Carlos H Matos
Diploma 9

NEW GROUND NEW TOWN_The New Towns where a response to the insolubility of city’s problems, but the lack of precedent in dealing with the unprecedented problems of a social experiment caused it to fail. Partly preserved and partly decayed many of these towns developed under the New Towns Act of 1946 now portray an interrupted condition, as they have stopped being imagined and begun to be poorly planned. Nevertheless, their short lives of collapsed prosperity can be thought as a sort of adolescence; as they now, like London at the time, ought to be rethought.

The project focuses on Stevenage New Town, more specifically the reform of its Town Centre, as its state of abandonment still preserves, in a forgotten appearance, the ideological foundations that generated it and that will serve the future generations of the town.

Today Stevenage is a fragmented town with a fragmented sense of community. People are living with themselves and their own homes and mostly socialize in other people’s houses. Despites the architects intention to create a new community, they were designing a community for their present a while forgetting that society is in a constant state of change.

The premise of the project is adaptability on account of the unpredictability of social change. The aim is to preserve the fundamentals elements of the existing architecture while giving up and erasing its constraints, this way enabling the buildings to function universally to integrate present and future workings. 

Designed over time by architect and planner Leonard Vincent, this conglomeration of low-rise modern buildings expressed the values of a new civic architecture; resembling pioneering schemes such as the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam and the Shopping Malls that began to dot American suburbia, Stevenage Town Centre prioritises pedestrian circulation by attempting its complete segregation from traffic.

This contained fragment of urbanity would accommodate the diversity required for a new heterogeneous society. It was mainly conceived for leisure and recreation as it was intended by the architect to become the soul of the town.
'Welcome to New Town' is a photographic survey of Stevenage Town Centre today. 

Throughout multiple visits, this report captures diverse aspects of the workings of this socially fragmented town.

In the town centre, retail still occupies the majority of the pedestrian street level, yet office spaces and cultural venues have mostly been abandoned.

There is nothing recreational other than shopping, which closes at 5.30, and in its absence the space becomes deserted. There is no cultural or civic life that takes place on a town-wide level and is underpinned by any collective civic identity or sense of tradition.
The result of this demographic and urban environment is that social activity has moved towards individualised activities, to the practical exclusion of communal or even joint interests. Therefore the project seeks to bring work diversity and life back into the town centre by gathering the isolated and scattered happenings within a single structure, densifying and reforming the town centre as one vast building that is conformed by two layers; the preserved existing architecture, and the insertion of a new excavated public ground.The medium would be to return to the modern architectural intention and to condition the town centre as a versatile ground.

Mies' explorations of a common language led him to develop a modern grammar that would suit almost any user requirement at any scale. A defined framework could allow for constant change to make its inhabitation infinitely diverse. It was his study of the single-volume space and the structural challenges these enclosures represent that allowed him to develop a generalising model that would offer no interior restrictions.
His grammar was constituted by the plinth that models and delimits the project; the skin and bones that encloses and conditions the open space, and the interior partitions that become the specifics that articulate the intended diversity. 

The intention is to preserve the existing identity, make evident the essence of modernity and bring back its architectural integrity by reutilising this integrating grammar but at an urban scale.
Top view of the underplinth, lifting the existing architecture off the ground, appropriating it and acting as the backdrop that makes it present.

The modern buildings are kept as framed fragments of the past that are to remain as Stevenage’s main historic feature.The pedestrian street is now the roof of the new ground and becomes accessible only through the vertical circulation cores.

Existing buildings are gutted of their obsolete accumulated interiors in order to condition their ground level as a structural transfer deck.Right: Plan of excavated ground as an empty framework. With the clarity of the open and adaptable space, the purpose of the undergrid is to expose the civic, commercial and cultural workings to visually read and understand the town centre’s demand, demographics and usage. 

Left: Inhabited ground showing the gathering of fragmented programs and community life in the town centre.
Physical model showing the appropriated town centre as an open structure.