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Middle Ground: Urbanism in Reverse

Houston, TX



Middle Ground: Urbanism in Reverse on Brays Bayou is a fourth year research studio conducted at Rice Architecture that examines issues of flood risk, development, community-oriented adaptation along Houston's Brays Bayou. From designing strategic buy-outs to rethinking stormwater infrastructure, this project contends with the complex relationship between city and environment as well as the rules and regulations mediate them.

Flooding, and environmental risks more broadly, are products of development logics, urban governance, and planning frameworks that have historically challenged and contradicted the natural environment. Moreover, architects, landscape architects, and city planners have been complicit in constructing and perpetuating this landscape of risk resulting in multi-faceted environmental degradation and growing socio-economic inequality.

This studio explores what it means to recalibrate the engines of development in context of flood-prone Houston. Discourse around flooding and “resiliency” typically fixates on two zones: the high ground, where sites are sought out for new development; and conversely, the low ground, where flooded land acts as a blank slate for open space. This dichotomy overlooks the complex negotiation between urban form and flooding over time. This studio confronts this challenge in the flood-prone landscape of Mid-Brays Bayou. Within this context, the studio will assemble design scenarios that mediate the spatial and political through a critical examination of urban logics, regulations, and policies and their effect on urban form.

While architects are well-rehearsed in the design of fixed forms on sites that have discrete boundaries; pressing urban environmental issues do not abide by discrete boundaries. In Houston, it does not suffice to design buildings or urban blocks without also navigating the city’s lack of zoning and anti-regulation culture. This studio asserts that the design of object form depends equally on the design of the interplay with codes, regulations, and logics that ultimately determine urban space.