Vertical Cities 2013: Everyone Harvests

How does a rapidly growing Asian city facing issues of sustainability and quality of life also address the region’s food production needs?

This was the exciting challenge that two interdisciplinary teams of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and city and regional planning graduate students from the College of Environmental Design took up as they developed and presented their proposals for the third Vertical Cities Asia International Competition in Singapore.

The exponential speed of urban development in Asia requires new thinking around sustainable high-density solutions that reduce the potentially devastating effects of urbanization on land, infrastructure, and the environment. Vertical Cities Asia, a 5-year program organized by the National University of Singapore (NUS), each year challenges teams from 10 schools around the world, including three from the U.S., to contribute to this endeavor with solutions that address a unique theme and location in Asia.

By 2050, it is anticipated that 80 percent of the world’s projected population of 9 billion will reside in urban centers. Food production is expected to increase by approximately 70 percent globally and nearly 100 percent in developing countries. This year’s theme, “Everyone Harvests,” challenged students to create innovative approaches to urban agriculture and food production in the context of Asia’s accelerating urbanism at a site about 17km west of the city centre of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Farmways — Growing frames, parkways and boulevard Enlarge [+]

The Berkeley student teams — who participated as part of the studio course led by UC Berkeley associate professor of architecture and urban design, Renée Chow (who is also CED’s associate dean for undergraduate programs) — each selected an area of one square kilometer to house 100,000 people on no more than half of the land surface. Of the two teams of 15 students total, 14 traveled to Hanoi to research the project and two members from each team presented final proposals to the prestigious international jury in Singapore in July.

During their visit, students were awestruck by the transparency of the food system in the urban Hanoi environment. Food was commonly prepared, sold, and eaten on urban sidewalks, with agriculture production beginning just beyond the urban fringe. In an effort to bridge these divided realities and raise the prestige of the farmer, one team developed Farmways, which garnered an honorable mention from the competition judges. Via a three-dimensional framework of vertical farm parkways, Farmways integrates the urban and the agricultural with a closed-loop model of green market arcades, air purifiers, food forestry research laboratories, aquaponics, and clean energy cogeneration. Farmways works as an urban biofiltration system ensuring cleaner resources and healthier food production.

Farmways — Active locavore street life Enlarge [+]

The second team’s Edge City proposal responded to the challenge by reconnecting fresh food production and consumption economies through a fingered interface at the edge of the urban boundary. Edge City confronts the notion that an urban edge should be defined by a highway and instead joins urban residents to the source of their food. Re-envisioning Hanoi’s outer ring highway, they created a dynamic corridor that includes production, storage, packaging, processing, and distribution, in so doing, better integrating the urban and the agricultural. The result is a vibrant place where people live and work along the urban edge, maintaining a close connection to fertile farmlands.

Edge City
Edge City — Spine section Enlarge [+]
Edge City
Edge City — School site participation Enlarge [+]

The Vertical Cities Competition stands out as a major opportunity for CED graduate students to gain a truly interdisciplinary experience at an international level. Working closely with fellow students from diverse disciplines gives participants a taste of their potential future where an understanding and appreciation of different urban design systems and tools, planning strategies, and multidisciplinary collaboration are essential in the creation of successful urban-scale developments.

Group photo of Vertical Cities CED student participants
Vertical Cities CED student participants.  FRONT ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Jennifer Siquiera, Monica Way, Michelle Gonzales, Minjae Ahn, Rebecca Sunter, Niknaz Aftahi;  BACK ROW: Daniel Prostak, Max Edwards, Gabriel Kaprielian, Luis Jaggy, Ned Reifenstein, Leo Zhou, Stephen Steward, Ben Golze (Missing: Anna Konotchick) Enlarge [+]

From the perspective of a teacher, designer and architect, for Renée Chow this ranked as one of her most rewarding studio experiences. “The students were totally motivated to see and deeply understand another place. They learned to collaborate which also transforms their views. They now feel that as designers they can make a difference.”

Student Teams


  • Niknaz Aftahi (M.Arch) 2015 ATG
  • Minjae Ahn (M.Arch) 2014 ATG
  • Max Edwards (M.Arch) 2014 ATG
  • Luis Jaggy (M.Arch) 2014 ATG
  • Gabriel Kaprielian (M.Arch/MCP) 2014 ATG
  • Daniel Prostak (MLA) 2014 ATG
  • Rebecca Sunter (MLA) 2014 ATG


  • Benjamin Golze (M.Arch) 2014 ATG
  • Michelle Gonzalez (M.Arch)
  • Anna Konotchick (M.Arch/MCP) 2013 ATG
  • Ned Reifenstein (M.Urban Design) 2013 ATG
  • Jennifer Siqueira (M.Arch) 2015 ATG
  • Stephen Stewart (M.Arch) 2014 ATG
  • Monica Way (M.L.A.) 2014 ATG
  • Xin (Leo) Zhao (M.Arch) 2014 ATG

Developing a Cultural Practice

Earlier this year, distinguished landscape architect and artist, Walter J. Hood was appointed the inaugural holder of the David K. Woo Chair in Environmental Design. Below, Hood describes the foundational thinking that inspires the research he plans to conduct during his Chair tenure.

The culture of communities is replete with the everyday and mundane actions of people that make up our human experience. We’re conditioned to the familiar: the trip to the grocery store, walking the dog, driving to work. The objects that facilitate these actions are ubiquitous and mostly go unnoticed.

Within this context, things accrete around us as time passes: buildings, vegetation, objects, and even space. Sometimes these layers go undisturbed, creating fascinating places that literally tell their own stories: the moors in Cordoba, the detritus of Rome, the colonial memories of America. Yet in many cases, when it is time to change, such accumulations are wiped clean, leaving nary a wall, a street, nor a piece of infrastructure to commemorate what was before.

de Young Museum
The New de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA (photo by Proehl photography) Enlarge [+]

The spaces and places that people maintain, conserve or preserve reinforce their lifeways — the particular way they want to live. Individualism and collective diversity — a truly American “way of life” — suggest a willingness to validate other norms and actions of inhabitants. Urban design and planning projects often seek to organize and homogenize environments through easily understood standards, negating this idiosyncratic diversity.

Everyday and mundane, commemorative, and community lifeways together argue for “culture” to be central to design. Synonymous in their intent, they recognize that places and environments are maintained, sustained, or transformed by the people and bureaucracies that control them. A cultural practice is a framework that empowers all voices to speak out through their everyday actions and experiences.

7th Street, West Oakland
7th Street, West Oakland, CA (photo by Hood Design) Enlarge [+]

The Everyday and Mundane

The environment around us is host to often ignored objects that are omnipresent in the built environment: power boxes, light posts, street signs, and curbs. A cultural practice alive to the everyday and mundane recognizes these objects and spaces as opportunities, and transforms them into public sculptures that embrace and validate the everyday patterns and rituals of neighborhoods.

When we activate objects, we move from an attitude of problem solving to one of opportunity. We give people the ability to see things differently, to possess the objects around them. The most meaningful interactions occur when we actively engage with the environment around us. Activating the mundane through all of its artful machinations is an opportunity to see and experience the beauty and utility of the things in our life.

Powell Street Trolley
Powell Street (Trolley), San Francisco, CA (photo by Hood Design) Enlarge [+]

Commemorative Landscapes

Commemoration Landscapes embraces the value of history, emphasizing the importance of the past in how the present, and eventually the future, will be constructed. Return to origins requires palimpsest. Akin to an incompletely erased page written over again, the layering of the environment’s surface and its objects reveals the physical, social, and cultural passing of time.

Simply memorializing the past through pedagogical representations of a place forgets the act of remembering. Communities have collective and individual past, present, and future identities, suggesting that a return to origins is complex and indeterminate.

“Narratives” such as the Biddy Mason Wall in Los Angeles, CA and the Freedom Trail in Boston, MA are often utilized as conceptual cues to help us remember. The narrative provides a carefully vetted and agreeable interpretation for a design or artwork. It suggests that everyone experiences the public realm in the same way. Stories, on the other hand, do not rely on agreement and correctness. Rather, the focus of a cultural practice is on experience, interpretation, and the people themselves who emerge with agency to act.

Shadow Catcher
Shadow Catcher, University of Virginia (photo by Hood Design) Enlarge [+]

Community Lifeways

As communities are dynamic, full of many voices, people need a variety of ways to ensure the continued growth of rich and diverse cultural landscapes.

A cultural practice honors a community’s lifeways — recognizing everyday rituals and validating the mundane. Paying attention to the way people live in a place — as opposed to how designers want people to live — yields different project results. The lifeways approach always begins by acknowledging that if there is a community, people live “here,” there is a manner in which they do so, and that is important.

In 1993 I chronicled the experiences of living in and observing the public landscape of my West Oakland neighborhood. I wondered: if we design for the real acts and events in a given place, would the projects be different? By accepting the diverse actions that did not fit the normative, designs can be liberated from best practice models, making visible another side of familiar spaces and things.

These conceptual frameworks: everyday and mundane, the commemorative, and lifeways, formulate a triad used to articulate and navigate the practical and speculative context distinguishing a cultural design practice. They occur as points of determination in a practical, linear design mode. They do not influence the speculative but embrace the cultural context upfront, which guides and provides fodder for deeper inquiry and meaning.

From the Dean: CED Frontiers

Jennifer Wolch
Jennifer Wolch Enlarge [+]

The College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley was founded in 1959 on the radical premise that the new field of environmental design was fundamental to the future of urban settlement. This premise is as valid today as it was then. But many of the specific challenges facing cities were not on our radar in the 1950s — nor were the sorts of challenges facing public higher education today.

With this context in mind, in 2012 CED launched a collaborative strategic planning project to map a future that inspires us to respond to the demands of our time. This process articulated our vision and values, and created a roadmap for distinction and impact: CED Frontiers. I’m delighted to share the highlights of our plan in this issue of FRAMEWORKS.

CED’s 21st Century Vision, Values and Goals

The College of Environmental Design provides leadership to address the world’s most pressing urban challenges through rigorous research and scholarship, design excellence, innovative pedagogy, open debate, craft and skill-building, critical and theoretical practice, and insights from both the academy and professional practice. Within this broad vision, we value:

  • Excellent and accessible public higher education
  • Sustainable design, planning and urbanism
  • Aesthetic quality, craft, and technological innovation
  • Visionary yet pragmatic design practice
  • Critical pedagogy and cross-disciplinary learning
  • Social, economic, and environmental justice
  • Ecological and public health
  • Local-global engagement and activism
  • Respect for place, community, and diversity
  • Ethical professional practice and research

Moving forward, we aspire to achieve six key goals:

  • 1. Claim the Berkeley difference, building on our heritage of design and planning activism
  • 2. Embrace diverse standpoints, experimenting with new ways to understand and embrace social difference
  • 3. Bridge intellectual fault lines, crossing the boundaries of established disciplines to create new knowledge
  • 4. Span local and global, linking multiple scales of understanding, activism, and practice
  • 5. Assess environmental design performance, related to adaptation, resilience, and sustainability
  • 6. Transform professional practice, from today’s best practices to practices for the future

Six Game-Changing Initiatives

Our vision, values and goals set our course, and concrete initiatives allow us to achieve them. Together, the CED community identified “game-changing” initiatives that are: clear and actionable; mobilize human and physical resources; lead to institutional transformation; and promote recognition of CED’s leadership. They aspire to extend the impact of our research and creative practice, create inclusive and cross-disciplinary pedagogy, and transform our home in Wurster Hall to encourage collaboration and the sharing of new ideas.


Initiative 1: Research Impact

To better support research at CED, this initiative would assist the Center for Environmental Design Research (CEDR) and the Institute for Urban & Regional Development (IURD) to broaden their reach and influence, grow faculty involvement and participation, and improve our capacity to communicate research results and creative accomplishments. Major action: New associate dean for research to coordinate and disseminate research.

Initiative 2: Design and Technology Lab

To spur design innovation at CED, this initiative proposes a design and technology lab for design experimentation, product and materials research, rapid prototyping, and CAD/CAM innovation. Such a lab would also attract partners and become a venue for professional dialogue. Major action: Establishment of CED Design and Technology Lab.


Initiative 3: Diversity Platforms

This initiative will enhance the cultural life of the College by developing co-curricular programs (such as cultural events, student-led courses, and public interest charrettes) to introduce students to the relational, interconnected and hybrid nature of increasingly globalized identities. Major actions: New curriculum and events focused on diversity, identity, and the built environment.

Initiative 4: Curriculum Crossroads

To promote interdisciplinary work within CED, this initiative will create all-college curriculum, debates, joint research, and curated conversations that span intellectual fault lines, build disciplinary and geographic bridges, and address contemporary and future problems. Major action: Super-studio opportunities for all CED students integrated into curriculum.


Initiative 5: Flex Studios

This initiative focuses on redesigning studio space with flexible, movable furnishings and collaborative space, to provide multiple platforms for creativity, research and design collaboration, and to allow learning spaces to serve as better models for collaborative professional practice. Major action: CED Campaign for 21st Century Studios.

Initiative 6: Networked Spaces

Creating additional collective social and public spaces, this initiative will serve to build CED identity; promote cross-unit, cross-cohort, and cross-cultural interaction; curate student and faculty design work; and build shared cultural spaces for intellectual and professional debate, design exploration, collaboration and sociality. Major action: New café/patio space and redesigned review spaces.

The strategic planning process generated a wealth of ideas and proposals, productive disagreements, and new commitments to collaborate and innovate. Stay tuned as the plan unfolds, and CED moves onward and upward!

Doris and Ted Lee: Fostering the Future of Urban Redevelopment

Inspired by his father’s success in property investment, Ted Lee (Boalt JD ’59, Haas MBA ’66) was fairly certain that real estate was the right path to pursue. Nearly four decades later, Ted and his wife, Doris Shoong Lee, have clearly proven the wisdom of that choice.

Shortly after graduating from Harvard University and earning a J.D. and MBA from UC Berkeley, Ted Lee worked as an advisor on urban redevelopment projects for various minority communities in California. His efforts resulted in projects such as San Francisco’s Japantown and Jones Memorial Homes, Sacramento’s Chinatown, and the Filipino Center in Stockton.

Seeing the advantages and potential of being more directly involved in development, in 1972 Ted and Doris founded the Urban Land Company, a privately-held real estate investment and development firm in San Francisco and Las Vegas. The Lees’ portfolio now comprises a substantial and diverse range of properties, from casinos and hotels, to apartments and warehouses. The Urban Land Company remains family-run and is currently actively managed by Doris along with their two sons.

The Lees have been munificent community supporters and contributors to numerous projects in education and the arts. They have made major gifts to Harvard University, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and the Smith Center. Ted and Doris established the first endowed professorship at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law in 2011 and most recently have been recognized for their generous donation of $15 million to the UNLV College of Business, which has been renamed the UNLV Lee Business School.

Paul Sedway, Doris Lee, and Ted Lee
At CED 50th Anniversary Gala — Paul Sedway (’60) with Doris Lee and Ted Lee (’66). (Photo: Adrianne Koteen) Enlarge [+]

UC Berkeley has also benefitted tremendously from the Lees’ participation and support. Ted Lee was a Berkeley Fellow and served on the UC Berkeley Foundation and other committees. Doris currently serves as a Trustee of the UC Berkeley Foundation. In support of innovative programming at UC Berkeley, the Lees sponsored a series of major conferences on urban sustainability in 2012. Also that year, the Berkeley-Haas Las Vegas Chapter of the Haas Alumni Network recognized Ted Lee as the 2012 Alumnus of the Year. He has also previously received the Wheeler Oak Meritorious Award.

In 2009, Ted and Doris Lee endowed the Theodore B. and Doris Shoong Lee Distinguished Professorship in Real Estate Law and Urban Planning, to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between CED and Berkeley Law. The principal goal of the Professorship is to support the work of a distinguished Visiting Professor who is a practitioner to teach one graduate course per year with a focus on the intersection of real estate, urban planning, and land use/environmental law. The role includes advising students on research topics related to urban real estate, land use, or planning law, such as urban housing, zoning, finance, community development, or environmental impacts.

The 2013 Lee Chair was awarded to Paula Daniels. Daniels, an attorney who has been actively involved in California planning policy issues for over 20 years, was Senior Advisor to the Mayor of Los Angeles on Food Policy and Special Projects in Water, an LA City Public Works Commissioner, and Chair of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. She has also served as a California Coastal Commissioner and on the governing board of the California Bay-Delta Authority.

The Lee Professorship was held by Cecilia Estolano in 2010 and again in 2011. A lawyer and expert in sustainable economic development and urban revitalization, Estolano was Of Counsel in the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher where she focused on matters including land use, zoning, redevelopment and real estate. She also served as CEO of the Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency, was a Special Assistant Los Angeles City Attorney, and a Senior Policy Advisor with the U.S. EPA. She currently is a member of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors LLC.

The interdisciplinary learning opportunities provided by the Theodore B. and Doris Shoong Lee Distinguished Professorship ignite new ways of thinking necessary to address the complex urban development issues of today. The generous support of the Lees, through their endowment and through their active participation in the life of the College of Environmental Design, will continue to help us achieve our ambitious goals for many years to come.

Ong Tze Boon: Rethinking the Business of Design

Ong Tze Boon
Ong Tze Boon Enlarge [+]

For Ong Tze Boon failure is not an option. This belief has clearly played a part in the growth of his firm, Ong&Ong, which evolved from a purely architectural practice of 62 people when Ong Tze Boon stepped up to lead the firm in 1999, to its present position as a thriving holistic design practice comprised of 900 individuals working out of 11 offices across the Asia-Pacific, including Vietnam, China, the US, and India.

But beyond his dogged pursuit of success lies something even more powerful — a passion for business innovation.

Founded in 1972 by his parents — the late Mr.Ong Teng Cheong, Singapore’s first elected president, and Mrs. Ong Siew May — to date Ong&Ong has completed more than 1,000 built projects around the world and is currently managing projects in 18 countries across three continents.

What differentiates Ong&Ong however is an approach to growth that takes the practice of architecture out of isolation and brings back the joy and beauty of the entire design process. Ong Tze Boon has achieved this by creating an integrated cross-disciplinary practice that encompasses virtually all aspects of design, including urban planning, landscape, interiors, branding, engineering, and project management, with a desire to expand even further into product and industrial design, and furniture. This 360° design solution strategy — initiated in 2003 and comprising over a third of the firm’s business — strives to deliver a complete experience that anticipates the needs of clients.

CT Hub
CT Hub—industrial building—Singapore, 2013 Enlarge [+]
Quincy Hotel
Quincy—hotel—Singapore, 2008 Enlarge [+]

It is Ong Tze Boon’s intense thirst for learning that is the fuel that ignites ideas like these. “Figuring out the nuts and bolts of how to bring the firm to its next stage of growth is exciting,” he explains. “What I really find intriguing is learning from other industries — how are they innovating to keep their businesses relevant, what are they doing that we are not? How can we adapt lessons learnt from firms in other industries and apply them to the design profession? These are the questions that I enjoy pondering and the answers I arrive at are usually far more out of the box than if I were to look at my immediate competition.”

Ong Tze Boon doesn’t just give lip service to education. Having earned an undergraduate architectural degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree from Rice University by 1994, and returned to practice in Singapore, he experienced the intense pressure of running an already well-respected firm. To strengthen his ability to lead the firm, he returned back to the US and over the course of three summer terms from 2001 to 2003, attended a program at MIT designed to help entrepreneurs drive their companies forward. Concurrently, he enrolled in a short finance program at the University of Michigan.

JKC2—private residence—Singapore, 2013 Enlarge [+]
Greenwood Mews
Greenwood Mews—low-rise residential—Singapore, 2015 Enlarge [+]

Moreover, education grounds much of Ong&Ong’s extensive philanthropic efforts. Inspired by his experience at Berkeley, where he was awarded the Gadsby Trudgett Award, Ong Tze Boon created the Ong&Ong Internship at Berkeley with the aim of helping individual students broaden their horizons. Each year, one to two recipients from CED are given the opportunity to work collaboratively in the Ong&Ong Singapore office for an entire year to understand the practicalities of running an actual project while being encouraged to experience the built environment through independent travel. “Singapore is a springboard to the rest of Asia, offering the opportunity to travel to many surrounding countries, from Bali to Cambodia, Hong Kong to Shanghai. These travel experiences can never be replicated in the classroom environment,” explains Mr. Ong.

Asked to summarize the impact of his CED education on his current success, Ong Tze Boon pointed to two gifts: word and craft. The participatory nature of the classroom environment at Berkeley inspired him to speak up, leading to a more confident person who gained more from each lesson. Of greater importance though was the craftsmanship encouraged by the program. “To this day I make it a point to show my clients or stakeholders what I am thinking, instead of merely talking. This almost always convinces beyond words.”

Audi Centre
Audi Centre Singapore—commercial building—Singapore, 2012 Enlarge [+]
Boulevard Vue
Boulevard Vue—high-rise residential building—Singapore, 2014 Enlarge [+]