Alt-81, a joint research initiative between the Syracuse University School of Architecture and UPSTATE: a Center for Design, Research, and Real Estate, tests opportunities for the future of urban expressways through studies of the I-81 viaduct in downtown Syracuse, NY. A site of intense interest, the viaduct reaches the end of its functional life in 2017, with significant questions about its future looming including: how to carry the cost burden of various options that include burying the highway, constructing new ramps necessary to accommodate an at-grade or open-cut boulevard, or the consequences of rebuilding the elevated portion of the Interstate to current, wider standards. Other issues include how to accommodate the traffic on I-81 during reconstruction and in any proposed reconfiguration of the roadway. Perhaps the most important question is what kind of development along the I-81 corridor would be both feasible and best positioned to serve the city of Syracuse under various scenarios and how the future of the viaduct can play a role in transforming the city.
During the Spring 2013 semester two Syracuse University courses worked in tandem on these questions: a design studio led by Jonathan Solomon, Associate Dean of the School of Architecture, and Joe Sisko, Assistant Director of UPSTATE: was coupled with a real estate seminar taught by UPSTATE: Director Marc Norman and Research Fellow Peggy Tully. The studio involved six design teams testing opportunities for the corridor and adjacent sites. The studio was interposed with four workshops that brought city and state officials, experts on the I-81 viaduct, transportation planners, architects and urban designers with experience in transformative design projects for urban expressways worldwide into the studio. The real estate seminar worked in parallel, engaging students from the School of Architecture and the Whitman School of Management in tackling the issue of funding development in and around the I-81 corridor. Students looked at precedents, funding mechanisms, ownership structures, and the redevelopment potential of various I-81 alternatives outlined by the design studio.
The courses examined urban real estate development, including location of activities within metropolitan areas, public/private partnerships, downtown redevelopment, large infrastructure projects, and housing development. Student projects focused on three strategies: removing the viaduct and replacing it with a new boulevard; reconstructing the viaduct but integrating new parks and buildings into the redesigned structure to encourage greater density and activity; and re-routing traffic off the viaduct so the structure could be re-used as an asset for the city.
Student projects produced neighborhood- and regional-scale retail, entertainment, open space, and housing, all while re-imagining how the corridor could be welcoming to pedestrians. Some students proposed to reroute traffic off the viaduct which would be dismantled and the remains used as structural components for a range of recreation and social programs for the surrounding communities. Other students incorporated the corridor into re-imagined retail and recreation spaces.
The projects will be on view in an exhibition at 350 W. Fayette Street (the Warehouse) from 2pm to 6pm, opening May 20, 2013.
Jonathan D Solomon, Associate Dean, Syracuse University School of Architecture
Marc Norman, Director, UPSTATE: A Center for Design, Research, and Real Estate, Syracuse University School of Architecture
Studio Final Review