Search results for "San Francisco"

Placeholder Alt Text

Tatooine Vernacular

Kanye West is designing Star Wars–themed affordable housing
Not content with a sneaker empire, Kanye West has entered the affordable housing game with structures straight out of Star Wars. In a profile of the rapper-producer, designer, and business mogul, Forbes writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg described how West drove him to a wooded area near his home in Calabasas, California, to show him prototypes for igloo-like modular housing units that the author compared to what was found on Tatooine, Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker's home planet. While West didn't provide images of the top-secret structures, in the original Star Wars, Tatooine is a desert planet populated by humans and other settlers who live in groups of adobe huts with rounded roofs. In actuality, the movie was shot in the deserts of Tunisia, where George Lucas took inspiration from the country's vernacular architecture to build the structures and vehicles of Tatooine. West's minimalist concept models—there were three of them in the woods—will we deployed as low-income housing if the project moves forward. According to the article, West is hoping to lure deep-pocketed investors from San Francisco to bankroll construction but hasn't managed to land any yet. According to Greenburg, the homes resemble "the skeletons of wooden spaceships ... each oblong and dozens of feet tall." West said they could be dwelled in at-grade or submerged in the earth and daylit from up top. This isn't West's first foray into architecture or affordable housing design, and marks a notable departure from what he's shown in the past. Last year, he founded his own architecture studio, Yeezy Home (Yeezy is West's pseudonym), and soon after West and four collaborators revealed renderings of concrete-paneled affordable housing around a courtyard. The stark interiors are similar to the ones in the celebrity's own California home, designed in collaboration with Axel Vervoordt.    
Placeholder Alt Text

David and Goliath's Lawyers

The International Code Council goes to court over free access to building codes
Potential productivity benefits for architecture, engineering, and construction may depend on the outcome of copyright litigation by the International Code Council (ICC) against San Francisco-based startup UpCodes. The firm, which aims to reduce perceived bottlenecks in the implementation of the nation's 93,000 building codes, faces charges that its public posting of codes undermines the public-private partnership that develops them. The nonprofit ICC, which prepares the International Building Code and other model codes adopted by multiple jurisdictions, contends that UpCodes has appropriated its property and “does not need to violate ICC’s copyrights to further its claim to innovate,” an anonymous ICC spokesperson commented for this article through its public relations firm. UpCodes regards its practice as fair use, citing precedents establishing that information “incorporated by reference” into law (the applicable legal term) enters the public domain. Other appeals courts, ICC counters, have protected copyrights in cases it considers comparable. The suit involves a tension that jurists have long recognized in copyright law: the need for material support and incentive for creators (who have exclusive rights “for limited times” under the Constitution's copyright clause) versus the need to prevent monopoly control from stifling the circulation of ideas. The conflict pits ICC's interests in codebook development and sales, and its assertion that its website already provides adequate access, against UpCodes' interests in expanding access and linking codes with building information modeling (BIM) systems. Brothers Scott and Garrett Reynolds, the first formerly an architect with KPF and the latter an engineer with construction-software firm PlanGrid, founded UpCodes in 2016 to streamline the often-tedious aspects of code review. Automating this process, they contend, can reduce errors and free up architects' attention and time. Opposing ICC's don't-fix-what-ain't-broke legal position, Scott Reynolds commented, “I think it actually is a broken system.” An estimated multi-billion-dollar annual expenditure goes into construction rework due to compliance errors, so there's a huge amount of wasted expenditure simply from code mistakes.” He is not alone in finding code review laborious. The Economist, citing McKinsey Global Institute findings on the $10 trillion construction industry's historically low productivity, advocates standardizing codes, alongside steadier public infrastructure investment and incentives for BIM adoption, as strategies to modernize the sector. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that 24.3 percent of the final price of an average new single-family house, over $84,000, is attributable to regulation, with an even higher burden, 32.1 percent, for multifamily developments. UpCodes, supported by the prominent seed accelerator Y Combinator, offers two products out of beta as of May 2019: UpCodes Web, a searchable code repository, and the extension UpCodes AI, a Revit add-in that analyzes 3D digital models and provides real-time compliance checks. The web product is the target of ICC's suit. The AI product uses the code database as its foundation, automatically synchronizing with code updates; it is often compared to editorial tools like spellcheckers and Grammarly, or the Lint analytic utility for Unix. A key feature of UpCodes AI, Garrett Reynolds notes, is that “checking models in 3D is orders of magnitude easier than checking 2D plans... For example, stair headroom clearance is pretty difficult to tell in a 2D plan, but in a 3D, we can just draw a box and check for intersections.” The ICC views UpCodes as infringing on a successful process that makes U.S. buildings safe, balancing efficient standardization with adaptability to local conditions. Its statement notes that the organization “develops the model codes through a rigorous, transparent, consensus-driven process involving nearly 55,000 industry sector members and over 9,500 government agency members. It provides free access to view the codes on its website. The sale and licensing of the codes to professionals and governmental organizations defrays the cost of the code production process.” “The Code Council’s position is that incorporation into law does not terminate the copyright in the Code Council’s model codes,” the statement continues, adding that “UpCodes—a for-profit company—is trying to solve a problem that does not exist because the Code Council already makes its model codes freely available to all to read on its website.” The ICC's website and some jurisdictions, Scott Reynolds allows, offer online access to codes, but not in practical form. “You can't copy. You can't paste. You can't print,” he says. “You just can't work with the text. You can simply have read-only access, and from a professional standpoint, or [for] a homeowner, that just doesn't suit the needs that you have. And then there's even jurisdictions like Michigan where you can't access the code; they don't host free access.” Such limitations, he argues, amount to constriction of the very processes ICC claims to promote. They arguably border on privatizing the law: “If you are legally bound to follow rules of the government, and you will face civil and criminal penalties if you don't, you have to be able to read those rules. They can't be put behind a paywall.” “The key distinction in these cases is not whether something is a code or not but whether it's legally binding,” noted Mitch Stoltz, an intellectual-property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), supporting the Reynoldses' position with a historical comparison. “Supposedly the Roman emperor Caligula would write the laws in small print and hang them up very high, so no one could actually read them. That's a problem for democracy.” The EFF is not involved in the ICC–UpCodes suit but is defending the nonprofit organization Public Resource in a similar case involving publication of documents from three standards-development organizations: the American Society for Testing and Materials, National Fire Protection Association, and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. ICC's charge that loss of copyright could impair code development, Stoltz adds, does not square with the underlying economics. “They are happy to make money by rationing access to codes,” he said, but “their business model in the end doesn't depend on that, because the actual work of creating these codes [in] most industries is done by volunteers from that industry and from the government. They're not paying people to write the things. People are coming together voluntarily to write them.” The Reynoldses emphasize that UpCodes is not meant to put code specialists out of business, but to help more people implement codes properly and safely. “We really wanted to democratize the process of code research and empower all individuals or professionals to navigate through that process themselves,” Scott said. “The first thing we tell a user is, UpCodes AI is not a replacement for a professional code consultant,” Garrett added, noting that “spellcheck doesn't put editors out of work.” He described the ICC's work as “really important, and we want them to continue doing it. Their main revenue stream actually isn't from selling books of the law. It actually comes from program services: things like consulting, accreditation, training, consulting.” An initial co-plaintiff, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), withdrew from the suit but maintains that its materials are copyrighted and describes its economic model differently. Alexa Lopez, ASCE's senior manager for public affairs and media relations, provided a written comment: “Upcodes is a for-profit entity that posted these copyrighted materials online for profit. For awareness, ASCE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a long history of promoting the education, science and profession of civil engineering. ASCE expends significant resources on standards development, including convening staff and volunteer experts from across the country and globe, compliance with ANSI standards, public input, and balloting. ASCE recoups some of these costs through standards sales, the proceeds of which are used to promote the Society’s educational and charitable 501(c)(3) activities. The Society’s standards are protected by copyright and registered with the U.S. copyright office.” The most relevant precedent, the Reynoldses and their allies hold, is Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc., 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002), where the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that model codes developed by the SBCCI (one of three organizations that merged to form the ICC in 1994), once enacted into law, forfeited copyright protection. An earlier case, Building Officials & Code Adm. [BOCA] v. Code Technology, Inc., 628 F.2d 730, 734 (1st Cir. 1980), also defined Massachusetts building codes as law not protectable by copyright. The ICC's position distinguishes between legislatively-generated laws and model codes developed through public-private partnerships, pointing to decisions in which copyrights incorporated by reference were preserved for other privately created information, such as the American Medical Association's procedure-coding system, or a used-car valuation guide mentioned in insurance regulations. Stoltz contrasts Veeck, where code was explicitly made part of the law, with the used-car price book case (CCC Information Services, Inc. v. Maclean Hunter Market Reports, Inc., 44 F.3d 61 (1994)): “The court said that didn't put that book in the public domain. But that's different from saying ‘This document establishes rules for fire safety in the construction of an office building, and it is hereby incorporated into this regulation’” To Garrett Reynolds, ICC's action is “a suit where they said, 'Let's try to kill them out of the gate.' I think they thought they could bury us in litigation costs, and they have succeeded in that strategy many times” with other firms. Scott noted that of the three groups that formed ICC, “one of those three is SBCCI, and then another one of those three is BOCA. So, two of those three organizations have already litigated the case and lost. But now it's a new entity, and they can threaten, and they can litigate again. So yeah, I do think it's a tactic of intimidation.” Architects contacted for comment describe UpCodes as a time-saver, though not a panacea. Rob Pivovarnick, AIA, a senior project architect at Michael Graves Architecture & Design and an early adopter of UpCodes AI, has found the program useful, though not without a few false-positives—e.g., mistaking 20-inch stadium stairs, meant for seating rather than walking, for ordinary steps limited by code to a seven-inch height. It is particularly helpful, he said, in checking ADA-compliant bathroom details. “It looks for the ambulatory stall, it checks returning spaces, it checks for accessible sinks and toilet-seat heights.” He is careful to manage expectations: “There's no software out there that you're going to unleash and say, 'This thing is doing my code review,' and they make that clear on their website.... I don't think UpCodes or Revit are ever going to preclude the use of a code consultant on a job. There's just too much information there for somebody to build a pro piece of software that's going to run all those checks.” Yet, since UpCodes is currently free of charge, “if it catches one thing, then it's valuable,” he added. “[It] can be a $100,000 problem if the toilet room isn't big enough to hold the ambulatory stall, and then it gets built, and then walls need to move and plumbing needs to change.” Depending on what price point UpCodes eventually chooses for individual or network licenses for its AI product, Pivovarnick speculated, it may be a valuable investment. At a previous firm he used MADCAD, a program that centralizes codes from ICC and other organizations, largely on a paid basis; he finds UpCodes more flexible, especially in the field. “Instead of having to remember the code section, I can type stairs or firewall or fire partition and things like that, and it brings up all the relevant sections, which is great.” The ICC's statement includes a description of its efforts in the digital realm: “We have worked with our members and partners to harness a variety of innovative ideas to take advantage of breakthroughs in technology, such as MADCAD.com, and will continue to do so. Paramount, however, is ensuring that the public continues to have confidence that buildings are being constructed according to the most modern codes and safety standards.” If Pivovarnick's experience is representative, free digital instruments are already performing more nimbly than their paid equivalents. It now falls to the courts to determine whether a copyright in this disruptive realm hinders or advances aims that all parties share.
Placeholder Alt Text

Let's Beaux

CMG to bring back 1912 feel for San Francisco Civic Center overhaul
After over a year of community review, a refined vision plan by CMG Landscape Architecture designed to upgrade and modernize San Francisco’s Civic Center district is moving forward. Backed by a supergroup design team that includes Kennerly Architecture + Planning, Gehl Studio, HR&A, and others, CMG’s proposal seeks to retool the multi-block plaza and pedestrian mall to better fulfill the original 1912 Beaux Arts plan proposed for the site by architect John Galen Howard, designer of the University of California, Berkeley. CMG’s vision is part of a larger effort spearheaded by the City of San Francisco called the Civic Center Public Realm Plan, a scheme that seeks to articulate a “unified vision for long-term improvements to the area’s public spaces and streets.” As it stands, the Civic Center area is anchored by three major public spaces that are each being reworked by the latest plan to promote universal accessibility, access to nature, and around-the-clock public use. CMG proposes to transform the namesake Civic Center Plaza flanking City Hall into a series of outdoor “garden rooms” that surround a central square. The four garden rooms will contain a pair of lawns and newly planted tree areas that celebrate and frame a pair of recently refurbished playgrounds. The space will be anchored by an interactive play fountain that can be turned off during the protests and gatherings that take over the space. On the opposite end of the axis that runs through the district, the United Nations Plaza will see significant changes, including the “adaptation” of an arresting but unloved Lawrence Halprin–designed monumental fountain. The connecting block along Fulton Street that links the two plaza areas will be upgraded as well, with new soccer fields installed in the space between the Asian Art Museum—where wHY is currently planning an ambitious expansion—and the San Francisco Public Library buildings. Willett Moss, founding partner at CMG, said, “Initially we thought the plan would be responsive to the district’s diverse demographics with a multitude of culturally specific amenities and experiences. However, through the process, we realized that the vast majority of people want essentially the same thing—a space that’s inclusive, accessible, and celebratory.” A final version of the community-led design will be unveiled later this year with final completion of the project expected by 2022.
Placeholder Alt Text

Werk State

ZGF Architects designs choose-your-own-adventure office space in Portland

Expensify is an expense management software company, so it’s fitting that its newest office in Portland, Oregon, is set inside one of the city’s historic bank buildings. Located on the corner of Southwest 5th Avenue and Stark Street, the 103-year-old First National Bank, or the “marble temple,” does not look like the home of an emerging tech enterprise. But the San Francisco–based brand has outfitted the four-story atrium and other spaces to respond to its need for flexibility without compromising the integrity of the structure.

Designed by ZGF Architects, the office reflects Expensify’s self-described “choose-your-own-adventure” work setting. Employees have an array of seating options, from a 41-foot-long communal table to a plush swing set, a classy boardroom, and a speakeasy-style salon with leather booths by Restoration Hardware—all except for personal desks. This goal of creating a 100 percent agile workplace drove all design decisions both large and small, according to Alan Gerencer, principal of ZGF.

Expensify also wanted its office to be a place where employees could directly connect with each other and the national landmark building. Gerencer explained that the interior was completely shelled out when they began work. “It was bare concrete,” he said. “Our effort was to define this space and still respect what was existing.”

To do this, ZGF referenced both the obvious and minute details on the building’s exterior as well as its Art Deco, skylit interior. For example, the firm imagined a set of floating conference rooms immediately visible from the bank’s main entrance that resemble a tree house. Built with glass and blackened steel, the triad of windows on the boxy structures mirror the bank’s expansive vertical windows. Angular chandeliers from Nemo Lighting, reminiscent of the opulent hanging lamps found in old banks, gleam inside. Additionally, the oak flooring by Kährs and millwork used throughout the entire office pay homage to the patterns of oak leaves and acorns on the historic bank vault doors.

Even the oak wood–clad private booths on the third floor, designed for quiet work and conversation, feature a Scandinavian gabled roof design that’s defined with the exact shape and proportions of the classical X-shaped balustrades and grilles nearby. All of these varied work areas allow employees to interact with the historic space on many different levels.

Because Expensify is leasing the office space, ZGF laid out the interior architecture to “gently touch” its historic core. “This whole structure could essentially be removed,” Gerencer said, “and no one would ever know Expensify was there.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Twin Cities

Facades+ will spotlight Minneapolis's experts and innovators
facadeplus_logo1
Brought to you with support from
On July 24, The Architect's Newspaper is bringing Facades+ to Minneapolis for the first time to discuss facade trends within the city and beyond. Panels for the conference will highlight the recently completed Allianz Field stadium, perspectives on curtainwall systems by leading contractors and manufacturers in the region, and the challenges of high-performance design for northern building enclosures. Architectural practice Alliiance, and structural engineering and facade design firm Studio NYL, are co-chairing the conference. Participants for the conference's symposium include Populous, Mortenson GC, Walter P Moore, Pfeifer-FabriTec, Permasteelisa, Enclos, MG McGrath, Harmon, Morrison Hershfield, Payette, and HGA. In this interview with The Architect's Newspaper, Alliiance Senior Associate Joe Simma and Studio NYL Facade Design Director Will Babbington, the conference co-chairs, discuss the conference's panels and their respective bodies of work. The Architect's Newspaper: Both Alliiance and StudioNYL have completed or are involved in significant civic and or stadium-related projects. What do you perceive to be the most exciting material or technological developments within this typology? Is there a particular detail of the first panel, "Stadium Rising: The Complexities of Allianz Field’s Woven PTFE Facade," that you are interested in? Joe Simma: In terms of technological development I think the design process itself for stadia is very exciting in that it has become an early applications ground for the use of computational design techniques. The stadium typology lends itself nicely to generating a rules-based parametric design process for the general elements, including the facade and it’s (relatively) simpler set of demands. That freedom for experimentation in data and performance-driven form-finding is then able to become a useful reference for the design processes for different building types beyond stadia. From a material standpoint, I'm intrigued by fabric membranes and their continued growth towards becoming an accessible material for facade design. In particular, at the Allianz Field project, I'm excited to hear more about the process of achieving the translucent and metallic quality of the material, which has resulted in a such a dynamic effect across different lighting conditions. Will Babbington: We have worked with a variety of materials in our stadium work. Fabrics such as PTFE and metal meshes are attractive for this building type due to their light weight and potential to be front and back-lit, as well as manipulated geometrically in a variety of compelling manners.

Regardless of materiality, we have had great success—and fun—in our exploration of computational design and digital fabrication methodologies. For the ongoing LA Rams stadium, we worked with Zahner to develop the metal cladding system. Our team was able to optimize the structural performance and detailing of the perforated metal skin by leveraging parametric design tools and fabrication technologies. In the end, the design of a custom perforation pattern was able to be realized by a digital workflow that exported analytical models directly into fabrication files for over 150,000 panels.

AN: Minneapolis is experiencing a period of tremendous growth. A factor in this growth is the concentration of manufacturing and facade management firms. In your opinion, how does this proximity between design practices and manufacturers influence the execution of projects in the area? JS: We are somewhat spoiled by access to world-class glazing, sheet metal, and curtain wall fabricators right in our backyard. In many ways, one of the biggest benefits is easily facilitated collaboration between makers and designers, especially at those early "what if" design stages when fabricator expertise can help give an innovative concept legs. I think one of the biggest areas for untapped collaborative potential is the very unique brain trust that exists in the local region in terms of custom curtain wall engineering. I'm especially looking forward to this panel to see representatives from some of these influential players together in the same room to discuss the current climate and what the future holds for Minneapolis and beyond. WB: The most dynamic and successful designs attain prominence only by close cooperation and understanding between the design, manufacturing, fabrication, and installation teams. This is true in facade design perhaps more so than in any other subset of the building industry. With the importance of the building enclosure being far from lost on a design community in such a climate, combined with the fact that Minneapolis is a national hub for the production of cutting-edge systems; this design and construction community is exceptionally well-positioned to capitalize on this collaborative potential. As the desires and needs for high performance, increased quality, and more formally demanding skins continue to evolve; it’s exciting to see what creativity and innovation, whether in the form of panelization, various fabrication technologies, or other, will permeate into local works and how. AN: Increasing regulation coupled with the growing demand for sustainable design is fueling the proliferation of high-performance enclosure systems. How are Alliiance and StudioNYL addressing this challenge and what lessons can be learned from Minneapolis? JS: To start with, we're trying to set our goals on every project well beyond the minimal baseline of code regulation and treat performance and sustainability as integral components to the design process. Our office is a signatory to the 2030 Commitment which means we're also doing as much measuring as we can so that we can build a living data set to analyze and track trends as we go. The surge in the accessibility of analytical tools is having an impact across the profession, and we're incorporating these tools more frequently and earlier in the process to predict performance and even feedback into the process as a design-driver. Being located in Minneapolis, our frame of reference, of course, is cold climates and all the challenges they bring—so that means we often come to a project with a critical eye towards envelope performance. Marrying these technical demands of thermal performance, durability, and occupant comfort with early design concepts can make for a very rich approach to facade design—an approach that can be a valuable reference outside the region as all buildings become more closely scrutinized for performance. WB: As a firm, we’ve been pursuing sustainable initiatives in our enclosure, as well as in our structural, projects for years. Fortunately, this has become a prevailing sentiment found in not only my ASHRAE committee work where widespread thermal bridging code provisions are near, but also on the job site where the application of thermal break technologies is no longer viewed as a “specialty item."

As a result, “high performance” is being pushed even higher. Our work with Payette on Amherst College’s new Science Center, a 2019 COTE Top Ten award winner, is one shining example of this; while the recladding of the Social Security Administration’s half-century-old HQ we have underway with Snow Kreilich and HGA in Maryland is another.

One of the most compelling byproducts of such works is how quickly these tenets are reaching the mainstream, where I’ve even witnessed firsthand how net-zero and developer-driven goals can align on a mixed-use project. Another collaboration with Pyatt Studio on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation is seeing 21 net zero, low-income homes being built.

More information regarding Facades+ Minneapolis can be found here.
Placeholder Alt Text

50/50 Chance

Stalled California housing bill could give architects chance to redesign the state’s cities
California needs 3.5 million housing units. That’s more housing units than currently exist in most states. This shortage—California ranks 49th in housing units per capita, ahead of only Utah—developed slowly but has metastasized into a true crisis, with housing costs rising to untenable levels for all but the most well-off Californians. In considering how and where to add a volume equivalent to all of Virginia, a key question is, what state—or, rather, what city—will those new units look like? Will they look like the tract homes of Phoenix? The row houses of Philadelphia? The high-rise apartments of New York City? The triple-deckers of Boston? The genteel mansions of Richmond? Or, perhaps worst of all, the mid-rises of Hollywood? The answers depend in large part on where new housing gets built. A recent bill in the California legislature almost provided the answer—almost. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by San Francisco–based State Senator Scott Wiener, would have mandated increased housing densities around major public transit lines and “jobs rich” areas throughout the state by requiring cities to permit multifamily buildings of up to five stories by right. Wiener contended that California needs more housing and that the best locations are those that enable residents to minimize commuting by personal automobiles. A relatively late amendment would have eliminated single-family zoning, permitting homeowners to build up to four units on any single-family lot, and limited the high-density provisions to counties of over 600,000 residents. California has always maintained a tense relationship with density, often failing to plan for it while suffering its ill effects all the same. SB 50 could be the catalyst to help the state abandon its suburban fetishes once and for all. An updated version of a bill that Wiener sponsored last year, SB 50 nearly made it out of the State Senate until Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino scuttled it with a procedural tactic, refusing to bring it to a vote in committee. The move put an abrupt end to what had arguably been the most heated debates over land-use legislation in state history. SB 50, like many other recent controversies related to development and housing in California, did not inspire neat loyalties. While its core support came from the increasingly influential YIMBY movements and core opposition came from homeowners, the politics were messy at best. Conservatives could love its relaxation of regulations but hate its emphasis on dense urbanism. Liberals were more intensely fractured. SB 50 appealed to values of inclusion and of progressivism, be they socioeconomic or aesthetic. For some, the bill served the cause of equity simply by potentially creating more housing. Other liberals saw it differently. Advocates of social justice feared SB 50 would empower capitalist developers while displacing and disenfranchising vulnerable populations through eviction and demolition. Older liberal activists, especially in suburban areas, put their economic interests first, recoiling from the prospect that increased housing supply might depress their property values. Many of them protested SB 50’s potential to interfere with “neighborhood character.” (Wiener’s antagonist Portantino represents La Cañada Flintridge, a comfortable suburb north of downtown Los Angeles.) Institutionally, the League of California Cities and many city councils statewide condemned SB 50 for trampling on “local control,” asserting that land use decisions have always belonged to municipalities and municipalities alone. Many mayors, however, including those of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, praised SB 50 for giving cities a new opportunity to ease their housing crisis—and to do so equitably statewide, forcing housing-phobic cities to approve their fair share of housing rather than ignore demand and dodge their obligations in the name of municipal sovereignty. By some accounts, a full 97 percent of California cities failed to meet their state-mandated housing goals in 2018. The California chapter of the American Planning Association controversially opposed SB 50, citing concerns about technical aspects of the bill’s language, even though many of its more progressive members favored it. Chapters of the American Institute of Architects did not take a position on it. Design rarely factored into these discussions explicitly, but its influence cannot be overlooked. Fears about changes to “neighborhood character” often accompany prejudices about “undesirable” racial or socioeconomic groups. They also refer to lousy design. Many homeowners recoiled against SB 50 out of fear that modest cottages might be overshadowed by a new triplex next door or crowded by the addition of an accessory dwelling unit. Urban activists took aim at even bigger targets. Opponents of growth in Los Angeles in particular have long railed against what they consider oversized, ugly, and excessively capitalistic apartment buildings. Such enormities often occupy full city blocks and rise five or six stories, with wood framing above one-story concrete bases. They have been the mainstay of Hollywood’s decade-long growth spurt and have arisen in many other moderately dense neighborhoods around the state. Revulsion is, often, completely justified. Large but underwhelming, and expensive but unrefined, such developments have poor detailing, clunky dimensions, and, often, antagonistic relationships with the street. They have neither humor nor grace nor character, and they succeed at one thing and one thing only: housing many people. Typically, those people are well off—or at least are pretending to be. While California’s housing crisis has many causes, it’s not unreasonable to say that lousy design is one of them, and it’s not unreasonable for opponents of SB 50 to make apocalyptic predictions about aesthetics. This is the backdrop against which architects should contemplate the revival of SB 50. Wiener has pledged to bring it back next year, and the appetite for major housing legislation remains fierce—before long, some version of SB 50 will pass, and the opportunities for architects and architecture will be profound. The quality of design that follows the passage of the next version of SB 50 will, without exaggeration, determine the look, feel, and function of California cities for at least the next generation. Many opponents of SB 50 criticize it as a "giveaway" to capitalist developers. If architects are to support the next version of SB 50, they should want to be seen as stewards, not opportunists. Upzoning around transit stops will create entirely new transit-oriented neighborhoods. Places that currently consist of park-and-ride lots and single-family homes will rise to five and six stories, with less parking than most zoning codes currently mandate. That’s like taking a cookie cutter to San Francisco’s Mission District or Los Angeles’s Koreatown and depositing the result in bedroom communities and office parks. Of course, California has hundreds of major transit stops and jobs centers (over 200 light- and heavy-rail stations alone), and the whole point of SB 50 is to distribute development statewide so that neighborhoods grow gradually. Even so, some places will be transformed sooner rather than later. In a state where many residents are mortally afraid of density, the choices that architects make will determine whether the new urban California is a dream or a nightmare—they can stumble into the latest versions of capitalist postmodern, or they can reflect on everything we have learned about the benefits of density. Designs have to be thoughtful, attractive, and socially conscious. They have to celebrate density, enhance the public realm, and give California cities a sense of style and character that they have lacked for decades. (Likewise, cities’ design guidelines and review boards will have to get savvier.) If SB 50’s single-family home provision survives (which seems unlikely), it will create a bonanza for residential architects. They will get to re-learn the art of the duplex, triplex, and quadplex—typologies that used to be common in California but have been all but extinct since the Truman administration. But new homes must not realize neighbors’ worst nightmares. They must not loom over their predecessors. They must not be large for largeness’s sake. In short, they must treat neighbors as clients. Whatever lawmakers intend for SB 50, the public will render its final judgment according to how architects seize the moment. Whether they like it or not, architects bear the final responsibility to fulfill the public trust. Of course, the real beauty of SB 50—if it comes to pass and if it works as intended—will be invisible. That will be the opportunity to craft affordable and humane housing for hundreds of thousands Californians.
Placeholder Alt Text

Weld-To-Do

Beleaguered Transbay Transit Center to reopen in July
Nine months after cracks were discovered in two structural steel beams of the Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects–designed Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco, the transit hub will finally reopen on July 1. However, busses won’t roll through the $2.2 billion terminal until the end of the summer; at first, only the 5.4-acre rooftop park will be open to the public. The repair plan announced in January appears to have worked, and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the building was declared safe by a panel of engineers yesterday. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which covers the entirety of the San Francisco Bay Area, had determined that welding access holes in the two cracked beams had been incorrectly cut during construction, resulting in stress fractures. After the city paid $6 million in testing and $2.5 million a month in security for the closed center, contractors decided to reinforce the two affected beams, and two untouched beams they connect to, with steel plates. Although the three-block-long transit center is safe to occupy again, the interior was stripped during the repairs and workers need more time to reinstall the ceiling and column coverings. Bus drivers, who had previously been picking up and dropping off passengers at a satellite terminal on Folsom Street a block away will need to be retrained as well. So in the meantime, fitness classes will resume on the transit center’s roof and pedestrians can once again explore the park. Still, there’s no news on the progress to bring rail to the complex’s basement, which was built to accommodate high-speed trains but remains empty. No timeline or budget has been agreed upon for a BART and Caltrain extension to the Transbay Transit Center, although politicians and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the independent agency responsible for bringing rail to the station, have agreed upon the need to do so.
Placeholder Alt Text

Cooper Troopers

Cooper Hewitt celebrates 20 years of National Design Awards with 2019 winners
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced its 2019 National Design Awards winners, choosing to honor 11 designers and studios who are using design to improve the world for the better. The program was launched in 2000 by the White House Millennium Council and has celebrated a wide variety of architects, designers, and advocates ever since. This year’s winners are as follows: Lifetime Achievement: The San Francisco-based graphic designer Susan Kare was recognized for her decades of contributions to modern icon design. Kare, the creative director of Pinterest since 2015, is responsible for many of the original Mac’s classic icons and typefaces. Susan Kare Design has worked for brands such as Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, and other titans for the last 25 years. Architecture Design: Fresh off the completion of the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland, last year, Thomas Phifer was recognized as the 2019 Architecture Design award winner. Phifer, currently the William Henry Bishop Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at the Yale School of Architecture, is the founder of Thomas Phifer and Partners. Interior Design: San Francisco’s IwamotoScott Architecture took home this year’s Interior Design award, as the Cooper Hewitt cited the firm’s willingness to integrate conceptual research into its realized projects. Landscape Architecture: SCAPE Landscape Architecture was recognized for its numerous projects (and master plans, and research) that combine landscape architecture with living ecology. SCAPE works across all scales but its use of regenerative landscapes and public outreach is deeply embedded in the firm's process no matter the size of the project. Design Mind: Patricia Moore, author, designer, and expert on how peoples’ tastes and preferences change as they age, was honored with the Design Mind award. The Cooper Hewitt singled out Moore’s travels across North America from 1979 to 1982, wherein she disguised herself as an older woman to understand the challenges associated with living as an elderly member of society. Corporate & Institutional Achievement: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab seeks to bring design and engineering thinking to the problems faced by those living in poverty. Founded in 2002, the lab now runs 20 interdisciplinary courses leading projects run by, and for, people living in poverty. Communication Design: Typeface designer Tobias Frere-Jones was recognized this year for his innumerable font contributions that are used every day, including “Interstate, Poynter Oldstyle, Whitney, Gotham, Surveyor, Tungsten, and Retina,” according to the Cooper Hewitt. Fashion Design: American fashion designer and founder of an eponymous fashion house Derek Lam was recognized for his relaxed, yet refined, take on sportswear. Lam’s work has been shown all over the world, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum at FIT. Interaction Design: Ivan Poupyrev has worn many hats over his storied career and has always brought a multidisciplinary approach to interaction design. This year, Poupyrev was recognized for his work in blending digital and tactile interfaces and advancing more equitable interaction solutions. Poupyrev is currently the director of engineering at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group. Product Design: The Portland-based Tinker Hatfield was recognized for his four decades of contributions to Nike, during which he worked on the iconic Air Jordan sneakers, among numerous other celebrity collaborations. Hatfield is currently the vice president of creative concepts at the company, and continues to push for, and develop, boundary-pushing athletic shoes. Emerging Designer: The nonprofit Open Style Lab, a studio launched in 2014 as a public service project at MIT, took home this year’s Emerging Designer award and a cash prize intended to accelerate its development. The New York–based Lab is dedicated to designing wearables for everyone, regardless of disability, and its portfolio includes wearable technology, accessories, and novel textile research and applications. It appears that the Cooper Hewitt has increased the stringency of its awards eligibility requirements this year; individual nominees must have at least ten years of experience under their belt, up from seven last year, and Lifetime Achievement nominees now require at least 25 years of experience, up from last year’s 20. To be eligible for the Emerging Designer category, nominees must possess less than eight years of professional experience.
Placeholder Alt Text

Disaster Dioramas

Artist Josh Kline brings climate change home in a new Manhattan show
In case you’ve missed it, the world is ending. There’s war, displacement, drought, famine, rising seas, sinking cities, faster winds, and a frightening U.N. report suggests irrevocable, possibly humanity-ending results if we can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent of 2010 levels by 2050. Artist Josh Kline wants to give us a vision of this un-future. In Climate Change: Part One, Kline has transformed Chinatown gallery 47 Canal in Manhattan into a dystopian funhouse, one that reflects and refracts our world—and its possible undoing—back at us for unnerving effect. Through the first door, which features the stars of a mangled American flag peaking through plastered-on sand, you’ll encounter an irregularly shaped green table mounted with a lit vitrine. Against the nearest wall are a series of large, whirring industrial freezers. The tarp floors make a slight, sticky sound underfoot. This table is one of three bearing names that read like euphemisms for the current state of catastrophe capitalism: Transnational Finance, Technological Innovation. In this one, Representative Government, models of various seats of power—the White House, the Reichstag, rendered in Potomac River mud and placed against a satellite photo of Washington, D.C.—slowly drown under the water of melting miniature icebergs. The freezers sustain the chunks of ice just enough that the submergence is painfully slow, taking place over the month-and-a-half of the show's run.  As we know, cooling a small space puts out a great deal of heat elsewhere, rendering the gallery quite warm. Other vitrines hold different building typologies, like skyscrapers rising together from an imaginary Manhattan made from all the world's tallest buildings. The Burj Khalifa and the Chrysler Building aren’t in the same city, and there's no iceberg floating and melting in New York's Upper Bay, but you get the idea. The real-life ice may be far away, but water, and the planet, is a continuity. An ice shelf north of Greenland crashing into the sea has implications that reach far further than the Arctic Circle.  Through the doors there are other, unenclosed tables, with pink soy wax in the shape of insurance buildings and suburban homes melting down tubes that collect and direct the colored sludge into buckets below. Waste is not hidden, as everything is a system. The doors, each named after a degrees Celsius, with a second parenthetical appellation, are themselves artworks, but also serve their usual purpose. Some rooms, arranged together like a cartoon hallway from a Scooby Doo villain's mansion, can only be entered through a singular door, some an array of doors. They present a false sense of choice, and all lead to the same room, each degree of difference still resulting in the same ruins. The checklist is very clear about origins, at least for some of the more “natural” materials: beach sand from New York City, Shenzhen, and California; desert sand from Texas and the Sahara; steel powder from China. The flags, too, have origin stories, however misleading they might be. We might imagine that the nylon flags desecrated and pasted onto the doors with paint and sand and kelp may represent Germany, the U.S., China, and so on, but they are likely to all be from somewhere else, maybe the same factory, possibly located in none of these countries. To the tentacles of global commerce, borders are long gone. For the refugees of climate disaster and resource wars, the same can’t yet be said.  The doors, with their disfigured flags, are meant to represent the dissolution of borders and nations that Kline predicts climate change and its cascading ramifications will bring about. They also represent our willful participation in the house of horrors-style drowning disasters shown in each of the different rooms as we open and close them. Even when faced with three doors, the sense of choice is false: each opens to the same room. Whether our actions raise global average atmospheric temperatures by 2º C (Dutch, Belgian, French, and German flags, all compressed with Sahara Desert sand—a Colonial Chain Reaction) or 3º C (a mashup of the Union Jack and Japanese flags along with kelp and chlorella) or 5º C (American and Russian flags, Potomac River mud), we’ll still find ourselves in too deep, so to speak. Particularly resonant are the banal and domestic scenes. Situated in hermetically sealed versions of the fume hoods from your college chemistry class painted in subdued, aesthetically-pleasing shades of urethane paints with lighting to match, are scenes with dollhouse miniatures, submerged underwater (or really, cyanoacrylate glue and epoxy). They depict sorrily-stocked grocery stores, bland offices, and suburban home interiors, but their titles are not so bland: Erosion, Inundation, and Submersion.  Disintegration isn't loss, it’s transformation. Even as rising water washes away the mud of the miniature buildings, that same dirt just is transported elsewhere, but formless. Matter is conserved, even if our environment is not. What once was just becomes something else, and with us gone, who will be there to name it or know the difference anyway? Things happen on scales too large for us to know, or to know to even ask questions about. Kline shows us this, plainly, perhaps even at first propagandistically. In this show alone, the interlocking problems of political power, globalization, financialization, housing, architecture, technology, and climate change are all put on display. But there’s no real call to arms here, just a documentation of the future present. But it does make one have to ask: If this is Climate Change: Part One, what happens in part two? Climate Change: Part One 47 Canal 291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor, New York Through June 9, 2019
Placeholder Alt Text

Pop Architecture

Björk enlists Arup engineers to design musical chamber for her latest tour
When I visited Arup’s New York offices, I was taken from the sunlit open areas on the fifth floor, down some stairs, through dark corridors, and into a windowless room with painted dark walls. There was a projector screen, someone by a computer, and a person in all black sitting off to the side. In the center of the room was a black leather swivel chair, semi-orb shaped and raised high. I was invited to sit. I said that the whole thing felt ominous, like I was being interrogated, but given that I was the interrogator in this situation, maybe it should’ve felt more like I was some B-movie villain, looking over some empire through digital screens. But this was no evil lair—this room was Arup's SoundLab, one of many across the firm's global offices, each varying in design but all with identical sound systems and sonic experiences. “Basically, you are currently sitting in a room that uses what's known as an Ambisonic sound system,” explained Raj Patel, the person in all black and a global leader of acoustics. "What the Ambisonic sound system does is it allows you to simulate sound in three dimensions. There's also a measurement technique that allows you to go and measure an existing space, capture its acoustics in three dimensions, and play it back here." It was in rooms like these that experiments were done to create a new sort of architectonic instrument in the form of a reverberation chamber for none other than Icelandic superstar Björk. “[Björk] often described two different voices that she uses for singing,” explained Arup associate and acoustic designer Shane Myrbeck, who had Skyped in from San Francisco to join the meeting. “One is the one she uses on stage, that's through the microphone, through the PA, and that's a specific emotion for her. And then there's the other voice that she uses when she's singing by herself or in a nice acoustic room.” She wanted to bring this latter experience to the stages she’ll be performing at as she travels on her Cornucopia tour, which is organized a bit like a series of theatrical residencies and began with sold-out shows at The Shed earlier this May. While Arup and Björk had been in conversation at multiple points over the past few years, the reverberation chamber was imagined just last year and was designed and built in under six months. “She was very focused on it sounding right first,” Myrbeck recounted. “We often work with architects, so there's a form to study or a palette of forms to study. In this case, our initial question, was ‘Okay, what do you want it to look like?’ And she was like, ‘Don't think of it that way. It needs to sound good first.’” Myrbeck said, “She wanted it to be as reverberant as possible…We kept using words like chapel or alluding to the cathedral-type sound.” However, cathedrals derive their distinctive sound in large part from their sheer volume, something that obviously couldn’t easily be toured across the world and mounted on any given stage. Still, “there are some precedents out there in the world,” explained Myrbeck. “Before they had digital reverbs, they would literally just have these concrete rooms in the basement and put a loudspeaker down there and just send the sound down to these chambers and record that. That was the old reverb effect. And those are pretty small rooms.” Another reference was the large-scale sculpture Tvísöngur, located on Iceland’s east coast. Opened in 2012 and designed by the German artist Lukas Kühne, the installation comprises five large concrete domes that echo the incoming wind at various harmonies. However, both of these examples were made of concrete, an unrealistic material to make a relatively large, but still easily transportable, chamber for stage out of. “[The reverberation chamber] needed to be something that she could tour with,” said Myrbeck. “A lot of the simulations that we did were materials studies.” The team used Rhino models with acoustic software that simulated the known resonances, derived from nearly a century’s worth of data, of different materials, like concrete, acrylic, plaster, and others. Inside these simulated environments the team at Arup used a sample of an isolated vocal track Björk had recorded for them and sent her the various ways it would sound in spaces of various materials and shapes, which she listened to on headphones in her own studio, and later, in a SoundLab. “One of the other things about a small room is that, just due to the size of acoustic waves, you get these very specific resonances in different places,” Myrbeck said. He compared it to the weird sonic effects of singing in your shower. In rooms like the SoundLab, where we met, one of the central design challenges is to minimize those effects in order to create a sort of neutral room that can simulate any space—whether an amphitheater, a train hall, or a small lobby. In the case of designing Björk's reverberation chamber, “it was just about embracing [those resonances] and trying to make them as evocative as possible so that Björk could experiment with those different resonances in the different places that she could stand in the chamber." Rather than eliminating all this sonic unevenness, the goal was to give the singer the power to "activate" it. In the end, Arup and Björk decided on an 16.4-foot-high, just-under 10-foot-wide octagonal structure with flat sides and a vaulted roof of molded plywood. There is one central microphone, while a few others are placed around the top perimeter. The design is modular and can easily be dis- and re-assembled. It also uses common materials: plywood and a plaster composite, about an inch thick, that has a similar density and resonance quality to concrete. These are materials that are easy to repair on the fly (while the roof is molded, the walls are just standard plywood sheets). The automated door and the transparent cutaways are acrylic, about an inch thick, while the floor is plywood and is slightly elevated so that it has its own resonant properties. The reverberation chamber has simple bolted connections that allow it to “be as airtight as possible while still allowing her to breathe freely,” protecting it against acoustic leakage. Björk will even invite inside the shows' flutists, whose own bodies reshape the resonant qualities of the compact chamber. “It's very much an instrument,” Myrbeck said, and serves as a way to literalize emotional shifts in the performance. “I think that one of the exciting things about the design process [with Björk] was her really sophisticated blend of the acoustic and natural and almost ancient tradition—there's not much more ancient than singing; it's one of the oldest forms of expression—and her embracing of the very futuristic, state-of-the-art digital technology," said Myrbeck. "The design process expressed that as well.”
Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

The Sea, The Sea Ranch

Another view on Sea Ranch and its SFMOMA exhibit
The exhibit The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) closes in a month. If you are in San Francisco, it’s worth seeing for many reasons. It shows that the SFMOMA’s architecture curators can do a lot with a little square footage. (Why so little is another question!) Wisely, they focused on the optimistic beginnings and not the whole controversial history of the development. In doing so, they captured a golden moment for architecture in the Bay Region, when ecology and development and modernism and postmodernism touched and kissed. After more than 50 years, Sea Ranch has a lot of narratives. Concentrating on the community’s beginnings, when there was a strong collective spirit, highlights the project’s hope, which is in short supply these days. The heavy truth about Sea Ranch is that designing an ecologically sensitive community a three-hour drive from San Francisco falls outside our current green script. The early narrative belongs primarily to landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, the architect-developer Al Boeke, and the founders of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW) and Joseph Esherick & Associates (later Esherick Homsey Dodge & Davis). Their story has many interesting turns, not the least of which is the dominance of Halprin, who emphasized the dramatic landscape over architecture. The MLTW buildings were strong yet self-effacing on the exterior and exuberant and joyous on the interior. This balance was rarely struck again. After more than 50 years, with many of the lots developed, the Sea Ranch community has largely returned to focusing on stewardship of the natural landscape—even if much of that landscape was formed by the different humans who occupied the land. If I have quibbles about the exhibit, they are more with the handsomely designed catalog than with the show. Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher’s essay mentions Salton Sea, which has little relevance to Sea Ranch, but she does not discuss Berkeley’s Greenwood Commons. The core ideas of Sea Ranch can be found in that small community, which Lawrence Halprin planned below the John Galen Howard–designed house that was occupied for many decades by William Wurster, dean of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. Curator Joe Becker’s essay locates Sea Ranch in the modernist idiom. Developer Al Boeke had worked for Neutra, Halprin had studied with Gropius, and Turnbull worked with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. While Becker mentions that Moore, Lyndon, and Turnbull had studied with Louis Kahn when he taught at Princeton, he doesn’t connect that to a larger trajectory that the three were following. For example, he mentions Sea Ranch’s various “saddlebags” and “aediculae” as key design moments, but I would argue that these point to an attempt on the part of Kahn’s students to move away from the strict confines of modernism and to give architecture a deeper meaning beyond aesthetic purity. Condominium 1 is a bridge to a restrained postmodernism. The exteriors and the studies for variations look like an experimental modernist exercise, except for the quirky interior spaces and—in the case of Charles Moore’s unit, partially reconstructed in the exhibit—the riot of color and sly historic references. Bobbie Stauffacher Solomon’s graphics inside Sea Ranch’s recreation centers (and, to a smaller degree, inside Sea Ranch Lodge) are another example of the bridge from the severity of modernism to the exuberance of postmodernism. Stauffacher Solomon is the secret star of the show. Unfortunately, her own small exhibit on the third floor was up for only two months. Hopefully, she will get a larger exhibit in the future. (Again, the problem of too little space for architecture and design!) The exhibition itself draws the visitor in with Stauffacher Solomon’s bright angled graphics and then the smell of wood. At Sea Ranch itself, that smell might come from the trees (second growth), the house interiors, or the fireplaces. Here, it originates from the lumber used for the brilliant reproduction of the living space of Moore’s condominium unit. Typically, architecture exhibitions have small models, drawings, and photographs. The now-famous Case Study House exhibit of 1989 to 1990, which helped revive interest in modernism, succeeded, in part, because of two complete full-scale models and one model, similar to this, of a living room (that of noted designers Charles and Ray Eames). Besides giving the three-dimensional experience of a space, this model also divides the room into distinctive gallery spaces for exhibits on different aspects of Sea Ranch’s formation. Inside the reconstructed living room of Moore’s unit, a video plays, in which many of the original designers (or their spouse, in the case of Bill Turnbull) talk about the community and its successes and failures. Unfortunately, nobody from Esherick’s office is represented. Recently deceased partner George Homsey built a wonderful modest cabin at Sea Ranch for his own family, but it is barely known and not covered here. Perhaps he was not well enough to be interviewed. The museum’s architecture curators have created a show and catalog that will hold the attention of architects, the Bay Area’s many knowledgeable laypeople, and people who know nothing of Sea Ranch or its importance. The combination of materials and the emphasis on the optimistic beginnings achieve this. Even if the original vision of Sea Ranch (utopians vs. land development being the obvious trope) was partially lost, the stewardship of this dramatic place where the land meets the sea and man meets nature still maintains its relevance and draws us there frequently. This exhibit encourages the dialog about the results of well-intended design in late capitalism.