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A School of Architectural Thinking ·

1972 – 2022, Recollecting the past 50 years to reimagine the next 50 ·

A School of Architectural Thinking ·

1972 – 2022, Recollecting the past 50 years to reimagine the next 50 ·

A School of Architectural Thinking ·

1972 – 2022, Recollecting the past 50 years to reimagine the next 50 ·

A School of Architectural Thinking ·

1972 – 2022, Recollecting the past 50 years to reimagine the next 50 ·

SCI-Arc EDGE, Design of Cities is a one-year, three-semester postgraduate degree program prompting students to investigate the full scope and substance of contemporary urbanization. The program is driven by the understanding that some of the most urgent and complex design problems of the twenty-first century concern the necessity for a fundamental change in organization and design of urban mechanisms and infrastructures.

Coordinator: Karen Lohrmann
Program faculty: Erik Ghenoiu, Masha Hupalo, Namik Mackic

Karen Lohrmann headshot

“Studying cities is about understanding the implications of dynamic systems. Researching cities means to scrutinize a polyphony of diverse agencies. The twenty-first-century city is driven by collective intelligence, the future of labor and creativity, the exploration and exploitation in surveillance technologies, political and economic systems. At a moment when the architectural profession is inspecting and expanding its scope, the city emerges in diverse ways at the same time: as an image, a physical location, a code, a fiction, …a revolution. This program is directed at identifying, improving, and designing accountable systems and processes as adaptive mechanisms rather than finished projects.”

Karen Lohrmann, MS Design of Cities Coordinator, Design Studio

AN EVOLVING DISCIPLINE

Virtually all the world’s population, human and otherwise, is swept up in an array of processes of environmental transformation linked to urban growth. The interactions of these processes, and the extent to which they intervene in all spheres of planetary life, require new operative concepts and methods for urban design.

Urban design has over the past century operated as a compromised practice caught between the bureaucratic apparatus of urban planning and the object-oriented aspirations of architectural design. A lack of critical reflexivity concerning its assumptions and objectives has left the discipline with methodologies that are either underarticulated or overdetermined, and often outright obsolete. The Design of Cities program undertakes to clarify the mission of urban design by foregrounding research and critical and hypothetical thinking as the keys to practice.

ACCOUNTABLE SYSTEMS

Design of Cities extends architectural thinking to the twenty-first-century city and related domains. The program takes an expansive and experimental approach to the territories and technologies of urban design in the twenty-first century, from the physical place to the digital platform, from the local to the metropolitan to the planetary scale. This includes the various footprints that become evident as expressions of existences: from bio signatures of early lifeforms to signs left by ancient or prehistoric societies, to carbon footprints of industrial and post-industrial economies, to digital footprints remaining from our activities online. Building on the premise that new urban imaginaries, constituencies, and economies can emerge from feedback loops between innovative research and design, the program seeks to add receptiveness and adaptability to a constantly evolving discipline. By equipping students to speculate on viable futures of the urbanized world, it guides them to formulate relevant conceptions of the urban, deployable today.

TECHNOLOGIES OF URBAN GOVERNANCE

Over the past decade, designers and theorists had to move from “software” or “operating system” as metaphorical descriptions of city-organizing infrastructure toward a realization that the proprietary algorithms of various digital platforms are responsible for spatial governance. Micro-mobility applications, real estate investment tools, short-term rental platforms, and many others provide daily services as they collect large swaths of data for continuous optimization of their algorithms. While platforms like Uber, Lyft, Zillow, Airbnb, Next Door, Instacart, and Citizen are not a substitute for traditional municipal structures, their techniques of measurement, assessment, and calculation set off noticeable ripple effects in the built environment. Design of Cities offers students possible routes to understanding how large algorithmic systems work and for whom, to develop skills and sensibilities in their interrogation of the present, and actively engage in thinking alternate concepts.

STRUCTURES OF OWNERSHIP AND RENT

The coupling of property with finance is not an invention of neoliberalism. From Ancient Rome’s land surveying techniques to John Locke’s natural property rights of individuals, from the privatization of public space to the current speculative real estate market, the aim of achieving maximum available utility of the horizontal surface has been central in urban development.

How can we rethink cities starting with the question of ownership? How can we change segregation planning policies based on subdivisions that are easy to purchase, sell, or use as a financial guarantee? Answering these questions requires a knowledge of local zoning ordinances, land-use regulations, building codes, taxation systems, and emerging blockchain-based governance structures. Design of Cities students will be able to discover fine threads of cause and effect within these mechanisms and imagine alternative regulations between people and the land on which they live.

UNDERSTANDING URBAN STATES

Considering the manifestations and proliferations of the twenty-first-century city, questions to be asked are: What are the issues of urbanization, and what are those that tend to be ignored or overlooked? How can we identify and creatively apply a diversity of architectural and interdisciplinary tools to highlight controversies, patterns, trends, and movements? How are ecologies, economies, territories, and communities affected, and how does this manifest spatially? How can design interpret and respond to found evidence and critically experiment with it?

Under a main theme that focuses an investigation into a set of specific phenomena, students establish a growing platform on how urban conditions, diverse societies, environments, and ecologies can prevail over present urgencies. Encouraged to question conventional assumptions of design through research and speculation, students will scrutinize subjects rather than objects in order to develop coherent visions for future ecologies. As an ideal outcome, Design of Cities graduates will be enabled to operate and innovate (as architects) alongside inclusive and accountable practices naturally coexisting in a just emerging world in which everything, though imperfect, will be better in some acute and fundamental ways.

POSSIBLE AGENDAS

Design of Cities graduates have entered positions at globally operative non-profits, research institutes, and architecture and urban design firms such as the Berggruen Institute, Gensler, Griffin Enright Architects, Kounkuey Design Initiative, Morphosis, MVRDV, UNStudio, SOM, government agencies such as SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments), and at academic institutions such as Tongji University and Innsbruck University, among others.

The program requires attendance in the fall, spring, and summer terms.

GRADUATE EXPERIENCES

R. Ian Dayagbil
2020 graduate, intermediate designer at City Design Practice/Research and Innovation Group with SOM, Chicago

I was drawn to SCI-Arc EDGE for its brazen attitude towards the future and an unrelenting optimistic view on what design can and ought to be. Nearly any good urban design program will meld together design, politics, culture, and technology. What sets SCI-Arc EDGE Design of Cities apart is an attitude to cities and design that is fundamentally creative and unshackled by obligations to maintain the status quo. Design of Cities—in my experience—was fundamentally concerned with the creation of systems, the rigorous study of infrastructure, interrogating the processes that create ‘land,’ and blurring the relationship between that which is “natural” and that which is “built.” Our studio environment was informed by real-world applications that were both intensely pragmatic and yet endlessly idealistic. Where you’re expected to get your hands dirty and also keep your eyes pointed towards the ever-distant horizon. It’s a place where incredibly strong personalities form the crucible on which your ideas are tested. Where difficult questions swirl, and disciplinary boundaries are interrogated and challenged. Where your most idealistic social ideas flirt with the contingencies of built reality. Where you must push a theoretical position towards a realizable design proposition.

In my own career, Design of Cities clarified my interests in generative urban design. That the use of computation and algorithms is a way to empower the public in being able to engage with the City by democratizing the design process. The most important lesson was learning to recognize the systems that produce cities. The systems of capital, administration and culture that are then concretized as infrastructure. And in encountering closed and damaging systems—learning how to break them open. In Design of Cities, you’ll hear over and over again that the city is a collective project. That a designer engaging with the city is less like building a sandcastle and far more like tending to a garden. To think in systems, instruments, and infrastructure that allow for more people to be actively involved in the design and making of their cities.

Nicolas Stephan
2019 graduate, faculty at Innsbruck University, partner Distant Realities

I have taken part in the 2018-19 iteration of the Design of Cities program. The program helped me to develop my own theoretical and methodological toolset focusing on the underlying economic, political, and cultural processes that shape the environment we live in. This toolset was used to develop my thesis project: A speculative scenario, in which a new type of extraterritorial zone has taken the role of the tax haven as the last step in multinational tax avoidance schemes. In this zone money is stored in hills, valleys, waterways, and forests as part of a massive landscape initiative with the goal of developing carbon-negative landscapes while also establishing suitable homes for endangered species.

After graduating, I started a career in academia as a teacher and researcher. Simultaneously, I co-founded the design practice Distant Realities, where we investigate the role of architecture and urbanism in the context of planetary-scale processes. Both my academic and office work builds on the knowledge acquired at SCI-Arc in terms of content and methods. The Design of Cities program remains a viable foundation for my current and future work.

Ziao Zhou
2020 graduate, designer at NBBJ, Los Angeles, cofounder Hysterious L.A.

I’ve always defined my career goal as impacting more and more people, and urban design provides larger possibilities to achieve my goals. That’s the force that drove me to this program. While the traditional roles of architectural and urban designers are going through a huge shift in the ever-changing context, I was looking for this program to provide me with a new mindset on how to define complex problems and sustainable solutions. What I didn’t expect to find was the extraordinary level of critical thinking, the encouragement to develop my own ability to address complex problems and creativity out of the box.

To focus on the problem rather than the solution is what influenced my design career the most. By defining the problem at different levels, the compelling solutions will come spontaneously. I currently work as a designer at NBBJ Los Angeles, and I’m also the cofounder of Hysterious L.A. In Design of Cities I learned how to conduct successful quantitative and qualitative research and integrate research insight with personal creativity to impact a project. The combination of this pushes me forward as a better designer in the firm.

After living in LA all these years, I am certain that this city provides great material and energy for those who want to learn more about the city and architecture in the twenty-first century. The one thing I will never forget is how LA made me realize the metropolis is not just about cities but about dreams. All those visions we create for metropolitan areas may be just a bunch of bubbles but if we operate at urban scale we have the ability to define lifestyles that make cities amazing and the people who live in them fabulous. Since I graduated, I have remained in close contact with SCI-Arc and Design of Cities. Just recently, I participated in the Design of Cities symposium as a guest speaker, shared industry insight with current students, and I continue to work with other alumni on an ongoing urban research project called Hysterious L.A., hopefully soon including some future students, too.

Yiqun Wang
2019 graduate, visiting lecturer at Tongji University and working in his own practice Studio Sequence

After three years of practicing architecture in Shanghai, I felt the urge to address urbanization in connection to the Anthropocene and in a contemporary philosophical way—something still largely outside the scope of architectural practice. To me the educational model of one concentrated year was very supportive. Each semester consists of studio practice and design theory labs in support of the final thesis project. Los Angeles is warm, relaxed, and good for mental health. To work without worrying too much about the weather supported me in my continuous focus on design. You have many chances to expand the discussion to different people who might not necessarily be solely designers. The entire EDGE program with its five concentrations is about exploring between practice and the academy.

After graduation I organized an online forum with David Ruy, Graham Harman, Michael Young, and Ferda Kolatan, in 2020. It was the first time to rethink and discuss the past ten years growing progress of Object-oriented Ontology in the architecture discipline. Over the past year, I went back and forth between teaching at Tongji University and my practice. I run a small design studio named STUDIO SEQUENCE working on both architecture and landscape projects in China. We recently won a water infrastructure competition in Shenzhen which in many aspects drew from my thesis that was also related to water management. I’m dedicated to the EDGE alumni group and I have remained in close contact with some of my friends who also teach—we continue to invite each other to give studio reviews and lectures.

Anush Harutyunyan
2020 graduate, architectural designer at Gensler, Los Angeles

I moved to the US in 2018. Very soon I understood that I needed some new beginning and the only place where this could happen was SCI-Arc, a school I had been drawn to since long. Urban design is my passion and I had especially followed the school’s urban design approach so, all in all, SCI-Arc’s Design of Cities program was the ideal combination for me to choose. To this date, this has been one of my best decisions.

I didn't expect 90% of what I learned during the year. The program has influenced my career and life in many ways and it was clearly an eyeopener in terms of how to approach projects. I learned to clearly define urban problems and to approach from macro to micro despite the scale or location of a design task. This helps to see the whole picture, to identify opportunities and eventually propose a diversity of solutions.

I met wonderful, talented, and endlessly inspiring people who I call my friends and mentors now. In Los Angeles I found my first job at SPF:a as well as my current job as architectural designer at Gensler. All projects I have worked on after school are located in LA, so this city is a very important part of my career. It’s the city-as-laboratory which I always like to discover more of. My thesis project and one of the other most important projects were about LA and both Design of Cities and SCI-Arc in general have clearly taught me to see and experience the many facets this city offers. I’d like to say LA was one of the main influential characters during my SCI-Arc journey.

Shance Bagos Taylor
2021 graduate, planning coordinator at Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), Los Angeles

During my time in the Design of Cities program, I focused the majority of my research on the history of planning in my hometown and investigated how the organization of its communities is still similar to and based on its segregated redlining from the 19th century. Being at SCI-Arc not only allowed me to dig into my curiosities on the matter but to foster my love for understanding community and public space.

By developing my research and having the ability to focus on a topic that truly matters to me I was able to receive a position at a local nonprofit that does the same work I began thinking about as a potential response to segregative planning and the perpetuation of marginalizing communities of color. We do this through participatory design and amplifying the voices of these communities. Attending SCI-Arc enabled my growth as a researcher and learn how to better use my voice to speak up for myself and others in moments of injustice.

Shanar Moslehy
2020 graduate, job captain at ANACAPAArchitecture, Santa Barbara and Portland

As a practicing architect and an educator to fresh architecture school students, I had reached a point where the scale of architecture discourse was not enough to respond to the spatial, urban, and environmental uncertainties of the era we are living in. In parallel, growing up in a region that has experienced political-cultural revolution, war, and exceeding population growth, I have experienced all kinds of economic, social, and urban hindrances. The fact that this program focuses on the drama of contemporary urban phenomena is what interested me the most due to my background and contextual experiences. To learn new skills and narrate an urban issue with a specific systematic approach and advanced computational tools was an unexpected representational medium for me.

Design of Cities has expanded the horizon of my thinking process and broadened my perspective to interact with design challenges. It has empowered my mindset to break down design complexities into simplified, pure, and achievable solutions in the real design world. The program led us to design and develop a large-scale project from scratch, individually or as part of a small team, within a limited time frame consisting of multiple layers. Advanced research, concept design and critical thinking, design development, and new presentation languages have prepared me once again, after years of practicing, to start fresh in a new professional setting. I’m currently responsible for the whole life cycle of a project from conceptual design through construction documentation and administration. I think Los Angeles with its four Ecologies as Reyner Banham has categorized them, definitely plays a leading role in the scenario of SCI-Arc and all its programs. This was one of my priorities to choose my further education as a life experience.