Dear Architecture. Fictional letters addressing real problems in the field


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“Dear Architecture,

It’s happening again. Hydraulic fracturing is the new resource rush and it is rapidly consuming the American landscape. Since 2008 its boomtowns are leaving countless homeless and displacing locals through explosive growth and skyrocketing rent. Watford City, North Dakota for instance has exploded to nearly five times its 2010 population. The speed and intensity of this shortsighted economic brutality bludgeons communities into rapid growth and exposes entire regions to a constant risk of precipitous collapse. If we continue to do nothing, broken fragments of these communities will litter the country as the carcass of industrial whim to remind us time and again that we consistently have no idea how to handle the boomtown. We must act.

When industry arrives, each town is flooded with workers and every element of infrastructure is strained. Roads deteriorate, land is compromised, and town services are stretched to an extreme. Housing looms as the predominant issue and there are simply not enough places for people arriving to live. Many end up homeless or live in their cars, others live in man camps.

While prefabrication has become the go to for rapid response, it has consistently been bound to the limitation and disorganization of a single building or automobile. Why has architecture abandoned the rail? Why not take this symbol of industrial efficiency and transform it into a vessel of architectural deliverance? Switchyards can provide a canvas for urban growth as rail cars reimagined as buildings anchor or migrate in response to the needs of each community. It has the potential to combat current homelessness and deliver housing as well as civic resources to towns through a previously unrealized economy of fabrication, scale, and speed.

This image re-imagines the railroad as a framework for buildings to be shipped, docked, and integrated into existing town structures. Through this new mobility we can deliver everything from health clinics to fitness centers. We can provide classrooms for children and even public libraries and parks. Grocery stores can provide a platform for local farmers and a variety of housing types will serve a population from all walks of life. Rail cars can deploy and connect to form larger spaces and routinely rotate between towns in order to establish new connections between communities.

The boom will end. Whether in five months, five years or fifty, whether immediately or gradually, these towns must be equipped to handle a population exodus. Desired services will remain while the rest migrates to serve other areas and saves these towns from becoming graveyards of abandoned structures. I hope that this idea reaches beyond the boomtown to provide aid for disaster relief and any situation of immediate architectural urgency both now and in the future.”

‘I hope this submission generates a larger discussion about the impact of industry on communities and the architectural consequences of modern boom towns built around hydraulic fracturing,’ Lewis Williams stated. ‘I want to make the often unnoticed migration of these communities visible through architecture, as well as transform our perception of railways from a historically industrial symbol into a network for social response.’


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