A Civic Core for an American Downtown

Fargo, ND, USA


Martin Hättasch (in collaboration with Grant Alford)

‘Bounded Core’ is a response to the idea of the ‘Civic Core’ that emerged in the 1950’s as an idealized architectural model for the representation of a liberal pluralistic society: The assembly of objects on a plinth allowed for the expression individuality of each object while the common ground plane unified the composition and provided the space for a largely pedestrian public. ‘Bounded Core’ by contrast defines civic space primarily through a singular formal gesture – the perimeter block – which is in turn distorted to accommodate difference within itself. The logic of the perimeter is inverted: Instead of providing a semipublic oasis, the center becomes the most public space. Four ‘activator’ volumes charge the central void programmatically and formally through their verticality, taking advantage of the perimeter’s ability to ‘contain’ differences. But rather than merely being contained by the perimeter, the volumes start to merge with it. Through this tightening of adjacencies the vertical volumes give up some of their typological characteristics and in turn affect the perimeter itself. What results is a new formal whole that absolves each individual type of its constraints and is defined only by the facade outline of and a universal structural column grid: The logic of the compositional civic space pushed to its limits – and urban form somewhere between ‘one’ and ‘many.’ No longer bound to the type of the disconnected tower or perimeter block, the project creates a miniature city within its confines without being exclusive to a particular user group or spatial logic.