Typecast

Typecast is a long-term, research-based investigation into a variety of building typologies to question what it means for a site to assume an architectural “type,” and to identify the ways in which these classifications have become stale, overly simplified, or misunderstood — how they have been typecast. By doing so, we aim to reframe the conversation about these places that are central to our lives as hosts to a significant amount of untapped human, spatial, and social capital. While technologies progress and policies shift, our understanding of building typologies tends to remain static and unresponsive. Typecast attempts to bring new perspectives to existing types, rethinking how they can best nurture contemporary ways of living in the city.

The first inquiry will focus on the isolated superblock apartment buildings known as “towers-in-the-park.” The deficits of this typology are well known, with its absence of street-life integration and perceived association with concentrated poverty. Towers-in-the-park are often stereotyped as dangerous ghettos and symbols of urban blight, a characterization reinforced by notorious failures such as Pruitt-Igoe, which was ultimately demolished in the 1970s. However, their particular assets—including productive ecological potential, opportunities for elder living, minimal site coverage, open space programming, and co-operative ownership models—have not been fully explored. We seek to raise awareness of this typology and cast it in a new light through photography and imagery, supported by policy research and conversations with residents about their experiences of living in towers-in-the-park.

This feature collects a series of posts from the League’s Urban Omnibus that launched the project. UO Editor Cassim Shepard and League Mills Fellow Andrew Wade introduce Typecast and the initial focus on towers-in-the-park. In addition, a series of photo essays explore five study sites: Co-op City (Baychester and Eastchester, The Bronx), by Amani Willett; Sea Rise and Sea Park East (Coney Island, Brooklyn), by David Lang; Todt Hill Houses (Emerson Hill, Staten Island), by Ben Stechschulte; Electchester (Pomonok, Queens), by Cameron Blaylock; and the Alfred E. Smith and Vladeck Houses (Two Bridges, Manhattan), by Anna Beeke. More material will be added in the coming months as we seek to provide a nuanced and complex view of the social capital of each site while noting how the buildings and landscape help or hinder different scales of community building.