Author : Elle Gerdeman

University : Harvard University, Graduate School of Design

Status : MArch I, 2013

Advisors : Danielle Etzler, Eric Howeler

Title : Manifesto for a Broken Urbanism


The urban condition of Boston Government Center, a fabric of a distinct parts dictated by the nothing and divorced by the elevator, stands as a relic of a diluted modernist testimony. The decline of the modern ethos is the final declaration; torn between positive social objectives and the inward self-exploration of its own objective. No salvation is any longer to be found within it: in hopeful ideas so heroic they end in muteness, nor enclosed in the stubborn silence of geometry content with its own perfection. Its fall is as definitive as the commitment to functionalism that modern architecture rallied in the process of its development. It is this which most distracted the after effects from modern architecture’s most genuine, original objectives. The overzealous ambition for sheer heroism and total authenticity relies on the didactic; a shift to total authority – a single   dictator with lost claim: architecture is the city

What sort of architecture then incarnates the city? The iconic building – which affirms its own singular presence through the appearance of its image cannot be a valid part of the city. Presence in a city can be defined as a constant state of liminality – that of passing through borders. Our public encounters are an oscillation through space defined by threshold. One cannot define the outcome of the threshold as urbanization: how program evolves, how movement performs, how flows unfold, how change occurs. Delineating the fabric of a city is to make way for relationships which are at their most complex and intense. This does not lead to simplification, but rather the opposite, a city cannot sustain as a work of art. Since the urban is now pervasive, urbanism will never again be about the ‘new’, only about the ‘more’ and the ‘modified


We cannot be concerned with arrangement of permanent objects, but rather aim for configurations to enable field and refuse definitive form. Our ability to achieve “the more, the modified” is via pursuing transparency: denying boundaries, as an act of identifying threshold to pursue conflation. Our obsession with urbanism is misguided, instead we must aim for the manipulation of passage and image, a layering of intent and reduction of  opaque authority to favor endless diversification

Deny Boundaries by changing scale and therefore altering the origin.

Identify Threshold through resolution of the void and facade within the city: observe the relation of people within and without.

Conflation of intent and space causes ambiguity and dissolves monumentality, thus creating an architecture that can exist within the city.

Deny Permanence by allowing for multi staged use; this cannot be naive by simply providing space, but instead be pointed.


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we, the audience, should be aware of?
Elle Gerdeman_ The site. Perhaps the most exciting part of the project is that the brief called for its positioning amongst the most hated building in Boston. It is a brutalist former psychiatric institution designed by Paul Rudolph. It is even a stop on the Boston tour buses to show how depressing the site is — although of course, all architects love it.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interests you?
EG_ Cinematography.

S//A : Most important thing you remember from architecture school?
EG_ Don’t be afraid to start over.

S//A : What is your dream project
EG_ Truly, anything