Museum of The City
Walking through the streets of present day Charleston, one is drawn to the scale and the articulation of its streets lined with attractive and seemingly historical architecture providing an idealized view of a colonial American city. However, the picture one is presented with is far from how Charleston used to be. Many pieces of the historic city have been erased in order to construct this idealized image. For example, only one of the over thirty slave market sites that used to exist in the city has been preserved. The inlets of water that once penetrated the peninsula have been filled in creating a more uniform landform with continuous edges. The interiors of the blocks, which were previously open to the public, are now closed with only one public park remaining in the historic district of the city. In other words, once one begins to realize how the ground of the city has been drastically altered, it becomes clear that this is not a historic city at all. On the contrary, the current city displays vignettes of history as spectacle for visitors. This spectacle then increases the exchange value of private land with boundaries while it decreases its use value for the public.
In the Museum of the City project, we were asked to provide a social and environmental critique of the city by discovering and revealing the histories and spatial conditions hidden by this new city of spectacle. Through the spatial conditions we created in our respective sites we revealed certain qualities that not only expose this spectacle, but also re-aligns the city with its own historical and political complexities. When the emphasis is shifted from the street view of the blocks to the analysis of the ground, even in the final drawings of the project, the spaces in the interiors of the blocks become the areas of investigation, revealing how these spaces were once diversely inhabited and operated to provide connections throughout the city. By the same token, the idea of a building and a site emerges as an extension of a broader and deeper fabric made up of both literal and metaphorical layers.
One of the topics addressed in my research was the changing altitude of the the streetscapes through time, layering concrete and asphalt over less desired historical moments. Through this diagrammatical exploration, I chose to start the ground of the museum at the true altitude of the site, bringing users to step on the same metaphorical ground of their ancestors. The division on public and private visual spaces in my assigned district further influenced the decision to create a visually transparent space to breakdown the status quo of locking history behind inaccessible brick walls. The Museum of the city is designed as a space for reflection and connection with Charleston's true historical past and diverse present.