Hydro Synapsis

Fall 2017  |   4 Month Long Project  |  Completed with Hamza Qureshi 

Our semester long project at the start of year three was broken down into three parts. First, we were given a site that was right on the river in Pittsburgh's Strip District. We went on several site visits and documented our tips with a series of site maps and sections. Then, we were assigned a high-density housing project for precedent research, and finally we had to design our own housing on the assigned site while incorporating an "eco-machine".

Hamza and I decided to divide up the site analysis so he would analyse the social aspects of the site and I would take the environmental aspects. One of the biggest factors affecting our site is rainwater runoff. The site sits between the Allegheny River and the steep Polish Hill, so whenever there's even a slight rainfall, a lot of water passes through our site. This created the opportunity for our designs to focus on collecting this rainwater and filtering it on site for use, which would take some of the load off of Pittsburgh's combined sewer system.

The precedent study that was assigned to us was MVRDV's Silodam. We created a collection of drawings analyzing the different types of housing units and how they are organized throughout the building. After studying the concepts behind the design, we decided that we like the fact that MVRDV chose the number of each unit based on Amsterdam's housing demographic, but we disliked the way that the units were cut off from any community spaces. 

Our final designs combined a series of housing units with a method of collecting water in a bioswale and filtering it through natural and mechanical systems. Rainwater that falls on the site is caught by the buildings' green roofs and guided down to the bioswale through an exposed pipe system. Water runoff from Polish Hill is caught by the smaller bioswale that runs through Smallman Street and is guided through a series of tributaries to the main bioswale. Floodwater from the river is also guided through tributaries and into the bioswale. The final designs show how landscape can be used for a better not only the site's environment, but the environment beyond, and that humans can coexist symbiotically with this system.


From the beginning of the project, it became clear that water greatly impacted our site. This prompted me to create this site map which analyzes the Strip District's flood planes, topography, and drainage network.

This site map looks at the shadows that fall on the site, the wind patterns, and the Strip District's public transportation patterns.

While visiting the site, I took note of the vegetation and mapped it onto this single long site section that runs along the walking path that crosses through the site. I then created a series of six sections which are perpendicular to the long section. These smaller sections show the relationship of the site to the river and how that condition changes over the course of the site.

This map of Pittsburgh compares the flood planes to the  combined sewage outlets. It shows that our site sits in the prime location to help alleviate the burden that excessive rainfall puts on Pittsburgh's sewage system. This drawing was completed by my partner, Hamza.

This drawing, also created by my partner Hamza, looks at the traffic patterns on the two main roads that run parallel to the site. We found that the one that borders our site is very disorienting and we chose to use our designs to improve this.

Another of Hamza's drawings analyzes the restaurants in the Strip District. It shows that this area is growing commercially and it offers insight into traffic patterns of visitors to the area.

The precedent study that we were assigned was the Silodam housing project by MVRDV. This was our annotated axon drawing that showed how MVRDV arranged the different sizes and styles of housing units within the building. 

We were tasked with creating a site map that abstractly showed the network of forces that came together on our site. We used this drawing as an opportunity to bring together our analysis of the natural forces on the site and the human forces. This map includes water drainage paths and flood paths, as well as projected pedestrian circulation paths and nodes where these paths converge. This drawing then became a tool for creating our final site plan.

By turning individual layers of our abstract drawing on an off, we could see how certain chosen site attributes interacted. Each of these four drawings compares two layers.

Our final site plan highlights the network of buildings and waterways that divide up the massive site. 

This annotated section shows how water is collected on site and the different paths that it can take to get to the main bioswale for storage before being filtered and used by the occupants.

This collage style render gives a sense of the communal atmosphere that the shared circulation spaces around the bioswale start to take on.

My second render shows the designs in the context of Smallman Street where the public facades of the building face.