Preston Scott Cohen is the Gerald M. McCue Professor of Architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where he was the Chair of the Architecture Department between 2008 and 2013. He is the principal of Preston Scott Cohen, Inc., an internationally renowned architecture firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, celebrated for its innovative geometry and its original approach to integrating new buildings and additions with historic structures, and urban and natural environments.
Among Cohen’s most celebrated buildings are the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Amir Building, the Taiyuan Museum, Taubman College at the University of Michigan and the Goldman Sachs arcade in New York. Projects currently under construction include the Sarmiento Performing Arts Center in Bogotá, Colombia, and the Congregation Beth Shalom Synagogue in Overland Park, Kansas.
The Future Provincetown
An advanced design studio led by Professor Preston Scott Cohen at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. The studio speculates on the future as we reflect on the past in anticipation of the quattro centenary of the pilgrim’s first landing.
Rarely does the threat of global warming provide the impetus to speculate intensely on a community’s character at the architectural scale. Provincetown provides such a case. Sea level rise portends not only the loss of the city’s particular form of historically determined intricacy, but also the spontaneity and continuity of the many grandfathered codes that once governed its small scaled structures. Provincetown’s fine grained character and unusual way of life persist because so many of its small streets, sidewalks, houses with their historic staircases do not meet current codes. Owing to its scale and density, the city’s public and private social relationships are more significantly determined by the character of porches, doorways, fenestration and interior spatial sequences than is typical of modern cities. Many of the city’s public and private spaces are so entangled that they seem to be codified spontaneously, not regulated prescriptively. Take for example the way people circulate during the peak summer months; Commercial Street, the main street threatened to be segmented by future sea level rise, is commonly taken over by pedestrians, cyclists and performers, even as cars and delivery trucks slowly make their way through. The situation often appears to be totally unmanaged. Every night, when the bars and clubs close, crowds swell spontaneously in front of Spiritus Pizza, the only after-hours establishment, making the street virtually impassable.
The studio investigates strategies for maintaining and enhancing this way of life by elevating, preserving and transforming the parts of the city that will lose the battle against the rising water by the end of this century. Three general strategies for confronting sea level rise will be emphasized: retreat, attack and defend. Retreat entails pulling away from the water, onto higher land or elevated constructed plateaus; attack involves building out over the water or deploying floating devices, such as barges; defense is manifest by fortifying, by dredging, building jetties and bulkheads.
Adapting the city to sea level rise will entail the design of new infrastructure, streets, and buildings of different types and sizes. The proposals will include both transformations of antiquated and contemporary house types with the aim of creating a new synthesis. Vehicular and pedestrian circulation, parking and the arrival by ferry and air will all be examined and reconsidered. Historical accretion vs total design, artisanal production vs technological innovation are two of the most productive dialectics to have accompanied modern architecture since its inception. In order to investigate these sources of tension, this studio will confront an exceptional case of interdependency between urban morphology and building typology.