In 1936, Robert Moses, upon the recommendation of the Regional Plan Association, proposed an expressway between New Jersey and the eastern shoreline in an effort to relieve urban connection by diverting traffic that would otherwise pass through Manhattan to a circumferential route. Once completed, the Cross Bronx Expressway formed the final link in the first ring road initially conceived two decades previously in the Regional Plan of New York as a key component to the regional hub-and-spoke system connecting four of the five boroughs and Northern New Jersey.Conceived as a large scale cut across the topography of the Bronx, the Cross Bronx Expressway has inscribed a significant infrastructural figure along the borough’s east-west axis. The intersection of the expressway with the Grand Concourse occurs adjacent to a key node in this infrastructural network, where the Cross Bronx meets the Major Deegan Expressway. While on the one hand this connection provides access to regional mobility infrastructure, on the other hand it results in tremendous tension between the vast difference in scale and speed among the different urban pieces that surround it. Although the Expressway passes underneath the Concourse, it creates a divide between the Southern Bronx and Northern Bronx for the adjacent fabric, and, further, bifurcates the borough at large.
This specific division represented an opportunity to explore ways in which vacant land and soft sites (less than 50% of maximum allowable bulk) adjacent to the infrastructure, as well as the potential for air rights exchanges, can create new sites of intervention. The task at hand was to negotiate this complex intersection, and its adjacent sites, through the use of infrastructure, building and open space.
The ultimate objective of the design intervention was to restore the urban experience that was severed when the Cross Bronx Expressway split the Bronx into two. The first intuitive design strategy was to reconnect the Bronx by decking over the Expressway. However, completely covering the Expressway would be considered as responding only to the negative impact of the Expressway; there are many significant ways in which the Cross Bronx Expressway has changed the region in a positive way. Therefore, instead of fully covering the Expressway, partial decking was seen as an innovative solution not only in the way it embraces the history of the Bronx but also in terms of promoting sustainability: how it provides opportunities for natural ventilation and air purification of the massive carbon monoxide fumes from the highway. The decked platforms can then perform as foundations for building components to be erected as well as public space for local neighborhood.
Developing the larger strategy to a finer grain, the ground is recalibrated to have the Cross Bronx Expressway become accessible from both local streets and the highway. Program of parking lot as ‘big box’ is introduced to act as an infrastructural interchange and to generate revenue for the massive construction. While the parking lot is camouflaged to be a continuation of the ground from the local street, its magnitude is quite apparent at the level of the Expressway. This strategic insertion of parking lot acts as an agent for larger urban pieces to surface on top: mix of residential, office, retail, and open spaces are organized on top of ‘big box’.
Morphological attributes of each buildings correspond to each of the buildings’ specific adjacencies: topography, accessibility, street grid, program, etc. For example, other than providing more area for programmatic needs, the building at the far east connects the topography at higher ground with the level of the city below. Also, the building at southern end accommodates local program of auto-body shop instead of completely replacing with other types of retail. General massing form of all buildings are articulated to allow access from the central plaza, parking, and the street. As a result, the central plaza becomes activated by performing as a shared frontage to the various surrounding programs.