Landscape as Urbanism: Milwaukee, Tower Automotive Site

For many designers across a range of disciplines, landscape has recently emerged as a model for contemporary urbanism. This is particularly true in North American cities which continue to disperse as a result of mature industrial decentralization and the ongoing effects of economic transformations associated with globalization. The ongoing consolidation of industrial capacity in North America, now associated with global capital markets and flexible labor relations, was envisioned by modern urbanists and industrialists nearly a century ago. With regards to the automobile industry, none other than Henry Ford predicted in the first decades of the twentieth century that the traditional city would not survive, and that the decentralization of industry would reshape settlement across the continent. Ford\’s decision to relocate production outside the city in favor of more competitive and flexible arrangements of capital, material, and labor signaled what can now be understood as a century of decentralization led by economic forces. This process continues apace today as over 70 metropolitan areas in the U.S. are experiencing some degree of disinvestment, depopulation, and decay. Our work in the design studio will examine the role of the automobile industry in North American urbanization, the present status of its commitments, and its potential futures. This research will be focused on the reconsideration of a brownfield industrial site in Milwaukee, the Tower Automotive site. In the context of an international automobile industry, Tower Automotive has used the site for engineering and production and is currently engaged in drawing down its presence in Milwaukee. The studio will examine multiple scenarios for the site\’s future redevelopment, and will explore emergent understandings of landscape urbanism as a potentially useful set of practices available to design professionals across disciplines. The ongoing reduction of Tower Automotive\’s truck manufacturing activity on the 148-acre site in central Milwaukee offers the studio an opportunity to reflect on the history of decentralization in the Great Lakes region, and the various futures available to this still inhabited community. Our work will comprise case study analysis of comparable examples from cities in the region including Detroit, Chicago, and Toronto. Our field work and the design propositions following from it will examine both the phenomenal and infrastructural dimensions of the site, working across scales from the body to the region.The studio will use scenario based exercises to develop design proposals across the range of disciplines represented at the Design School, from singularly transformative architectural interventions, comprehensive urban design proposals based on market-rate development, and landscape strategies for the remediation, rehabilitation, and renewal of the site\’s social and environmental potentials.The studio includes a sponsored trip near the beginning of the term to Chicago and Milwaukee. Field trips and will be supplanted with briefings from public officials, community residents, and a range of professional consultants. The studio, sponsored by the Milwaukee Department of City Development, includes funding for travel, research, and the publication of our findings.