Design & Innovation for Sustainable Cities Program (DISC) at UC Berkeley

Exceptional Achievement - Final Grade: 4.0 / 4.0

DISC was an immersive five-week program that explores an interdisciplinary and multi-scalar approach to planning and design of the built environment. Through seminars and lectures, studio workshop sessions, site visits and fieldwork, engaged in the discourse of urban innovation, and developed creative solutions through design thinking to tackle the challenges global cities are facing today.

The program is comprised of four components. The Urban Innovation & Global Cities/Global Challenges Seminars will establish a theoretical framework for the program. While in the program, the cohort heard talks and lectures from some of the most renowned & forward-thinking researchers and practitioners in the Bay Area. Site Visits & Fieldwork gave an opportunity to engage directly with the built and natural environments of the Bay Area using it as a living laboratory for study. The Studio Session & Digital Workshops built core hand-on skills with Illustrator, Powerpoint, Rhino, ArcGIS, and 3D printing/laser technology tools that allowed us to craft our own design solutions. Throughout the program, the goal was to develop a project from design conception to prototyping and present the final result of their work to instructors and guest critics. Our topic was sea-level rise, and our city at risk was a suburban neighbourhood called Redwood Shores, just outside of Palo Alto.

Upon completion of the DISC program, I had a strong understanding of urban dynamics and a broad toolkit to tackle its urgent demands.

Mapping & Site Analysis

“Mapping is a fantastic cultural project, creating and building the world as much as measuring and describing it.”
 
- James Corner, “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention”

We took a closer look at cities and neighbourhoods as an urban fabric. There was an attempt to understand why cities are built the way they are based on a variety of factors including environmental, economic, and cultural. We then focused specifically in on how all these elements tied to Redwood Shores. 
 
We began by visiting the city to get a better understanding of the urban space, the urban morphology, and the underlying historic ecology.  After visiting the neighbourhood, we used digital mapping to geo-reference historic maps that layer on top of the present built and natural environment to create a place narrative and show how the city has been shaped over time.


We saw how the neighbourhood developed from an empty space, to filled land, to the community it is today. Layering current maps of the city, we saw the intersection of infrastructure, housing density, demographics, and transportation to gain a more informed perspective of site challenges and urban design and planning solutions.
 
In combination with site mapping, we began working on brainstorming strategies for coastal adaptation and armament typologies to combat flooding from sea level rise, of which we needed to begin applying possible migration stratgies and timelines to the community. At the end of this component, my team compiled work with mapping and research that created a compelling place narrative and potential waterfront adaptation strategies.

The Agency of Mapping

Personal Bias and a Mapmaker's Ability to Interpret Place

We found there to be an interdependent relationship that maps and human interpretations have upon one another.

Given any individual's understanding of an area, the map they produce is likely to be influenced by our own biases that form critiques about the preexisting urban built environment. In turn, the maps we produce can influence the types of biases that we have about a given landscape, unrelated to the visceral.

On our site visits to Redwood Shores,  we saw how our own senses and experiences can act as biases. Whether it be the wastewater facility smells, time of day or even our internal connections and ties that we make unconsciously to the site, the ways we decide to portray biases on a map can then influence someone of different perceptions of the space.

As biases (or the conscious decision to try and avoid them) layers with other quantitative and qualitative data, the portrayal of a space can change even more.

Below I have some photos of my group's target neighbourhood. Surrounded by water, the neighbourhood is very clearly at risk of sea level rise, with only short dikes surrounding the area.

For Redwood Shores, some of the bias that were recognized were:

1. Our time of visit - as a commuter town, no one was on the streets during the day

2. Time of year - Extreme heat in August caused pavement reflection to burn us within minutes

3. Time of the week - The nearby wastewater plant was processing a large amount of sewerwater, causing extremely toxic smells through the air.

We came back later that week and had a completely different experience. These biases were noted and helped clarify how we understood the neighbourhood.

Scenarios Planning & Conversation Board Devising

“Most of our housing and city planning has been handicapped because those who have undertaken the work have had no clear notion of the social function of the city.”
 
- Lewis Mumford, “What Is a City?”

Building off of the mapping, research, and fieldwork in previous weeks, we began to investigate Redwood Shores further and begin designing our "Conversation Board" to represent and test various adaptation strategies and events to determine scenarios and their outcomes, which affect stakeholders. The previous site mapping we did served as the literal base and basis for our site board as it began to take on three-dimensional form through rough physical hand modelling and digital modelling with Rhino software.
 
In response to the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge, we explored different adaptation strategies that consider sea level rise and objectives for coastal resilience and community sustainability. This incorporated factors of housing, infrastructure, transportation, social inequity, climate change, and livability, etc. We determined the stakeholders involved in our site, which were homeowners, the homeowners association (HOA), local government, distinct demographic groups (those working in well-paying positions in Palo Alto and their families), and the natural vs. built environment relationship between the wastewater treatment facility, the dikes, and waterfront homes. 

We then developed a platform to explore different scenarios that include site factors, events, and strategies. This included defining resilience and sustainability objectives that respond to sea-level rise flooding, coastal armament, protecting tidal wetlands and Bay ecology, meeting housing demands of a growing population, and creating a more livable and equitable community. Then, outcome testing and project implementation timelines were analyzed through various strategies on our Conversation Board. Ultimately, we illustrated the different adaptation scenarios that Redwood Shores could move forward with: mitigation, adaption, or retreat, and recommended adaptation and eventual retreat to be the best design proposals. The urban designs reflected the relationship of our site to the Bay Area region and considered interconnected elements including infrastructure, ecology, and the social function of the city at the human scale.
 
To begin creating more life-like designs, we went to digital workshops on Rhino 3D modelling software and Adobe Creative Suite. 


We then got to work on outlining our final deliverables: a master plan, project implementation timelines, site sections, perspective renderings, diagrams, and files for digital fabrication in the following week.

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Design & Fabrication

“Construction is the art of making a meaningful whole out of many parts. Buildings are witnesses to the human ability to construct concrete things.”

- Peter Zumthor, “Thinking Architecture”

Next, we had to produce effective and compelling two-dimensional graphic representations and three-dimensional models of our design proposals. Utilizing advanced computer software including ArcGIS and Rhino and digital fabrication machines, we created models that helped demonstrate our short term and long term transition recommendations for the community.

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Final Presentations

“The timeless task of architecture is to create embodied existential metaphors that concretize and structure man’s being in the world. Images of architecture reflect and externalize ideas and images of life; architecture materializes our images of idea life. Buildings and towns enable us to structure, understand and remember who we are. Architecture enables us to place ourselves in the continuum of culture.”

- Juhani Pallasmaa, “An Architecture of the Seven Senses”

During the final portion of the program, the focus was on finalizing work for the final presentation and documentation. My team and I presented our final work at UC Berkeley to invited guest critics. This was our opportunity to demonstrate what we learned and to also be part of the continuing discourse in planning the future of San Francisco Bay Area.

At the end of the program, we were extremely thankful that all our hard work had finally paid off!