Known Unknowns: Scales of Inclusion

Known Unknowns: Scales of Inclusion
Advanced Studio, Fall 2017
Professor: Janette Kim

This studio asked how architecture can shape what sociologist Ulrich Bech has called a “risk society”– a society uniquely challenged by the possible side-effects, or risks, of modernization. Students explored the idea that design in the era of climate change demands collective responses to the challenges of both everyday life and possible futures. Projects developed novel and effective techniques for architects to manage uncertainty.

This studio worked closely with the Urban Works Agency and the All Bay Collective to inform their contribution to the Resilient by Design | Bay Area Challenge. Special thanks to Chris Guillard of CMG and Hogan Edelberg of AECOM for their weekly involvement in the studio, to UWA Resilience Fellow Liz Lessig for guiding the students’ research, and to Stephen Engblom, Claire Bonham Carter, Tom Sweet, George Smyth, Paul Peninger, Melissa Higby, Katherine Dudney, Amir Ehsaei, Jamie Phillips, Kristina Hill, Nicolas DeMonchaux, NateKaufman, Nic Pajerski, Marcus Griswold, Neeraj Bhatia, Cesar Lopez, and Brendan Beasley for their sustained involvement as guest critics and consultants to the students.


Research Mashups.
Students examined the potential impact of existing design strategies on economies, ecologies, communities and governance structures at multiple scales. We used ‘mash-up’ techniques– from the logical to the surreal– to structure our research, and spark unexpected and complex design propositions.

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Infrastructure + Urban Form: Structures, by Loretta Li
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Infrastructure + Urban Form: Building Floodproofing, by Wilson Fung
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Environment + Ecosystems: Flood Risk, by Cassady Kenney
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Environment + Ecosystems: Watersheds, by Bianca Lin
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Environment + Ecosystems: Drought and Heat, by Xinyi Chen
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Environment + Ecosystems: Green Infrastructure and Flood Retention, by Bianca Lin
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Social Equity + Justice: Demographics, by Maria Ulloa
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Social Equity + Justice: Social Infrastructure, by Natthakanya Intharasena
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Social Equity + Justice: Community Decision-Making Processes, by Mia Candelaria
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Social Equity + Justice: Eco-districts and Cooperatives, by Natthakanya Intharasena

Architectural Strategies.
Known Unknowns experimented with strategies for designing urban waterproofing techniques that can grow or change over time. We examined how the hydrological and ecological demands of things like levees, wetland restoration and green infrastructure might overlap with more socially-driven questions of who owns them, maintains them, and benefits from such investments. We studied how these approaches relate to recent theories of urbanism– the megastructure, “bigness” and acupunctural urbanism– and their implications for scales of inclusion. Then, we tested how buildings can adapt to possible futures, through ideas like subtraction, flipping, retrofits, subdivision, and selective demolition.

Student worked in two main scales. Master Plan, in which they were asked to design sea level rise mitigation infrastructures and double the existing square footage in a 3-5 block area. Students revisited the history of urbanism in our field to test how such approaches might be transformed today. Building Design, in which students zoomed in to the scale of half of a city block to resolve programmatic and aesthetic design questions raised by their master plan. Students made very large graphic narratives to imagine how their designs might change over time.


Dead Ends Aren’t Dead
Wilson Fung, Bianca Lin and Joshua Park

“Small lots will support resilience because they allow many people to attend directly to their needs by designing, building and maintaining their own environment.” – Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn

This project transforms cul de sacs in East Palo Alto into a network of interconnected structures that promote collaboration among residents and build resilience against sea level rise.

East Palo Alto is vulnerable not only to sea level rise pressures– even today, the city is frequently flooded by groundwater, storm water and the San Francisquito Creek– but also to risks we call “infrastructural disjunction” and “selective sacrifice.” EPA has been sliced apart by infrastructure such as roads and levees, leaving both newcomers and locals disconnected from natural and cultural resources. Though there are many ways to flood-proof houses, income inequities make such approach impossible and thus sacrifice the well-being of the city’s most vulnerable.

Instead, we want to recognize what EPA residents have established throughout the city’s strong history of activism. Our project builds on Stewart Brand’s “shearing layers” concept, which suggests that change can take place incrementally by retrofitting buildings layer by layer. We propose to retrofit existing houses and add in three new architectural typologies: a “nucleus” that houses residential and commercial spaces in freestanding buildings, a “chromosome” that houses shared public functions in smaller pavilions, and a “membrane” that serves as a flexible surface, or scaffold, to link buildings to each other and provide seismic stability across them. These create elevated spaces that can serve as an emergency response center during a flood, or house expanding family-owned businesses, such as an afterschool program or a rental apartment, that can support long-term economic stability.

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A Reason to Stay
Mia Candelaria, Natthakanya Intharasena and Cassady Kenney

When we visited East Palo Alto, the most prominent aspect of the city that struck us was its liveliness. The sense of community was energetic and omnipresent. Bouncy houses popped up on every street, kids played outdoors and the smell of BBQ was everywhere. It was apparent to us, despite all the seemingly negative aspects we had been researching, that East Palo Alto residents value their community– one of the last affordable cities in the Bay area. At the same time, though, about 20% of the city’s residents live below the poverty line and have limited access even to jobs that require long commutes made worse by inadequate public transportation. The city’s extremely high water table and low-lying topography also make it exceptionally vulnerable to flooding.

In our design, it was important to us to maintain this sense of community and lifestyle while addressing the risks that climate change has created. We propose to create floating housing on ponds fed by rising groundwater, a network of dock systems and high-density raised housing– all to enable communities to live with water and promote resilience without displacement. At an urban scale, our project enables incremental change and increasing density. At the scale of the individual, we focused on maintaining the integrity of the city’s culture and open space so valued in suburbia.

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Incremental Change
Maria Ulloa

Long-term resilience planning can only be effective if it takes immediate, short-term concerns into account. This project builds affordable, flood-proof housing in East Palo Alto through an incremental, patchwork strategy. Floating buildings among pond that express a high water table, and raised structures along a new public transit corridor are built amidst existing churches, schools and homes in a way that can create new networks of diverse urban landscapes.


The following image was created as part of a larger group project by Maria Ulloa, Mia Candelaria, Natthakanya Intharasena and Cassady Kenney.


Lifted Commons
Avril Li, Loretta Li and Fuyang Shan

The Oakland Coliseum attracts visitors and ignites economic growth in the city, but ignores those who actually live next door. Neighbors struggle with a lack of low-skill jobs, and the same transit system that helps visitors travel to the Coliseum has created barriers. As the sports teams leave, sea level risea– as well as new development– could make this kind of segregation even more severe. Instead, how can we reunite the neighborhood?

Instead of defending or rebuilding the San Leandro waterfront, Lifted Commons accommodates an ever-changing shoreline with a raised public platform. The platform is both thin (for circulation, biking, bird-watching, and animal migration) and thick (to host schools, worker training facilities, housing and commercial space), and can switch from one to the other as needed. Volumetric cones link spaces vertically, filter water, and contain a new, suspended landscapes. Hydrologically, this system can discharge water to Bay and connect to a series of smaller water ponds throughout the neighborhood. Economically, the platform can accommodate expanding small-businesses, or house tenants displaced during a temporary flood. Socially and politically, this can activate a new kind of collective space: in our graphic narratives, we imagine two scenarios of ownership– public and private– each with different degrees of risk-sharing, costs of living, and potential for change.

This project provides a flexible system for connecting future buildings and existing communities with the shoreline, and absorbing displaced occupants during a flood. In this way, residents can survive, adapt and observe climate change by enjoying nature and interacting with each other.

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Agua Wonderland
Xinyi Chen

Due to the anticipated dynamics of climate change and future development at a dramatic scale, the Oakland Coliseum neighborhood will inevitably undergo a series of critical changes. The neighborhood faces flooding from the Bay and inland creeks, and the city’s proposed plan for the site could increase gentrification pressures in adjacent neighborhoods. In response, I hope this proposal can create opportunity for locals and visitors to have fun with water as seas rise, enjoy the promise of life while the city develops and have access to diverse physical, visual and social experiences.

This proposal uses two approaches: a topographic ground and a superstructure. To address flooding, a variable ground section redirects water into a safer pathway and, instead of defending the city from water, allows water to flow and be absorbed dynamically. A series of ponds can capture water for greywater reuse during rainy seasons, and host social spaces during dry times. To invite new development while addressing existing residents/concerns, I’ve created a modular, expandable superstructure that is large enough to address the scale of these challenges, but flexible enough to grow above the land organically. By accommodating expanding tenants or a shift in density, ownership and program over time, this infrastructure of modular shipping containers can allow for incremental change in the neighborhood. For example, job-training programs could be supported along the BART tracks while foundations for construction are constructed. Sequences like these can both help local residents to adapt themselves facing to gentrification and promote Oakland’s economic and social growth. (note: the second section below, and large-scale master plan design work was done in collaboration with Fuyang Shan).

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San Francisquinnections
Abdul Alfayez

East Palo Alto and Palo Alto are divided by the San Francisquito Creek. The two sides face some common issues, such as flooding in the creek that endangers habitat and pathways for both humans and wildlife. But the two are also divided by a sharp income disparity. Recognizing these problems, my goals for this project were to create a catalyst for interactions among different segments of this populations, creating a symbiotic relationship among people, nature and wildlife. I also wanted to create a resilent intervention in close proximity to inhabitants, to raise awareness about the importance of decisions we make regarding the environment.

This project creates a series of architectural and infrastructural elements that bridge between EPA and PA, and create a series of exchange between the two cities. I use cut-and-fill landscaping techniques to create a flood overflow and riparian zone at a series of sites along the EPA shore, and mound up for greater flood protection on the PA shore. In exchange, PA must construct affordable, high-density housing alongside classrooms, workshops and a research center. Linking the two sides is an outdoor theater and a commercial exchange where businesses of various scales, such as boutique shops or home-cooked food joints, can create additional income for EPA residents. Similarly, EPA can profit from an array of solar panels on floating buildings in the floodplain. The two scenarios shown in the graphic narratives explore two possible outcomes of cooperation and competition between the two cities.

These new spaces created at important intersections between PA and EPA will facilitate and instigate a web of social, commercial, and educational exchanges that are based on mutual benefits and respect, and invite people to cross paths and cross the creek.

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Life After Property
Samuel Sellery, Jared Vallair and Taskin Ege Yener

This project asks how structures of ownership might be fundamentally reconsidered in the face of climate change. Sellery, Vallair and Yener propose the construction of two primary infrastructures: a flexible network of floating structures that embraces the instability of the shoreline, and a massive platform that provides stability in the midst of change. Across these two conditions, they then explored the project by drawing out two ownership scenarios (shown in the graphic narratives), of fixed public ownership in comparison to transient private ownership that would change as the tides come and go.