DECOM 1: Alameda NAS

Class: DECOM 1: Alameda NAS
Instructors: David Fletcher
Dates: Fall 2010

This URBANLab studio will propose visionary urban design and landscape scenarios for a decommissioned military base. The San Francisco Bay has more decommissioned and derelict military sites than any other North American coastal city. DECOM sites are often large, contaminated, and highly contested territories which offer vital substrates for Urban, Infrastructural, and Landscape investigations. The studio site is the Alameda Naval Air Station, closed by BRAC (Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission) in 1997, is now undergoing controversial transition to civilian use. This URBANlab seeks to insert itself into the discussion of this contested landscape and to participate in
offering viable and visionary future scenarios. The studio project will be to at first understand the site potentials and then leverage this understanding to propose new hybridized urban propositions that address remediation, infrastructure, ecology, and human habitation. Students will research the regional networks of decommissioned military spaces, their existing manifestations and future potentials. Investigations will also include extensive and intensive site and context analysis, to determine potential site and project trajectories. These propositions will begin at the master plan level through group process, informed by expert and stakeholder input. Students will then work individually on projects that explore the metabolic and temporal relationships betIen architecture, infrastructure, and landscape.
In the last two decades, over 350 military bases have been closed throughout the United States. The decommissioned military base has proven to be this centuries medium of landscape and urban polemic. The Downsview Park International Competition, for a Toronto air base, has become a widely studied precedent, and is credited with establishing the Landscape Urbanism discourse. Northern California is littered with modern military ruins. There are over 19 sites in the Bay Area alone, many of which share uncertain futures. Some are superfund sites facing long term remediation plans, others have development plans in place, and are awaiting funding at a time of great economic instability. Local examples include Treasure Island, Mare Island, and the Alameda Naval Air Station.
The Alameda Naval Air Station was built on reclaimed land, which was once one of the most biologically productive marine estuaries in the Bay. Once The occupied by borax processing plant, an oil refinery, and an airport, the site had a long industrial legacy prior to military use. For over 50 years, it was a repair and maintenance facility for Naval aircraft, including carrier based planes and helicopters. The 1,773 acre site includes existing military buildings, housing, runways, tank farms, munitions storage areas, and a skeet range. As with many ex-military sites in the Bay Area, it is now used by the film and television industry, who enjoy the vast unrestricted surfaces. Most recently, Warner Brothers built a full scale 1.5 mile long freeway for the filming of Matrix Reloaded. The Southern California developer Sun Cal Companies, prepared the “Point Plan”, a master plan which included 1700 housing units, recreation fields, parks, offices and a ferry terminal on 770 acres. After a year of review and political struggles, the Alameda City Council rejected the proposed development with an 85% no vote. Citizens groups cited concerns of increased traffic and that the development was “simply too large”.
Students will begin with a rigorous regional mapping and analysis of the Bay with regards to military installations, infrastructural and economic flows, climatic trajectories, ecologies past and present, and landuse. The second stage of mapping and analysis will focus on the site and it’s local context including mapping of toxic distribution, habitat, landuse, figure/ground, etc. Students will then investigate project and competition precedents to help inform the project phase. Students will then work in groups to prepare a temporal master plan that explores the sites potentials. This phase will be supplemented by professional workshops and reviews leading up to midterm presentations. Students will work on individual projects that integrate infrastructure, architectural programs, and landscape scenarios which will be presented at the final review.