Elena Whittle

Document Type

Thesis, Senior




Spring 2020


gentrification, design, architecture, paris, built environment, community, social, city, class






In Paris sans le people, a book on the gentrification of Paris, Anne Clerval writes (in a French to English translation) that, “gentrification reflects the dynamics of class relationships in the urban space” (p. 10). This thesis explores this dynamic in the context of American cities and additionally points to race relations, and private-public interests’ relations as other important factors in the American urban sphere. This thesis is an exploration of how capital plays a critical role in the morphology of the built environment. One of the ways that this is most obviously observed is through the commonly occurring phenomena in major cities called gentrification. In cities like San Francisco, the case study for this project, unchecked capitalism and complacent city governments have resulted in reshaped urban environments that cast the poor communities that shaped them into the wayside. This thesis seeks to encourage critical thinking about how architecture has become a tool for gentrification and displacement, a truth that the field has largely turned a blind eye to in both academia and practice, and provide insight on how it could also be used to address and redesign the way neighborhoods become “gentrified.” Ultimately, this thesis takes the form of both a proposal and a critique. As a proposal, this thesis argues for a re-insertion of lower and middle-class communities back into the city through housing that is integrated into the existing urban fabric, rather than through isolated housing projects pushed to the city’s outskirts. Furthermore, to create housing opportunity for these communities, this thesis proposes the use of air rights and accessory dwelling units as strategies that are a manipulation of the existing San Francisco zoning code. At the same time, while the project sets up this proposal, it is also a self-critique, which challenges architecture’s own ability to “fix” social ills.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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