Pentimento: If Landscapes Remembered
Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again.
––Lillian HellmanAbandoned heritage sites have important stories to tell that relate to the evolution of the urban environment in which they are situated. When these sites lose a programme upon which they were conceived, they run the risk of losing their identity by being re-inhabited in ways that fail to acknowledge or reinforce this story. Such heritage sites may also be particularly vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels, especially if they were designed at a time when such major environmental transformations were unforeseen.
The site selected for this design-led research investigation, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was originally a salt marshland on New York’s East River, traversed by native Americans and inhabited by native flora and fauna. In 1801 it was transformed into a shipbuilding yard for the United States Navy. The shipyard operated until 1966, when it was decommissioned and sold to the City of New York; 9,000 workers lost their jobs. The site was reopened in 1969 as an industrial park, and a number of large-scale buildings were re purposed for manufacturing. It is now mostly abandoned, and the city is looking for ways to repurpose it. The underlying stories of the site are in danger of being lost if a logistical framework is not conceived, that incorporates these stories into the future narrative of the site. This thesis investigates how: the pentimento of the site––its underlying heritage stories–– can be revealed and celebrated; evolving environmental problems can be mitigated and help the site return to an ecologically resilient and sustainable condition; and a future-proof framework be proposed for its ongoing evolution.
This thesis asks: How can the underlying stories of an abandoned, industrial heritage landscape be preserved in ways that help prevent the permanent loss of important lessons from the past, while mitigating evolving environmental problems and establishing a future-proof framework for the site’s ongoing evolution?