The construction of the Erie Canal was arguably the most important infrastructure investment in the history of the United States. As the first navigable route to breach the Appalachian Mountains, the Erie Canal kick started the westward expansion of America and connected the vast fertile lands of the Mid West to larger coastal populations and ports. Locally, the growth of most major cities in New York State, from Buffalo to New York City, can be directly tied to the success of the canal. Advancements in transportation such as railroads and trucking have made the Erie Canal obsolete from the perspective of moving goods and people across the state. However, the canal still plays a vital role for Upstate communities.
Intra-Works proposes the development of a series of permanent architectural and cultural destinations in a sequence of projects along the New York State Canal System. The sites are intended to contribute to the revitalization of canal-side communities and support the creation of a connected infrastructure for the canal corridor. It is a new model of cultural tourism that will help to reinvigorate forgotten landmarks and promote the redevelopment of dormant businesses and empty lots. Much like the Erie Canal did 200 years ago, Intra-Works will help to spur economic development by attracting new audiences from outside the region, on both a national and international scale.
From the Hudson River to Lake Erie, the canal system relies on a series of locks to mitigate changes in the geography. Defined by elevation markers, each lock a has a specific place in the profile and infrastructure of the canal system, which fluctuate from 1.3’ above sea level in Waterford to a high point at 572.4’ above sea level in Buffalo.
Using the high point of the system as a reference datum, Intra-Works introduces a series of physical interventions as visual markers that will reveal this datum in the natural environment as a means of registering one’s scale in relation to the larger system.
As a first phase, Intra-Works focuses on the Mohawk Valley, and specifically 3 sites in Utica, Little Falls and Canajoharie.
The Mohawk Valley represents a region of immense opportunity, acting as a portal to tourist destinations further Upstate, including the Finger Lakes and the Adirondacks, as well as adjacencies to those traveling through the Hudson Valley to the Berkshires. Taking advantage of this captive audience and a deep legacy of cultural and commercial heritage, the Valley is attracting investment and momentum, with intact downtowns drawing increased attention.
Home to Beech-Nut, local food production and direct distribution via the Canal led to a prosperous business and in turn a prosperous town with local workers. Beech-Nut founder Bartlett Arkell shared that prosperity through the creation of the Arkell Museum and Canajoharie Library, featuring his personal art collection.
After years of neglect and vacancy, the former Beech-Nut factory is now under county ownership. With an infusion of state money towards remediation, the historic factory is primed for a new future. Intra-Works proposes to turn the factory itself and the surrounding grounds into a canvas for art and public activation.
The smoke stack and factory will become a backdrop for artistic installations.
The former John Pierce Stoneworks and adjacent quarry are a reminder of Little Falls industrial legacy. Clinging to the side of a cliff face overlooking the Canal, it is a dramatic ruin waiting to be explored. A series of pathways, bridges, and overlooks will pull users up from the canal to the stoneworks. The view at the top of the climb offers a grand overlook east and west down the Mohawk River.
Functioning railroads and highways create a clear barrier between conditions and make it challenging to get from one to the other. Intra-Works proposes THE UTICA LOOP – an art and culturally programmed journey that connects the city to and from nature over layers of infrastructure. On the ground conditions such as marshlands, the harbor, the Mohawk River, and the Erie Canal will provide a variety of different experiences. The existing Utica Tower, a new pedestrian overlook, and a new bird watching tower will provide highly visual vertical elements that will serve as orientation devices and places to congregate.
The Erie Canal was the catalyst for growth in Upstate New York and its legacy can be seen in the current concentration of power, transportation, freight, and development. Intra-Works reinforces this infrastructure, building a connective thread of amenities and new experiences. The installations become true beacons in the same way our roadsides are strung with power lines, our towns are marked by water towers, and our coasts are dotted with lighthouses.