Rethink / Reclaim / Recharge – Irina Vinnitskaya + James Freeman

We head into the weekend with a submission from Irina Vinnitskaya and James Freemen of their gradate thesis Rethink/Reclaim/Recharge.  Taking a deeper look at the urban voids created through time of forgotten cities decaying from the industrial collapse.  The project takes on the challenges of reclaiming abandoned spaces to reintegrate them into our social fabric. To make an attempt to confront the economic problems we are coming to terms with in America.

SCHOOL: Pratt Institute
STUDENT: Irina Vinnitskaya + James Freeman
COURSE: Graduate Thesis 
YEAR: 2011

The scars of a city are manifested in the urban voids that are habitually ignored and disconnected from the memories of their past.  In the wake of tragedies such as war and industrial collapse these voids become opportunities to recharge the social fabric of a city.

This investigation involved the re-appropriation and reclamation of unused and abandoned spaces in Binghamton, New York.  This city was used as an example for a strategy to confront the economic problems that American cities face today.   The collapse of Binghamton’s economy manifested itself into the pock-marked landscape of abandoned factories and paved surfaces that become the dead ground of a once thriving city.

The approach was to define a presence of absence within the city: a collage of moments and residual physical objects throughout Binghamton that reflect a memory of a past disconnected from the present. The project addressed an urban connection through the city using various programs that build industry and promote culture. These fragments promote the ecstatic and reflective experiences of the individual within the social institution.  Its action embraces the potential of industrial and manufacturing forces as a source for economic revival, and more importantly for cultural and social relationships that collaborate.

Various nodes were chosen among the concentrated voids which were made possible by looking at the city of Binghamton as a whole.  Binghamton is a city where the car is the primary means of transportation; wide boulevards devoid of pedestrians, hundreds of parking lots, and miles of highways divide the city. This condition establishes a culture where social and cultural interaction is limited to a few select areas where street life is scarce.  With these factors in mind, Binghamton University in Vestal, NY, the existing commercial rail line, and the Downtown area all served as starting points to develop connections, both infrastructural and programmatic, throughout the city. These knots are seen as potential catalyst for the infrastructural connection that takes place above ground.

What are these programs and how do they function as connections?  Education, Fabrication and Performance establish a starting point and a goal that promote a culture and ask for the involvement of its citizens.  The educational programs, linked by pedestrian and biking paths to Binghamton University, include research facilities, archives that provide historical reference points, and experimentation labs. The pathway through the city invites residents and visitors to observe and participate in the production and accumulation of knowledge.  The fabricating and manufacturing facilities recall Binghamton’s past and use the railroad and its vestiges as a kick-off for establishing studios and factories that link back to the research facilities through the extension of the pathways.  This program is more attuned to the performance spaces that present a creative outlet through music.  The programs for performance are an extension of the individuals that act on it and observe the activities within them.  They bring out ecstatic moments that are both shared and personal and create the experience within the city that bring the scale back down to the individual.

The intention of an activated street-life becomes possible when these programs are hybridized into a single architectural intervention.  The site is within and between existing and abandoned factories and the dead space surrounding them. When each building hits the dead space it reactives the ground on which it sits.  The street-life beneath it is reclaimed by the visitors who experience the approach first through the above ground paths and then through the internal circulation which brings the observer to the performance spaces.  From this vantage point the visitor is exposed to industrial gantries carrying raw materials to the storage facility in the distance.  Simultaneously, musicians and performers are seen tuning instruments, experimenting with sounds in personal recording studios, as well as a large auditorium.  Before making the connection between these two activities, another set of gantries is carrying the raw material, already cut, to the fabrication facility behind the visitors.  Navigating through the series of buildings, people are moving through a production timeline revealing the narrative of how objects, and instruments in particular, are made.  At each stage they are invited to participate through open studios, workshops and libraries, promoting a social collaboration to the specialized production of tools for the city.

All Images and Text via James Freeman and Irina Vinnitskaya

James Freeman and Irina Vinnitskaya will be showcasing “Rethink/Reclaim/Recharge” in The Mercurial Collective’s fall show, “The Graduates”, opening September 24 and on display through December 15.  For more information visit The Collective page here.


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