Patterns of Change
By Violette de la Selle + Wes Hiatt

104b Forsyth street
October 6, 2023


Patterns of Change layers existing conditions over archival material to visualize and understand the transformation of buildings in two New York City neighborhoods. The project studies representative blocks from the Lower East Side and Chinatown, arguably two of Manhattan’s last affordable areas, and highlights the characteristic longevity and steadfast evolution of buildings in both communities. Although the selected streetscapes are not presently designated as official heritage sites, the material on display uncovers and celebrates centuries-old change particular to these places: incessant, ad-hoc interventions being formed by practical matters of economy, self-determination, and individual taste. By recognizing the intrinsic value in buildings that endure through turnover and modification, this research aims to reframe the scope of conservation.

Careful observation of the buildings of the Lower East Side and Chinatown reveal parallel phenomena of continued use and unending change. The buildings examined in Patterns of Change detail the nature, quality, and degree of transformation that built structures can sustain. Change over a more than 80-year period is highlighted through analysis of existing conditions in 2023, photographs from the 1940s New York City Department of Finance tax survey, and consulting the city’s Municipal Archives. Beyond simply illustrating architectural and urban transformation, the research intends to identify the forces that underlie and motivate the modification of buildings in the city.

Four case study buildings, and the blocks on which they are situated, are included to demonstrate the range of building typologies (tenement, SRO, commercial-industrial, institutional), scales, construction techniques, original uses, and conditions of upkeep that blanket the study area. This building stock synthesizes a collection of historic narratives, continues to house New Yorkers, and maintains embodied carbon sequestered. Regardless of building type, occupants change, availability of space and living expectations evolve, local laws are enacted and repealed, buildings are re-faced, signage increased, ornament removed, new windows installed, older openings obscured. These processes alter, rejuvenate, and adapt buildings for their next chapter.

Patterns of Change is the first stage of the two-part research and design project Changing Change: Integrating Strategies of Preservation and Change in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. In the face of intense development pressures, a dearth of affordable housing, and accelerating global warming, this initiative asks how to protect an aging building fabric, housing, and community resources as assets to contend with intersecting crises of affordability and climate change. Through two exhibitions and accompanying programming, Changing Change will consider how disparate urban policy objectives—related to historic preservation, affordable housing, and environmental resilience—draw on different tactics to reach the same outcome of conserving existing buildings for dynamic use.

Patterns of Change is supported in part by grants from the Yale School of Architecture and the Lehigh University Department of Art, Architecture, and Design.