If the 19th century urban center was a city of manufacturing, and the early 20th century city was one of corporate capitalism, todays downtown can best be characterized as a site of culture and consumption, from the Guggenheim Bilbao to Times Square in Manhattan. Downtown Houston is at a disadvantage in this contemporary context, for it lacks any density of cultural institutions. Sites of entertainment and culture are instead spread throughout the greater Houston metropolitan area. This dispersal creates islands of culture, but leaves downtown Houston without a cohesive cultural identity. By tweaking municipal policy and exploiting untapped sites, this thesis seeks to inflate cultural space in downtown Houston and by cultural space, I mean everything from the symphony to contemporary art to Karaoke). Inflations promote a new way to transform the city. Rather than make big change through big cultural projects, Inflations are small iterative structures where transformations occur through a set of connections: infrastructural and visual. Already in place in downtown Houston is a seven mile system of tunnels and skywalks that has led to an evacuation of the street and a fragmented downtown public. By slowly infusing forms into this downtown infrastructure a new culture map is made. Through an accumulation of Inflations these small structures become sites of consistent visible exchange: point moments of cultural activity placed in a once banal infrastructural system.
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