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Entry points and boundaries of neighborhoods have always shifted with time and historical events. This is true in all cities and especially so in a dynamic metropolis such as New York.

In an ever-evolving urban fabric with complex social and cultural overlays, the concept of a static gateway is anachronistic and would prove irrelevant in short order. Instead, we see this gateway site, and the several others, as nodes of activity from which the neighborhood draws vitality and around which it can evolve and transform over time, allowing its boundaries to shift as needed.


Layers of Chinatown's history



Through the use of this portal we seek to reestablish a natural balance and harmony to the site in keeping with Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy. Central to Taoism is the concept of Yin and Yang, symbolizing complementary, yet seemingly opposite elements that are interdependent and are greater in whole than as assembled parts. For example, brightness and darkness; active and passive; form and void. In our design the elements are the past and present, and the built and excavated.




Shifting Boundaries



It is said that the present only has meaning to us when we understand the past. We see these nodes celebrating not just Chinatown as it is today, but also its history. Today’s Chinatown is – quite literally – built upon layers of remarkable history that have shaped and determined what we see today. Our design proposal is not so much a gateway as it is a portal – to those historical layers of cultural, sociopolitical, and topological changes that have made Chinatown what it is today.


Ours is an architecture of subtraction and excavation. Rather than adding more built form to an already dense and frenzied present-day fabric, the site is carved and excavated, creating a portal through the ground plane to the underlying historical layers.

Axon sketch.JPG



As you descend the ramp and leave the cacophony of rushing people, cars, colors and smells of the street, a calm and reflective sunken garden takes over your senses. The portal is held open with glass walls that reveal found objects and archeological strata but that also display interactive and educational exhibits and neighborhood information. You can descend to the bottom to find a small grassy meadow, which is the restored original condition of the site from the 1500’s. Tucked under the sidewalk and behind the large media wall is a gallery with rotating art from the nearby Museum of Chinese in America.


As you return to the surface, you pass the historical layers chronologically, culminating with the upper-most layer at street level, which is the actual, present-day Chinatown seen through the glass walls. A portal back to the present. And so the site is brought into balance: Past and Present, Built and Excavated, Yin and Yang.

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