Arch. project’s aim was to alter public’s relationship with construction

To the Editor:

In a small community such as ours, otherwise forgettable things have a major impact on our lives. We walk by blue mesh fences and painted plywood walls every day, and sometimes tracts of this campus are hidden from us for the majority of our four years here. They become a regular obstacle in our lives, something to be avoided and ignored. But a community should not have to hold its breath until a construction project is finished, and the way we experience this campus should not be dimmed by efforts to improve it.

Construction fencing has been the same for decades: cheap, efficient and secure. It is an afterthought to the planning and design of a structure. But when it is as prevalent as the fencing around the Cross Campus Library renovation site, at least a little consideration ought to be given. The fencing understandably needs to be cheap, efficient and secure, but this not necessarily entail dull, stagnant and intrusive.

It is not as if the space within a construction site ceases to exist during construction, as traditional fencing would have us believe; we are just forced to interact with the space differently than we did before. The question arose of how to create an effective barrier that isn’t simply a wall.

Cross Campus is an ideal space to deal with this question. It is one of the most commonly used spaces on campus and is ingrained in this school’s identity. That so many people relate to Cross Campus in so many different ways makes its altered state all the more drastic and a perfect place to apply a new conception of construction fencing; to show how the tension between site and campus can be mitigated.

I sought to create an alternative to traditional construction fencing that would reclaim some of the dynamic and interactive nature of Cross Campus, and engage the campus with the construction site. The idea was to create a membrane between the world on the outside and the process of building within, to mediate the relationship between the campus and the construction site.

The concept for the project initially developed into a proposal for a design studio. A group of students would examine how construction fencing affects the way we relate to construction sites and how to manipulate these spatial relationships. The studio would have produced a design economically consistent with standard fencing, to be manufactured and installed around the entire Cross Campus renovation site. Over several months the project was scaled down for various reasons, but the current result is consistent with the initial intention.

For the architect, this project suggests an answer to the problem of apparently stagnant construction sites. Traditionally only concerned with how a building affects spatial relationships when it is completed, this project asks builders to consider how we relate to the space during construction.

I was limited in terms of my design by what I could physically build myself, by the resources available to me, and by the fact that Cross Campus was already an active construction site. The aesthetics of the project are secondary to how it changes the way the construction is perceived and how it alters our physical relationships to the renovation site.

This is only a small-scale and imperfect attempt to address the questions that have arisen, but one that hopefully implies the possibilities that exist for a greater solution to construction fencing.

Alexander Newman-Wise ’08

Oct. 5, 2006

The writer is the architect of the construction project shielding the current CCL construction.