Inwood has a long history with water: Located at the very top of Manhattan, this narrow piece of land is surrounded by water from three sides. Sandwiched between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, and shaped by the Spuyten Duyvil creek, Inwood used to be in an abundance of water, both as an essential aspect of life, as it used to have the cleanest springs and wells in Manhattan a hundred years ago; as well as an enrichment to life, as with its proximity to it.
My first map, started as an investigation of access to water. Represented with the dramatic black color, one of the major issues I have spotted in the neighborhood was its lack of social infrastructure to facilitate a meaningful connection with the water. Many of the water-side lots are inhabited by Sanitation facilities, car parks or big-box buildings that are cut away from the neighborhood. There have been talks and initiatives to develop a new boardwalk for the access of the public, yet nothing is set yet.
The infrastructure is also prone to natural hazards and floods, as seen on this FEMA map, the areas of the neighborhood that are closer to water and lower in elevation have been in risk of floods during heavy rain and storms. The area that I am working on, a superblock of apartment buildings around 215th Stairs between Broadway and Park Terrace Avenue, has the characteristic topography of Inwood, as the two sides of the block has a steep topography change: How high you live determines quality of life and peace of mind; and this is reflected in how much rent dwellers have to pay. As it turns out, this aspect of the neighborhood changes the urban fabric drastically - while Broadway is usually auto repair shops, storage facilities and infrastructure buildings; the upper neighborhood is home to some very good restaurants and cafes and community gardens.
The two dramatically different sides of Inwood is connected by these stairs, which not only acts as what it’s intended to be, but as I encountered during my site visit, it also acts as an urban meeting point - a silent, small pocket of urban land that people can come and sit together, have a conversation; and as the group of old friends we’ve seen that day, party and enjoy their lives.
Between car mechanic shops and Manhattan’s unwanted, away-from-sight infrastructure facilities; I felt compelled to provide the neighborhood with a similar social infrastructure, a much-needed gathering point that could bring the two sides of the neighborhood together around an urban focal point that draws itself both profiles of dwellers to facilitate social engagement and interaction.
My project stemmed from all of these three main issues I’ve spotted in the area, and I felt compelled to give back to the community of Inwood, its long-forgotten legacy with water, in the form of a social condenser that is a series of urban swimming pools. Creating an access to water, the pools are enabling historically underprivileged communities to engage with this social infrastructure. Especially in Manhattan, where children are the least likely to know how to swim because of the lack of swimming pools, this form of a common ground made the most sense to me to provide to the neighborhood.
The architecture of the pools are referenced directly from the 215th stairs that it is attached to; as if to extend this existing “almost accidental social infrastructure” through the floor plans between each level.
The orthogonal grid system is lined up to the staircase, creating the main areas and pools, “where swimming action happen”. These spaces are supported by a secondary grid system, that is a connecting line between the stairs and the empty lot on Broadway on my block; and the junctions of these two grids create “secondary spaces” - where people can bring their book, have an outdoor lunch with friends, or just lay back and sit under the sun.
The pool structures are made out of concrete and stone such as marble. This selection of material is intentional, as this “processed”, “fine” piece of earth lightly touches and dissolves into the existing topography - in places where the pools collide with the rock the apartment block sit on top of; the pool gives way to a rocky surface. As the rocks lose their elevation, and the pools clash with the secondary grid; the spaces in between turn into a sandy beach where an urban version of “a beach” is simulated. Some of the pools are lined up with the different levels of the staircase, creating interaction spaces in different planes; and the spaces underneath are used for enclosed activities, such as locker rooms and showers; or as in the section, a hot bath where people can come together and relax.