Architecture &
Design Research

Cloud Junction

New York, NY
Proposed for: Gateways to Chinatown RFP

Inspired by the Chinese word tong—which can mean both a “gathering space” and a “social infrastructure”—this project interprets the gateway as acommunity and city node. Cloud Junction is four big ideas. 1) Leisure Landscape: How do local residents use their leisure and green space? 2) Character Alphabet: Can a visual cultural identity be participatory and contemporary? 3) City-scale Connections: How can we connect Chinatown to other Chinese communities? 4) Sharing Small Economies: How can public space help to sustain small, community-grown business?

In collaboration with The Work Dept and Digital Datum Studio.

“Despite many elderly Asian immigrants who use green space for exercise and as extended living rooms due to cramped living quarters, the amount of green space in each Chinatown is negligible.” - AALDEF

A study on Chicago’s Chinatown showed that western ideas of “leisure” as a binary condition— e.g. leisure activities versus non-leisure activities— did not correspond with the way that residents went about their days (Zhang & Gobster, 1998). Instead, activities such as chatting, people watching, playing games, enjoying shade, and listening to live music were integrated throughout residents’ days.

This plaza can serve as a verdant and almost utopic green garden in the middle of the city: an “extended living room.” Using strategic landscape architectural techniques, we can create a dedicated green space that is integrally linked with neighboring commercial and residential spaces. Foregrounding the experience of a park in juxtaposition with urban space, rather than usingisolated trees, can drive the design of this plaza space. Planting strategies might represent local species or plants from Chinese ecologies on display. Square footage might be expanded through a mezzanine level as well.

“Because these neighborhoods were comprised mainly of low-income immigrants, city governments often paid little attention to their needs. [...] Personal services like doctors and accountants, social services agencies, stores selling day-to-day items, and social networks like family associations all formed in Chinatowns.” - AALDEF

Small businesses are an integral part of Chinatown. The plaza that the site is located in specifically is home to a diverse range of services, including immigration lawyers, banks, and dating agencies.
Additionally, they represent a diverse population from different regions in China & Asia. We propose the design of some kind of flexible furniture system which can allow neighboring businesses to use the plaza as a scheduled “rentable” space. For example, the dim sum restaurant could use the space as a waiting area, or the bank as a site for more casual consultation (such as IDEO’s design for State Farm’s cafe in Chicago.) Potentially this could also be a site for micro-retail or incubating new businesses for the neighborhood.

In the wake of gentrification of Chinatown as well as its limited square footage, new ethnic enclaves have emerged in New York City and its surrounding areas. Currently, these areas are connected to Chinatown through familial and business ties. How do we render visible and support these city-scale connections between Chinese communities?

Today, there is a popular Chinatown shuttle service, which is operated within the community. This shuttle service acts in lieu of
the city’s subway system or cabs, which can be difficult and confusing for those who do not speak English or are elderly. This shuttle service connects Chinatown with the other Chinese enclaves in the New York area for a low-price. We propose re-locating a nearby shuttle stop to the plaza, so it can be a central hub for connecting these areas which now represent the broader geographic distribution of the Chinese diaspora in the region.

In the 60s and 70s, U.S. many Chinatowns were re-built or re-developed using urban renewal funding by both American and Chinese American designers. This new Chinatown architecture used Orientalized architectural symbols such as pagodas, dragons, and temples. The exoticization of Chinese “otherness” through architecture transformed Chinatowns into tourist destinations in major American cities through palatable iconography.

How can we construct a new symbolic or iconographic language that represents contemporary Chinatown?
How can design both be visually appealing to visitors while also representing to the nuanced identity of the neighborhood?

We propose developing a series of “characters” or “alphabet” through participatory processes that are transformed into signs on the gateway. Rather than using dragons and pagodas to signify Chinese ethnicity, a new alphabet of Chinese American identity would be both visually notable for tourists and reflect a contemporary sense of cultural identity.