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Cast in Place

Steven Holl's Kennedy Center expansion dampens sound with crinkled concrete
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Steven Holl Architects' (SHA) expansion of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.—titled The REACH—is expected to open to the public at the beginning of September.  The $250-million expansion consists of a 4.6-acre complex with three semi-submerged pavilions rising with bright-white cast-in-place concrete and opaque glass facades. Notably, SHA's design features crinkled concrete sound-dampening walls that could potentially be used on facades. The use of concrete integrates the addition with the material palette of the preexisting Edward Durell Stone–designed complex, albeit the new buildings break from the rectilinearity of the older pagoda-like buildings by using soaring curves.
  • Facade Manufacturer Fitzgerald Formliners (Rubber Molds) Lane Construction (Cast-in-place concrete)
  • Architect Steven Holl Architects BNIM (Associate Architect)
  • Facade Installer Lane Construction
  • Facade Consultant Reg Hough (Concrete Consultant) Silman (Structural Engineer)
  • Location Washington, D.C.
  • Date of Completion 2019
  • System Structural Concrete
  • Products Custom-fabricated rubber molds.
A significant aspect of the Kennedy Center expansion is the insertion of performance and rehearsal spaces to increase the Center's cultural offerings. The challenge? The hardness of concrete, combined with its flush surface, inherently hurts acoustic performance. To solve this quandary SHA Senior Partner Chris McVoy and Senior Associate Garrick Ambrose got to work in the studio's in-house workshop. "The process started with making small one-foot by one-foot crinkled metal samples in our shop to determine the appropriate size and depth of the crinkle pattern that worked best visually and acoustically," Ambrose said. "After the pattern was finalized, we took a large 10-foot by 4-foot sheet of aluminum, thin enough to form by hand, and crinkled it in our shop. The crinkled metal panel was then fastened to a wooden framework and sprayed with foam insulation on the back to freeze the pattern in place before it was sent to Fitzgerald Formliners in California where elastomeric rubber molds were created." One of the challenges of the early prototyping was sourcing pieces of aluminum large enough to reduce seams across the surface whilst still being hand pliable. Luckily, manufacturer Alucoil donated the firm a large roll of aluminum. The research phase, from the creation of small mock-ups in-house to the first concrete pours on site, took approximately two-and-a-half years. SHA worked closely with acoustician David Harvey to determine the optimal depth of the relief, which ultimately settled between one-and-a-half and two inches. Following fabrication, the rubber molds were transported to the construction site and fastened to the rest of the formwork prior to the concrete pour. To avoid the visible repetition of the crinkled pattern across the performance spaces, the construction team flipped and rotated the rubber molds. The result is a remarkably detailed concrete finish with laps of light and shadow that not only acoustically dampens the space but is integrated into the complex's overall structure.
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57th rising

SHoP's Midtown supertall brings terra-cotta and bronze to new heights
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Over the last two decades, SHoP Architects has pushed the envelope of facade design, leading a notable shift from predominantly glass-clad skyscrapers to supertalls incorporating a variety of materials. SHoP’s 111 57th Street is currently rising on Manhattan’s Billionaires’ Row—a stretch of dizzyingly luxurious towers. The tower stands out with a facade that incorporates three materials: terra-cotta, glass, and bronze ornamental work. The tower rises from a narrow lot located immediately behind and adjacent to the historic Steinway Building. In the mold of historic New York skyscrapers, the tower sets back and tapers upward along its south elevation. Both north and south elevations are clad in a glass curtain wall with vertical strips of bronze sprouting into finials at each setback.
  • Facade Manufacturer NBK Architectural Terracotta ELICC Americas Corporation SYP Glass Group
  • Architect SHoP Architects
  • Developer JDS Development Property Markets Group Spruce Capital
  • Facade Installer Parkside Construction Builders
  • Facade Consultant BuroHappold Engineering
  • Location New York
  • Date of Completion 2020
  • System Custom ELICC unitized system
  • Products NBK Architectural Terracotta custom terra-cotta rainscreen
As a result of the site’s constraints, the approximately 1,400-foot-tall tower’s width runs at a remarkably narrow 45 feet—the width-to-height ratio comes out to just 1:24. Partnering with BuroHappold Engineering, a key challenge for the project was developing a facade system capable of supporting the weight of cladding materials, notably the terra-cotta panels. Concrete shear walls back the facade for these two elevations with only select opportunities for punched window openings. “These select openings allow for vision glass to be used while the remaining glass panels contain shadow boxes,” said BuroHappold Associate John Ivanoff. “The unitized curtain wall panels are consistent in dimension across the width of the facade; the units are separated between different materials.” The composition of the east and west facades is formed by a trio of terra-cotta, glass, and bronze. Curtain wall–manufacturer Ellic Americas merged the three materials into approximately 4-foot-by-16-foot panels, with bronze filigree fluttering between vertical stripes of glass and terra-cotta. These panels were then delivered to the site, craned into position, and hung from concrete structural slabs similar to typical curtain wall systems. In total, nearly 43,000 terra-cotta pieces, mechanically fastened to a unitized aluminum curtain wall system, run across the two elevations. The design of the quasi-fluted terra-cotta strips was formulated using a 3-D wave geometry generated by a computational script. This geometrically focused design by SHoP was adapted by NBK Terracotta to conform to its specific fabrication parameters. The building is scheduled to be completed in 2020.
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Notre Design

Chicago clothing store Notre reopens in remodeled flagship
Designed by Norman Kelley, the remodel of Notre’s flagship storefront in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood is a spatial and conceptual expansion of Notre’s offerings. With its larger and more flexible interior, the store will house a refined selection of contemporary designer fashion and streetwear, as well as ongoing cultural programming. Upon entering the store through the 13-foot-tall door with attached transom window, you are tasked with entering a second time; the store proper is pushed away from the street, and a multipurpose stair ramp provides an accessible entry made of 4,645 Chicago common brick pavers in four gentle slopes mediated by low-rise steps. Notre accommodates the building’s layered history as a warehouse-turned-gallery by sandwiching 1-foot-wide timber columns between white, thickened walls and drop-ceiling masks, creating a series of rooms to accommodate both products (clothing, footwear, publications, apothecary) and events (readings, lectures). Like the stepped vestibule that functions as a micro-auditorium, or the curated selection of books and magazines, Notre reveals a way to combine social pragmatism with aesthetic appeal and creates a new sense of retail intimacy. 118 N Peoria Street #1N, Chicago www.notre-shop.com (312) 888-2248 Architect: Norman Kelley
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Light-Speed Build-Out

UC San Diego slated to build a new campus "front door"
UC San Diego is building itself a front door. The Pepper Canyon Amphitheater and Public Realm project, spearheaded by current chancellor Pradeep Khosla, is a restructuring of the physical campus, nestled between the Pacific coastline and Interstate 5. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the top 10 research university aims to become more welcoming to visitors and to better interact with neighbors. The university has added over 11,000 students in the past decade despite a statewide slashing of funds to the UC school system. The master plan includes building a grand entrance to the campus that organizes circulation while also creating a visually striking first impression. The "doorway" is expected to include a new 3,000 seat pavilion and amphitheater, a sculptural “walkway of words,” and an interactive swing set by visual artist Ann Hamilton. Additionally, a projected $761 million worth of new buildings will surround it, from a design and innovation center to a freestanding tower for alumni gatherings. These new projects seek to create what students and faculty feel that the campus has always lacked: an energetic downtown, connecting students to the campus as well as to the surrounding community.  At the center of the design philosophy is the use of public transportation for both students and visitors. There are consistent complaints about parking availability on campus, with some commuter students arriving at school by 5:00 a.m. just to get a spot and then sleeping in their cars until class. The development of San Diego’s Blue Line, a trolley system connecting the university with the city, has the potential to alleviate some of this commuter stress as the campus grows. With its expected completion by 2021, new buildings and plazas are being planned adjacent to the trolley, encouraging alternative transit while also inviting visual interaction between the campus and riders. The new building designs boast large windows overlooking the trolley so commuters are able to see inside workshops and labs, observing students creating and researching. The projects intentionally define a whole new meaning to the word transparency. Chancellor Khosla told the Union-Tribune he hopes that this focus will help eliminate the “urban island” syndrome that UCSD has acquired, existing on a geographic site that was always meant to be isolated. The La Jolla site of UCSD was historically occupied by a Marine Corps training base called Camp Matthews. The site is situated between the ocean’s coastal cliffs and a major highway, Interstate 5, with increasing pressure in the surrounding areas from tech company campuses and residential sprawl each year. However, Khosla is the first of the school’s chancellors to actively advocate for community interaction on campus, welcoming in neighbors and visitors rather than pushing them out. “Anybody who comes to San Diego should have this campus as a destination in addition to Balboa Park or the Gaslamp district,” he said to the Union-Tribune Critics of his open campus plan point out potential distraction on campus for students or security issues arising from homeless populations on public transit. But Khosla and his supporters see the public transport and tourism opportunities as a natural evolution for an increasingly urban campus. “We can’t be afraid of that and close the campus to everybody," he said. "That would be a disaster.”  
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Nail Free

First dowel-laminated timber building in the U.S. set to open in Des Moines
A four-story mixed-use structure in Des Moines, Iowa, will be the first building in the U.S. to be constructed with dowel-laminated timber, an all-wood mass timber product that is held together without nails, glue, or fasteners and can be assembled with friction-fit wood connectors. Designed by Neumann Monson Architects, the 65,000-square-foot building, which houses shops, restaurants, and offices, is made from pre-fabricated 8'x20' DowelLam panels by StructureCraft, along with spruce glulam beams and columns, and precast concrete. DowelLam can reportedly be created in an array of custom profiles and is easily handled by CNC equipment. The architects reported that working with the easy-fit prefab panels allowed for faster construction with fewer workers. Not just structural elements, the panels will also remain exposed on the building in order to contribute to its overall aesthetic. In addition, the architects estimated that the timber construction “sequestered” around 280 tons of carbon and doesn’t run the risk of “off-gassing” chemicals like other glue-based mass timber products like CLT. Mass timber has been featured prominently in new construction as people are searching for alternatives to steel and concrete, with proponents touting its environmental benefits, among other positives. For example, Foster + Partners' sprawling plans for a new Silicon Valley neighborhood integrate mass timber throughout the site. People have been building bigger with it as well. This year a 280-foot-tall Norwegian tower claimed the title of world's tallest mass-timber structure. Mass plywood panels, another mass timber technology, were also recently approved for use in buildings as tall as 18 stories. StructureCraft reported other projects in North America are also putting the dowel-laminated product to use, including the Lake|Flato–designed Center for Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and a regional airport in British Columbia.
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Remedy This

New CBD store brings high design to New York's NoMad neighborhood
Pink curvilinear walls, bold terrazzo volumes, neoclassical arced alcoves, and lush plant accents help create a serene setting for CBD retailer Standard Dose's wellness center. Set in New York's Nomad district, the new multi-level venue provides costumers with a fully-immersive and calming experience that allows them to cut-away and detox from the urban grind. Cleverly distributed in this tropical oasis are tea bars, product display cases, and consultancy booths; an upcoming spa treatment room, and an outdoor rooftop lounge dedicated to daily yoga classes, meditation sessions, and educational workshops. CeoLux skylights further enhance the therapeutic quality of this secluded complex. This architectural detail visually reproduced the behavior of the earth's atmosphere and is proven to support mental restorative processes, reduce stress, heighten a sense of comfort and emotional wellbeing, and enhance cognitive functions—all of the attributes that are harder and harder to come by in a demanding city like New York. Read the full story on our new interiors and design site aninteriormag.com.
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Wonderwalls

Curtain-wall systems speed up construction and minimize solar heat gain

Prefabrication and new thermally-broken barriers are enabling curtain-wall systems that minimize heat transfer and minimize on-site construction time.

YUW 750 TU Thermally Broken Unitized Curtain Wall YKK AP

YKK AP improved the existing YUW 750 curtain wall system with a new advanced thermal barrier that minimizes heat transfer. The unitized system is glazed and assembled in a quality-controlled environment and then shipped on site for speedy construction.

2500 UT Unitwall Kawneer

Kawneer’s glass system is ideal for high- to mid-rise applications. The glass unitized curtain wall comprises a four-sided barrier block system designed for thermal performance.

CW-250 Curtain Wall GAMCO

To accommodate insulated and monolithic glass, this glass structural system is offered in several back-member framing sizes. Flexible enough to actualize the most inventive facades, the system integrates doors, projected windows, louvers, and metal panel options.

PDR-225 Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

This window wall is shop-assembled and sealed with a 3/8" polyurethane break to provide optimal thermal performance. It can be glazed for interior and exterior applications alike.

Planar Pilkington

Planar delivers maximum clarity to optimize the amount of light that enters the building envelope. Meanwhile, the entire system incorporates Pilkington’s various glass products to achieve thermal performance, solar control, and pristine views.

CW-7000 ESWindows

This unitized curtain wall system is designed to withstand a high-grade hurricane. The pre-glazed and preassembled glass unit system is available in large, trapezoidal, and inclined modules to realize the most imaginative facade designs. Meanwhile, the integrated vents offer nearly zero sightline interruptions.

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Giardini & Lido

Five design hotspots at this year's Venice Biennale Arte
There is no shortage of exhibitions for those looking for a bit of design among the art at this year’s Venice Biennale Arte. These five shows are the best places to discover both local and international design in the city, on the Biennale grounds and beyond. Dysfunctional by Carpenters Workshop Gallery Pushing the boundaries of art and design is Carpenter Workshop Gallery’s "Dysfunctional," which includes 50 works by the gallery’s esteemed stable of designers. Viewed within the context of the Ca’ d’Oro's Italian masterworks, the exhibition invites visitors to question the historical relationship between form and function. Some of the pieces are inspired by the city of Venice itself, such as Virgil Abloh’s sinking seating and Ingrid Donat’s golden sideboard, the latter of which celebrates Byzantine and Renaissance art and the former, a commentary on the city’s rising sea levels. Check out the full article on our interiors and design site, aninteriormag.com.
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Horton Hears a Backhoe

Total conversion of San Diego’s postmodern Horton Plaza sails to approval
A land use exemption required to convert San Diego’s Jon Jerde–designed Horton Plaza Mall complex into a technology office campus has passed after a unanimous City Council vote on May 20, as reported in The San Diego Union-Tribune. That paves the way for the L.A.-based developer Stockdale Capital Partners to slash the retail square footage and reorient the postmodern plaza’s interiors to support high-tech offices—turning the former shopping center into “The Campus at Horton.” The one-million-square-foot, five-story mall will thus be overhauled to reduce the amount of retail space to 300,000 square feet from the current 600,000 square feet, and 772,000 square feet in Horton Plaza will become office space. Everything above Horton Plaza’s first floors will become office space, with retail being relegated to a ground-level “podium.” Additionally, Stockdale can reduce the retail requirement down to only 200,000 square feet if it lands a tenant willing to take at least 100,000 square feet of office space in the next 5 years. The exemption sought by Stockdale, which the City Council passed 9-0, cuts the amount of required retail on the site down from 700,000 square feet to the aforementioned 300,000 square feet. The postmodern Horton Plaza Mall first opened in 1985 and was conceived as a microcosm of the street grid overlain with the typical shopping center typology, including self-constrained streetscapes and multilevel terraces. That sort of defensive urbanism helped the mall thrive (and bolstered the economic fortunes of the surrounding developments) early on, but the complex has fallen on hard times in recent years. Stockdale’s scheme involves adding a glassy 150,000-square-foot, four-story addition to the top of the former Nordstrom building in anticipation of a single tenant company, building an amenity deck for tenants on the site of the former food court, and redeveloping the Bradley Building. The 10-block Plaza is currently sliced through the middle with a pathway running from Broadway to G Street that’s currently peppered with overhangs and sky bridges, and Stockdale will uncover that “street” and remove most of the infrastructure hanging above. However, the underground Lyceum Theater will remain at Horton Plaza until at least 2035 under a $1-a-year lease terms. Stockdale originally purchased the site from Westfield in August of last year for $175 million, and it anticipates that the conversion will cost approximately $275 million. The first phase of The Campus at Horton is expected to open in 2020.
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Allianz Field

Allianz Field, Minnesota United’s new home, glows with PTFE-coated facade
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Completed in March 2019, Allianz Field is a 346,000-square-foot soccer stadium located centrally between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The project was executed by Populous, Walter P Moore (WPM), Mortenson Construction, and FabriTec Structures, and it features a facade of woven fiberglass clear-laminated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)—effectively a tensile membrane capable of shielding the audience from the elements while transmitting twice as much light as other PTFE membranes.
According to the design team, the client initially approached Populous and Walter P Moore to produce a stadium with a translucent facade. The group was aware of a clear PTFE laminate being developed by French manufacturer Saint Gobain—now known as Illuminate 28—and facilitated the shipment of moderately sized samples from the company. These samples were used to construct a 6-by-6-foot mockup with the material to gauge its tensile and lighting qualities. The design and construction of the stadium occurred as the facade material was being developed.
  • Facade Manufacturer Saint-Gobain
  • Architect Populous
  • Facade Installer Mortenson GC FabriTec Structures
  • Facade Consultant Walter P Moore
  • Location St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Date of Completion March 2019
  • System PTFE-coated fiberglass membrane suspended over steel structural system
  • Products Illuminate 28
The enclosure system of the stadium consists of three interconnected layers: the exterior skin of PTFE-laminated fabric, a secondary backup system of steel driver pipes and armatures, and a circular colonnade of steel columns.
In abstract terms, this enclosure system sounds simple enough. However, unlike rigid cladding materials, the tensile strength of fabric is ultimately determined by the 3-D shape it is stretched into. “We never knew if our fabric shapes would work or not from an engineering standpoint until after the design was complete,” said Populous associate principal Phil Kolbo. “To achieve the design, Populous and WPM had to set up a cohesive process that could design, test, and modify the supporting steel quickly and iteratively to satisfy both the design and engineering requirements of the skin.”
In total, over 90,000 square feet of fabric wrap the stadium. Due to budget constraints, the design team had to maximize the spans between structural components. Utilizing Rhino and Grasshopper 3-D imaging software programs, WPM created nearly 50,000 analysis elements to locate sites where the fabric was overstressed. This information was then exported from Rhino to Tekla software and delivered to the steel fabricator.
“Once we had a fabric and driver pipe design, then it was supporting the process throughout getting the owner, Mortenson, and FabriTec comfortable with the material and construction process,” said Walter P Moore principal Justin Barton. “It started in February 2016 and went all the way through FabriTec’s final installation and punch list in late 2018, nearly 24 months of continual conversation.”
Populous Associate Principal Phil Kolbo, Walter P Moore Project Manager Justin Barton, Mortenson GC Project Engineer Nate Weingart, and FabriTec Structures Executive Vice President Tom Wuerch, will be joining the panel "Stadium Rising: The Complexities of Allianz Field’s Woven PTFE Facade" at The Architect's Newspaper's upcoming Facades+ Minneapolis conference on July 24.
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National Landing

Amazon reveals first rendering of its HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia
Amazon has released the first visual for its upcoming second home, or HQ2, in "National Landing," featuring a design by ZGF Architects. Located in Arlington, Virginia, HQ2 will include two new energy-efficient office buildings with room for community space and neighborhood retail. Spanning 2.1 million square feet, the ground-up construction is being developed by JBG Smith and will mark phase one of the online retail giant’s plan to construct a large campus fit for its 25,000 incoming employees. The entire project will be placed within Crystal City’s new mixed-use redevelopment zone, Metropolitan Park, which encompasses 16 acres of unused warehouses and empty parking lots. Not much information on the design has been released so far but, according to Amazon, the first pair of buildings at HQ2 will be LEED Gold certified and will include 50,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, and an eventual daycare center, as well as green outdoor terraces. Phase one will also feature the transformation of the Metropolitan Park area with 1.1 acres of new public open space—think a recreational park, room for farmers markets, a dog park, and more. Additionally, HQ2 will house an on-site facility for 600 bikes and an underground parking garage. Amazon says it also has future plans to construct a bike path that would connect to Arlington’s existing bike cycling infrastructure. Located in downtown Cyrstal City, an urban subset of southeast Arlington, the tech hub will also be close to existing public transportation including the D.C. Metro, Virginia’s commuter rail line, and bus lines. Over the next decade, Amazon plans to complete upwards of 6 million square feet of office space for its new Northern Virginia home. Amazon's Crystal City design comes after last year's competition in which hundreds of cities across the U.S. and Canada vied to house the tech giant's second headquarters. After Amazon decided to bring the project to both Arlington and New York City, residents and politicians in the Big Apple protested against the negotiated arrangement between the city and the corporation, leading Amazon to back out of New York and focus on its Virginia plans.
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Location, location, location

How Baidu Maps turns location data into 3-D cityscapes—and big profits

Level 3, number 203. Turn right 10 feet. Go straight for 15 feet. The best way to experience data's strong grip on everyday life in China is to open up Baidu Maps, a mapping app by China’s biggest search engine company, and walk around a shopping mall for one afternoon. Inside the building, a network of Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi modems, and satellites from a global navigation satellite system whir and ping through the air and the ionosphere to determine your precise location. The map on the Baidu app tilts to reveal an elaborately modeled 3-D cityscape.

The resolution of Baidu Maps is stunning: Entire cities are modeled in 3-D. Within public buildings, the floorplan of each building level is precisely mapped. As I stand inside the Taikoo Hui Mall in the city of Guangzhou, China, I search for a store within the mall. Baidu Maps reveals which level the store is on and how many meters I need to walk. Strolling through the mall with the app tracking my location with a blue dot on the screen, life starts to feel like a virtual reality experience. The difference between the map's 3-D model and the reality beneath my feet is smaller than ever. The 3-D model makes an uncanny loop: Virtual models were used by architects and designers to design these spaces, which now unfold on a messy plane between real space and screen space.

China now has its own tech giants—Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu—homegrown behind the Great Firewall of China. Like their American counterparts, these companies have managed to surveil their users and extract valuable data to create new products and features. Baidu began as a search engine, but has now branched out into autonomous driving, and therefore, maps. The intricacy of its 3-D visualizations is the result of over 600 million users consulting the app for navigation every day or using apps that rely on Baidu Maps in the background, such as weather apps that rely on its geolocation features.

The tech company, like its counterparts such as Google, take advantage of multiple features available in smartphones. Smartphones possess the ability to determine users’ positions by communicating with an array of satellites such as GPS (Global Positioning Service); GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS; or BeiDou, China’s satellite navigation system. Such satellite systems are public infrastructures created by American, Russian, and Chinese governments, respectively, that enable our phones to determine users’ precise longitude and latitude coordinates. The majority of apps and services on smartphones rely on location services, from food delivery to restaurant reviews. However, satellite navigation systems are still imprecise—they are often a few meters off, with anything from the weather to tall buildings affecting accuracy.

However, smartphones contain more than satellite signal receiver chips. A slew of other sensors, such as accelerometers, light sensors, and magnets are embedded in the average smartphone. In 2015, Baidu invested $10 million in IndoorAtlas, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in indoor mapping. The company's technology is at the forefront of magnetic positioning, which allows indoor maps at 1-meter accuracy to be created simply by using an average smartphone. This technology relies on the Earth's geomagnetic field and the magnets in smartphones. By factoring in the unique magnetic "fingerprint" of each building based on the composition of its materials, such as steel, a building's floor plan can be mapped out without any data provided by the architect. However, this strategy requires user data at scale; multiple user paths need to be recorded and averaged out to account for any anomalies. Gathering large amounts of data from users becomes an imperative.

Floorplans aside, magnetic positioning is not the only dimension of user location data collection that allows data to become a spatial model. As people drive, bike, and walk, each user generates a spatial "trace" that also has velocity data attached to it. Through such data, information about the type of path can be derived: Is it a street, a sidewalk, or a highway? This information becomes increasingly useful in improving the accuracy of Baidu Maps itself, as well as Baidu's autonomous vehicle projects.

The detailed 3-D city models on Baidu Maps offer data that urban designers dream of, but such models only serve Baidu's interests. Satellite navigation system accuracy deteriorates in urban canyons, due to skyscrapers and building density, obscuring satellites from the receiver chip. These inaccuracies are problematic for autonomous vehicles, given the "safety critical" nature of self-driving cars. Baidu's 3-D maps are not just an aesthetic “wow factor” but also a feature that addresses positioning inaccuracies. By using 3-D models to factor in the sizes and shapes of building envelopes, inaccuracies in longitude and latitude coordinates can be corrected.

Much of this research has been a race between U.S. and Chinese companies in the quest to build self-driving cars. While some 3-D models come from city planning data, in China's ever-changing urban landscape, satellite data has proved far more helpful in generating 3-D building models. Similar to Google's 3-D-generated buildings, a combination of shadow analysis, satellite imagery, and street view have proved essential for automatically creating 3-D building models rather than the manual task of user-generated, uploaded buildings or relying on city surveyors for the most recent and accurate building dimensions.

None of this data is available to the people who design cities or buildings. Both Baidu and Google have End User License Agreements (EULAs) that restrict where their data can be used, and emphasize that such data has to be used within Baidu or Google apps. Some data is made available for computer scientists and self-driving car researchers, such as Baidu's Research Open-Access Dataset (BROAD) training data sets. Most designers have to rely on free, open-source data such as Open Street Maps, a Wikipedia-like alternative to Baidu and Google Maps. By walling off valuable data that could help urban planning, tech companies are gaining a foothold and control over the reality of material life: they have more valuable insights into transport networks and the movements of people than urban designers do. It's no surprise then, that both Baidu and Google are making forays into piloting smart cities like Toronto’s Quayside or Shanghai's Baoshan District, and gaining even greater control over urban space. No doubt, urban planning and architecture are becoming increasingly automated and privately controlled in the realm of computer scientists rather than designers.

In Shoshana Zuboff's 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she examines how tech companies throughout the world are employing surveillance and data extraction methods to turn users into free laborers. Our “behavioral surplus,” as she terms it, becomes transformed into products that are highly lucrative for these companies, and feature proprietary, walled-off data that ordinary users cannot access, even though their labor has helped create these products. These products are also marketed as “predictive,” which feeds the desires of companies that hope to anticipate users’ behavior—companies that see users only as targets of advertising.

Over the past several years, American rhetoric surrounding the Chinese “surveillance state” has reached fever pitch. But while China is perceived to be a single-party communist country with state-owned enterprises that do its bidding, the truth is, since the 1990s, much of the country’s emphasis has been on private growth. Baidu is a private company, not a state-owned enterprise. Companies like Baidu have majority investment from global companies, including many U.S.-based funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and BlackRock. As China's economy slows down, the government is increasingly pressured to play by the rules of the global capitalist book and offer greater freedom to private companies alongside less interference from the government. However, private companies often contract with the government to create surveillance measures used across the country.

The rhetoric about the dangers of Chinese state surveillance obfuscates what is also happening in American homes—literally. As Google unveils home assistants that interface with other “smart” appliances, and Google Maps installed on mobile phones tracks user locations, surveillance becomes ubiquitous. Based on your location data, appliances can turn on as you enter your home, and advertisements for milk from your smart fridge can pop up as you walk by the grocery stores. Third-party data provider companies also tap into geolocation data, and combined with the use of smart objects like smart TVs, toasters, and fridges, it's easy to see why the future might be filled with such scenarios. Indeed, if you own certain smart appliances, Google probably knows what the inside of your home is like. In 2018, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced that it was partnering with Google to improve the indoor mapping of homes, and now setting up a Roomba with Google Home has never been easier. Big tech companies in the U.S. would like us to believe that surveillance is worse elsewhere, when really, surveillance capitalism is a global condition.

Over the past 30 years, cities around the world have been the locus of enormous economic growth and corresponding increases in inequality. Metropolitan areas with tech-driven economies, such as the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong corridor and the Greater Bay Area, are home to some of the largest tech companies in the world. They are also home to some of the most advanced forms of technological urbanism: While Baidu may not have every single business mapped in rural China, it certainly has the listing of every shop in every mall of Guangzhou.

The overlap between cities as beacons of capital and as spaces where surveillance is ubiquitous is no coincidence. As Google’s parent company, Alphabet, makes moves to build cities and as Baidu aggressively pursues autonomous driving, data about a place, the people who live there, and their daily movements is increasingly crucial to the project of optimizing the city and creating new products, which in turn generates more wealth and more inequality. Places like San Francisco and Shenzhen are well-mapped by large tech companies but harbor some of the worst income gaps in the world.

The "smart city" urbanism enabled by surveillance and ubiquitous data collection is no different from other forms of development that erode affordable housing and public space. Reclaiming our cities in this digital age is not just about reclaiming physical space. We must also reclaim our data.