place unique, and is typically what residents and visitors celebrate and hold most dear about their community." (Burros)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Berlin Wall Escape Footage

The Berlin wall was constructed and reconstructed many times over the course of its thirty years at the core of the city. Above I've shown two videos which show previous versions of the wall that were set up as the first lines of "defense" between sides. The first video shows escape attempts from East Berlin to West Berlin in the early years when multiple building facades acted as the wall. These apartment buildings were torn down within a few years of the building of the wall, but in these early years escape attempts through high windows as shown in this video took place. East German soldiers can be seen attempting to retain those attempting to escape while the West Berlin soldiers are ready for anyone willing to jump out of their window to join the West. The second video is propaganda from West Berlin in the early years, but I post it to show the early conditions of the walls.

The final manifestation of the wall were the pre-cast, 3-meter tall concrete borders behind which there was a "death strip" that was guarded 24/7 by the East German army. That death strip included multiple rows of barbed wire, sand, a patrol path, and even trip wire that would set off alarms. In addition there was a second wall of concrete on the east side of the wall as well. The massive pre-cast pieces (seen above) represent the iconic form of the wall in the years leading up to its dismantling. The circular concrete tubing on the tip was a cap to the wall making it more difficult to grip and stand on for anyone attempting to cross. The video below is news footage from the evening the wall wall opened. Jubilation from residents on both sides demonstrate how long residents from both communities had longed for that day.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Oscar Night at the QFT

Belfast director Terry George, who recently won an Oscar for Short Film of the year was at the Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast on Wednesday for a screening and Q&A of his award winning film, The Shore. I attended the screening and was approximately five feet away from the set of golden statues you see in the above picture. He introduced the film with his daughter and co-producer Oorlagh George and then hung around after to talk about the film and the future of film in Belfast. For those of you who haven't seen it, the trailer to the movie is below. The Irish comedy follows a man who left Northern Ireland during the troubles on his return trip to the island after 25 years away.

Both Terry and Oorlagh spoke proudly about the future opportunities available to Belfast filmmakers for the uniqueness of Irish comedy, the current investment being put toward the arts in Northern Ireland, and the opportunity for Northern Ireland to re-define/re-brand itself moving forward. The major film studios that have opened in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast's harbor are proof of this new enthusiasm and investment.

Terry George, writer of Hotel Rwanda, has also directed three other films on the troubles over the course of his career including, In the Name of the Father, Some Mother's Son, and The Boxer.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Berlin offered me an opportunity to see a city that has truly attempted to move past its divided history. The Berlin Wall ran between Soviet and western allied nation-controlled areas directly through the core of the city starting in 1961. Throughout the tense period of 30 years that followed the wall was bolstered and rebuilt on numerous continuously and it also began to stretch further north and south along what would become the iron curtain into hundreds of miles across European soil.

One interesting monument within the area that was once the "death strip" within the Berlin Wall is the Chapel of Reconciliation which replaced a church that previously stood in its place before being torn down to make room for the wall. Notice the metal strip along the ground in front of the church in the photo below which follows the footprint of the building.

In many areas within the core of Berlin where the wall separated dense building complexes, there have been attempts to reconstruct, memorialize, and reinterpret the wall. Much of this land has become urban park area and outdoor museums to tell the story of the cold war in Europe.

Recreated portion of the wall with the sandy 'death strip' within concrete barriers. The guard tower is an original piece used by the Soviet army to ensure no East Berliners were escaping and to "fend off the threat of the capitalist west".

A portion of the wall is reinterpreted through vertical steel rods along its original path at its final built up height. When seen from the side as it is above you are able to see people and a tram who would have been in West Berlin passing by but when seen from an angle it looks like a solid surface.
Eventually the walls were capped with this circular tubing to increase the difficulty of escaping. This is a piece of the original wall that is located along a memorial site known as the 'Topography of Terror'.

One of the most famous squares prior to the war and division of Berlin was Potsdamer Platz which was vibrant during the 20's and 30's, but was directly bisected by the wall in 1961. Potsdamer Platz offers a unique case study of overcoming/reconciling division in the built environment through major property development. It is now one of the busiest intersections in the city and has a number of well known pieces of post-modern architecture that were designed by internationally recognized firms. Unfortunately, the contemporary statement created on this site is often seen as a complete failure in its attempt to reunite the city in its built form. The surrounding skyscrapers and the overall site design completely overlook the importance of returning vibrant local interest in the area in exchange for international recognition, a cosmopolitan feel, and tourist attraction. On the two occasions that I visited the site I witnessed very few locals in the area who weren't in business suits hurrying to their nearby offices. Instead it was flooded with cars by day and by tourists next to cars in the evening snapping photos of the remnants of the wall and the famous architectural elements of the site. This was confirmed to me later by a friend who has lived in Berlin for sometime... None of his friends have nver visited  Potsdamer Platz by choice.

Sign recognizing the route of the Berlin Wall immediately in front of the metro station.

Three signature tours that seem at odds with each other as if each is attempting to stake its claim to the space with its architectural grandeur.

View within the Sony Center which is surrounded by shopping, a theater and office space.

Brandenburg Gate became an internationally recognized location as well as a symbol of the Berlin Walls collapse in 1989 when television stations all over the world covered the dramatic events of the cities reunification. 

An entire island along the river that runs throughout the city is dedicated to the major museums of Berlin. Museum Island is also home to the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) which can be seen in the following two photographs.

The Neues Museum is one of the most famous museums on the island and is specifically recognized as an extremely positive rehabilitation project by a famous contemporary architect (David Chipperfield). During World War II the museum was almost entirely demolished by bombing campaigns carried out on the city. However, many of the most special pieces of the museum were stored safely prior to the war and the impressive collection is back on display today. The building itself is extremely impressive considering the condition it was found in and the recreation undertaken by Chipperfield's office is carefully conscious of distinguishing what is old and new within the building. The building itself is a monument in Berlin.

One of the most important museums that is not located on Museum Island is the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. This landmark addition to the museum is a world-famous for its physical form, which the architect calls 'the blitz'. The zig-zagging plan of the building and abstract openings create a series of very unique spaces within the building. Of these spaces, the voids between the main exhibition space are dedicated to interactive memorials of the holocaust.

This 'void' is filled with 10,000 iron faces which the visitor walks on into the dark end of the room in the background of this image. As you walk through the space the faces clank against one another (physically and audibly) offering an interesting opportunity to reflect on the history of oppression the Jewish people have faced.

Angular supports and and openings throughout the exhibitions create unique spaces .

Many of the exhibits themselves continued the abstract and interactive forms. These seats contained video screens were you could learn more about traditions in each of the three monotheistic religions.

The leaning pillars on the left side of this image are within the 'Garden of Exile' which abstractly represents the disorienting feeling many Jewish families faced as they were expelled from their home countries and moved to new homes throughout the world.