Smithville Master Plan + Municipal Complex

Professor: Frances Hsu
Duration: Fall 2011
Location: Smithville, MS | Northeast MS

Many small towns in northeast Mississippi were founded due to the presence of economic or natural resources. Under the dual weight of a struggling economy and a lack of continued need for those resources, some are facing extinction. In order to cope, many are relinquishing the small town way of life in favor of growth and urbanization.

While one town may not be able to stand on its own, however, a network of them offers more hope. Using the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway as a literal and ideological backbone, small towns can avoid both decay and the demand for expansion by using regional networks and neighboring cities’ resources.

On April 27, 2011, the town of Smithville was devastated by an EF5 tornado. In its effort to rebuild, Smithville offers the opportunity to re-define what it means to be a small town in 21st century America. Instead of tying itself to a single resource or interstate, it can instead connect itself to several different networks and assets.

A redeveloped Smithville will connect to the waterway, the railroad, and the highway, creating a strip of social and commercial activity that will help draw immediate attention to the town and secure its ability to survive even when one resource is depleted.

Following the master plan came the design for a municipal complex that comprised a civic center, library, and fire station. In an initial group design, concrete walls provide the strength and solidity expected of a civic building, while a computationally-designed wooden screen helps soften the image to provide a more welcoming public facade. To help convey the material quality of the design, the model was constructed using specially-constructed 1/8” plaster panels, which were cast between two thick, evenly spaced panes of glass and subsequently laser cut and etched. In addition, a computationally-designed wooden screen was laser cut out of thick paper to wrap around the model.

Another iteration of the design used the same material approach, but did so by proposing a generalized approach to retrofitting row houses. First, the bearing walls of the row house are strengthened and reconfigured into an adaptable new format that will withstand the strength of storms. Next, the interior partitions are constructed. Finally, the facade is built using a grid of clear glass, frosted glass, and metal panel. The exact arrangement of the panels is left to the individuals conducting the retrofit.

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