Piano Lesson

Rene Davids
Renzo Piano at the California Academy of Sciences Enlarge [+]

In the eve of the California Academy of Sciences’ grand opening on September 26, 2008 architect Renzo Piano, famous for co-designing Paris’ Pompidou Center, took some time to sit with students and discuss how green structures can be beautiful, how every building has a story to tell and how creating a structure, especially one as complex as the academy, is a lot more complicated than it looks.

Smiling like a proud parent, the world-renowned architect pointed through the building’s glass-encased piazza, the heart of the academy.

Tall and lanky, with gray hair and beard, the architect craned his neck towards the sky, showing his audience a spider web of steel frames and the layers of wind screens and light shades that make up the piazza’s ceiling.

He told his listeners to watch people as they cross the second floor walkways, which he can see from where he was sitting, center stage, in front of 300 students from UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design and the California College of Arts.

“I call this a ‘Piano Lesson,'” he said about the intimate student lecture. “Without a piano.”

The process of creating the academy was portrayed as a simple one, that Piano simply pitched a sketch of several curve lines to the academy’s board of trustees, won the honor of designing the building and construction followed. But he cautioned the students, ‘that’s a myth, don’t believe it.’

Piano said designing and constructing the 10,000-square-foot structure, complete with a living roof, planetarium, rainforest and aquarium, was difficult from the very start.

“Nothing is clear in the beginning,” Piano said. “The beginning of the story, it’s a mess,” he said in his thick Italian accent.

Piano Lesson by Marnette Federis
Piano Lesson by Marnette FederisEnlarge [+]

The project took architects, engineers and scientists eight years and half a billion dollars to design and construct. When asked about integration and how different teams worked together, from engineers to landscape architects to botanists, Piano said it was more important to surround yourself with people who are more knowledgeable, people you trust and can fight with, comparing the process to marriage.

“I have five or six wives in my office–we don’t even talk,” he joked.

But the building, which Piano said is really comprised of more than 30 pieces, eventually came together. After 10 to 15 prototypes and figuring out which native plants to grow on the living roof and how to house living coral reefs, the result is one of the most ambitious green buildings ever constructed and one that garners the highest possible Platinum LEED rating, the largest public building in the world to do so.

In today’s world where Earth’s fragility is clear, the architect stressed the important of building with sustainability in mind.

“The purpose of this building is to prove that architecture does not have to be ugly to be green,” Piano said.

At the end of his lecture, Piano gave students a chance to ask questions. Some sought advice on how to face the challenges of building and designing for a more sustainable future–“Don’t compromise,” he said–while others wondered how the now 71-year-old architect first began in his career, to which he answered, that he came from a family of builders.

Piano Lesson by Marnette Federis
Piano Lesson by Marnette FederisEnlarge [+]

Many in the audience, were CED graduate students who have studied the building throughout the years.

“It was a great experience to be in the building while he was talking about it so he can actually point at locations and talk about how things work,” said Gina Siciliano, (M.Arch ’09).

With local architects like Kang Kiang of Mark Cavagnero Associate Architects, working on the project and also serving as a Friedman professor at CED, students had the chance to learn about the academy before its opening.

“We actually studied this piazza and how the air and ventilation worked,” Behman Farahpour, (M. Arch ’09), “We already knew so much about it from class that walking in, it makes sense, you have the information you already have with the experience.”

Undergraduate students were also pleased to have an early peek inside the building.

“It’s a little bit of over stimulation at first,” Ryan Nguyen, a fourth-year architecture student said. “But you see all these systems at play and you’re trying to figure out how it all works.”

Mary Comerio, chair of College of Environmental Design’s architecture department, said an architect like Piano, who has challenged the conventions in the industry, inspires students as they grapple with the social and moral responsibilities of building according to the world’s current environmental state.

“This conversation with Piano allows students to really open their thinking not just to try and do what it takes to get a job, but to really think outside the box, to think about what the world needs and what the design field can do in the current situation,” Comerio said.

Piano encouraged the students to be first and foremost passionate about their work and to be artists while at the same time being pragmatic. He said all buildings tell a story. The Academy’s story, he said, was one of how families have come to the place for generations to enjoy and learn about science. “The building’s ‘magic’ is the proximity of science and exhibition,” he said.

When asked about what the building is saying today, what story it has to tell, Piano paused.

He said the building is saying, “Make me happy.”



Photos by Karim Elgendy

Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange: Landscape, Culture and the Art of Maintenance

The landscape design education that most students receive in the U.S. emphasizes the design and crafting of space.
Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley-Kyoto ExchangeEnlarge [+]

This education typically ends before the installation of a design, when dirt is moved, trees are planted, stones stacked. However, as six UC Berkeley students discovered while visiting a top Japanese design school, the end of construction can mean the beginning of a new phase of design. During a weeklong workshop hosted by the Kyoto University of Art and Design in May, six students and LAEP chair Linda Jewell were exposed to an approach to landscape design education that pushed students to value thoughtful and creative maintenance as a crucial component of the design process. During the workshop, we saw the elevation of maintenance to an art form, defining its role as a shaper of space and experience alongside conceptual, on-paper design.

This lesson in the value of maintenance emerged during visits to Kyoto gardens such as Katsura Rikyu, Kinkaku-ji, and Daisen-in and from doing hands-on maintenance with our Japanese counterparts. The UC Berkeley contingency was joined by two students from Rutgers University and their professor Seiko Goto, one of the organizers of the event. Two faculty members from the Kyoto University of Art and Design led our workshops: Ken Kawai (M.L.A. ’93) and Takahiro Naka, one of the foremost experts on Japanese garden history and restoration. Our hands-on workshops included learning time-honored pine pruning techniques that consider the visual and experiential implications of each grouping of needles, which we were trained to trim and shape by hand. We learned from master gardeners how pruning, when considered as a design process of its own, can adapt to the evolving characteristics of the tree and the conditions of the space it occupies. Other workshops utilized Professor Naka’s expertise in garden restoration. Our Berkeley group, working alongside students from Rutgers and Kyoto, helped excavate an ancient stone path as well as a pond garden on imperial palace grounds in Kyoto. The Kyoto students spend one day per week honing these creative maintenance and restoration skills to augment their conceptual design instruction.

Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley-Kyoto ExchangeEnlarge [+]

Of course, the mode of professional practice in the U.S. limits the role of this type of maintenance in design thinking. Here, firms see projects through construction, sometimes providing guidelines for maintenance to the client, sometimes not. Budget cuts put maintenance of public landscapes at risk. Developer-driven private landscapes mean relatively rapid changes in ownership, leaving long-term maintenance unlikely. From viewing the results of maintenance in the Kyoto gardens, it became clear that many meaningful American landscapes built today will not receive the care that enables landscapes like Katsura and Daisen-in to abide.

The exchange of knowledge during our week in Kyoto did flow in both directions. The six Berkeley students, along with Professor Jewell and the Rutgers students, delivered presentations on the influence of Japanese gardens on U.S. design and designers. Topics ranged from the important role of Japanese immigrants in the residential gardening industry in California to the influence of traditional Japanese gardens on modernist landscape architects in the U.S. Through these presentations, we described for the Japanese students how their design heritage had affected our built landscapes, from the commercial-driven mimicry of the Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park to the profound inspiration for leading designers such as Rich Haag.

The week-long exchange with the faculty and students at the Kyoto University of Art and Design cast Japanese and U.S. attitudes toward landscapes in an appropriately contrasting light. The notions of continuity and harmony and tradition that are so important in Japan are likewise critical in their man-made landscapes. The rapidity and temporariness inherent in U.S. culture no doubt play a role in our attitudes and actions toward designed landscapes. The experience in Kyoto added up to a crystallization of an idea we all grapple with on a consistent basis–that landscapes are inextricably linked to the culture that produced them.

Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley students receive instruction on creative pruning techniques alongside students from the Kyoto University of Art and DesignEnlarge [+]
Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley-Kyoto ExchangeEnlarge [+]

Ecological Factors in Urban Landscape Design

The decay rate of urban infrastructure demands that we address future issues associated with the ecology of place in present-day planning efforts.
Andrea Gaffney
Habitat Group presentation Enlarge [+]

The Fall 2007 studio Ecological Factors in Urban Landscape Design, taught by Rob Thayer, Michelle Dubin, Joe McBridge, Matt Kondolf and Graduate Student Instructor Andrea Gaffney led graduate students from Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning to propose visions for the future of three watersheds in Contra Costa County along San Pablo Bay. Eight teams of students combined their skills in quantitative spatial analysis and three-dimensional creative synthesis to incorporate ecological processes into a variety of infrastructure vision plans on the following subjects: alternative transportation, municipal-scale renewable energy production, habitat conservation for animal and plant species, urban forestry as a mechanism for community development, creek management proposals for a gradient of development typologies, coastal waterfront planning for urban ecological diversity, human ecology habitat restoration, and watershed trail planning. Each of these visions promotes awareness on a variety of ecological processes, thereby increasing the legibility of the watershed as a sustainable unit of land planning and management.

Andrea Gaffney
Energy Group presentation Enlarge [+]

The Energy Group (Nicholas Curtis, Robert D. Lemon, Francesca Francia, Chris Fullmer, and Tim Mollette-Parks) proposed a framework in which a local municipal utility can meet 100% of the current and future energy demands of the population with renewable energy located in the landscape of the three watersheds.

The Watershed Group (Nathaniel Behrends, Rachel Edmonds, Ben Jackson, Kristen Podolak, Jane Wardani) designed a framework, which transformed the fragmented hydrologic system of Rodeo Creek into a well-functioning, restored system that reconnected the community with this natural system.

The Habitat Group (Christopher Moi, Cliff Sorrell, Nick Glase, Nicole Cousino, Ye Kang Ko) designed a conservation reserve network that enhances biodiversity and associated human land uses for the long-term future of the Pinole, Refugio and Rodeo Creek watersheds.

In the Summer of 2008, The Restoration Design Group presented the studio’s material to the Rodeo community as project ideas associated with the restoration of Rodeo Creek.

Shaping the Public Realm: CED Urban Design Studio Studies Pittsburg’s Railroad Avenue Corridor

How could an urban arterial become a great public space? In the Fall of 2007 graduate students in Landscape Architecture and City Planning explored urban design possibilities for the Railroad Avenue Corridor in Pittsburg, under the guidance of Professors Michael Southworth and Donlyn Lyndon.

A major spine, Railroad Avenue connects the historic waterfront and town center with the Civic Center, several schools, and a proposed transit village and BART extension. The project area contains a mixture of public parks, residential neighborhoods, shopping areas, and small industrial buildings; two railroads and a highway cross it.

The studio, which was funded by the City of Pittsburg, collaborated with the AIA East Bay Chapter. The studio covered the same location in the city as the Charrette undertaken by the AIA East Bay. Under the leadership of Steve Winkel, Anko Chen, Ron Bishop and Sidney Sweeney, and in concert with Marc Grisham, the Pittsburg City Manager, the AIA East Bay sponsored the Charrette as part of “AIA150,” a year-long national American Institute of Architects program celebrating 150 years of architects working together by giving information and ideas back to communities.

Michael Southworth Pittsburg's Railroad Avenue Corridor
Railroad Avenue intersection with DeAnza Trail, Boulevard plan for Railroad Avenue, Charrette sketch for Highway 4 Gateway Enlarge [+]

The Studio

Each year the interdisciplinary studio taught by Professor Southworth focuses on the public realm of cities and opportunities for creating more humane and delightful public places in both existing urban centers and in areas of new growth. Major studio objectives include:

  • To develop skills in analyzing, designing, and communicating urban design problems.
  • To involve the class in a real world problem, with real clients, preferably with a public client such as a city.
  • To work on urban design problems at multiple scales, from small elements like parks or plazas and building that contribute to the public realm, to medium scale such as marketplaces or cultural centers, to larger scale such as street grids and new districts.
  • To work as an interdisciplinary team including landscape architects, planners, and architects.
  • To expose students to the practice of urban design and projects for the public realm through visiting professionals, case studies, and field trips to projects.
Michael Southworth Pittsburg's Railroad Avenue Corridor
Wind turbines for energy and identity Enlarge [+]

The Railroad Avenue Corridor, Connecting Mines to Harbor

Beginning in the 1850s the Black Diamond Railroad, which ran north from the Black Diamond coal mines in the hills down to the waterfront, established the structure for the corridor. Since it was an industrial strip, town development avoided it, resulting in a pattern that is still evident today with few public activities fronting along the corridor and little provision for pedestrian activity. However, Railroad Avenue is the major transportation spine in the city and is one of the few streets that connect the hills with Old Town and the water. Although the city began as a tight grid pattern, as it grew to the South, superblocks and fragmented street patterns became the norm. Neighborhoods are rather detached from it and there are several barriers to North/South movement. Walking and bicycling are compromised in many areas. Built form is somewhat incoherent, with disparate scales, gaps, and much underutilized space. Civic institutions such as the City Hall and High School are not readily visible from Railroad Avenue and the major entrance to the city from Highway 4 is weak, giving no sense of arrival or orientation. Overall, it lacks cohesiveness, vitality, and identity.

Michael Southworth Pittsburg's Railroad Avenue Corridor
Left: Light rail at DeAnza Trail greenway; Right: Entrance from Highway Enlarge [+]

The Process

Early in the semester the class did a sketch problem, Looking at Urban Public Spaces. The purpose was to discover and begin to imagine places along the Railroad Avenue Corridor that could become part of a spirited public realm, places that could become seeds for change in the new way Pittsburg is lived and conceived. The class took a field trip to study public space along the Railroad Avenue Corridor and to document its form and use, critically evaluate it as an urban space and imagine changes.

An in-depth field reconnaissance and analysis during September studied livability and public space along the Corridor and laid the groundwork for the design phase of the project and for the AIA East Bay Charrette. The class worked as a team to analyze Visual Form, Public Space, Waste Spaces, Natural Factors, Access, History and Culture, Activity Patterns, and Socio-economic Environment in the study area. In late October 2007 students and faculty participated in and helped facilitate the design Charrette in Pittsburg, which was attended by citizens, city staff, and members of the Planning Commission, and many design professionals.

Subsequently the class developed design possibilities for the Railroad Avenue Corridor and presented their work to City staff and to interested Charrette participants throughout the semester. Designs explored potentials for Railroad Avenue as a major corridor for civic life and gateway to the city. Ideas included

  • Connecting with and making visible Pittsburg’s history such as the Black Diamond Railroad and the 18th century DeAnza Trail
  • Strengthening views to the hills, industrial forms, and windmills and creating continuous greenways through the city
  • Creating a new gateway to the city at Highway 4 and Railroad Avenue
  • Expanding and making visible the Civic Center to include a teen center, cultural/arts center, library, and community recreation center, closely adjoined by housing
  • Providing varied and affordable infill housing, especially for families, and an exploration of more compact living patterns and housing types
  • Providing new transport connections with Old Town connecting the hills with the waterfront and including attractive and safe walking and biking paths throughout the corridor
  • Creating a Transit Village and eBART station at the intersection of Railroad Avenue and Highway 4

The class presented its final work to the very enthusiastic City Council, Planning Commission, and interested city officials, staff, and residents in February 2008. Steve Winkel summarized the results of the Charrette.

The Future

The studio work reveals Pittsburg’s great potential for creating fine places to live, with a landscape and community structure that enhance the lives of all who live there and come to live there. This can be achieved in a way that draws strength from the existing character of the place and makes use of resources in a way that is responsible, enjoyable and sustainable.

Professor Lyndon stresses that three things are necessary to bear in mind in reaching for this future:

Think always to the larger landscape, the fall of the land towards the water; the presence and care of vegetation, the sustainable use of natural resources and an understanding of the history of the place.

Look always for investments that give benefits in many ways, that nurture the place as well as meet specific needs; where each project can join with others in creating a public realm that brings people together and makes judicious use of resources.

Railroad Avenue can become a grand passage through the city, one that draws together landscape, civic investment, existing neighborhoods and attractive walkable developments into a coherent, livable place, one that will bring pleasure and pride to its citizens.

These altogether achievable goals will require steady, careful guidance from the City Council, the City Manager and staff, and the understanding and dedication of commissioners, citizens, merchants and developers.

Michael Southworth Pittsburg's Railroad Avenue Corridor
Left (top down): DeAnza Trail concept Civic Center concept; Entrance at Energy Museum and BART station; Top right: Transit Village concept Enlarge [+]
Michael Southworth Pittsburg's Railroad Avenue Corridor
Transit Village plan Enlarge [+]


Jennifer Beckman, Jessica Coleman, Holly Dabral, Mike Ernst, Peter Frankel, Vinita Huang, Kristen Maravilla, Rebecca Sanders, Hagu Solomon

The Legacy of Berkeley Parks: A Century of Planning and Making

To mark the 100th anniversary of Berkeley’s first public park, an exhibit and public lecture opened at the Berkeley Arts Center in November 2007 presenting the history of Berkeley’s park system and visions for the next century. The exhibit was prepared in collaboration with Sarah Graham Mitchell and Reuter Design, engaged a number of CED graduate classes, and was supported by the Beatrix Jones Farrand Fund. It was subsequently displayed in the Civic Arts Commission’s Addison Street Gallery, and the Berkeley Public Library.

Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Werner Hegemann’s plan for Berkeley 1915 including the “Midway Plaisance” (College of Environmental Design Library) Enlarge [+]

Like most American cities, Berkeley formed parks as a public good, with the conviction that they played an important role in citizenship, health, equity, and stable property values. But accumulating parks was never a foregone conclusion–the process was sporadic and hard won. The exhibit boards examine Berkeley’s eras of park planning and production and highlight the advocacy of citizens, many of whom have been members of the CED community.

Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Victory celebration, Civic Center Park, Memorial Day 1942 (Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association) Enlarge [+]

The result is an impressive park system that ranges from the ordinary to the cutting edge, but is shaped by certain underlying characteristics:

  • Berkeley’s hills with rock outcrops, sloping alluvial fan, flatlands, and Bayside, fingered together by creeks, create a “geographic genetics” that give the park system a bio-locality.
  • The parks lend local traction to national trends about how cities function and whom they serve.
  • Exuberant participation exposes competing claims on Berkeley’s public landscape that also evince a love of the community–self interest rightly understood.
  • The essence of Berkeley parks is plain and simple. Their open format can read as boring but is experienced as democratic.
  • Visions matter. They have provided Berkeley with compelling back-pocket ideas for when events, people, government, and institutions galvanize around civic notions.

Today the park system, plus the regional and state parks edging the hills and the shore, is arguably an approximation of the “Midway Plaisance,” planner Werner Hegemann’s 1915 vision for Berkeley. The question is, “What should the next 100 years yield?” On May 3, 2008 we assembled 21 speakers representing four decades of Berkeley park activism to put forward their vision. What resulted was a heartening intersection of resonating ideas for future consideration.

  • 1. Berkeley needs a vision drawing for Berkeley’s parks that engages the physical structure of the city in a specific way. Since Berkeley began general planning in 1955, the distinct intentions of park planning have been co-opted. It is time to correct this and make Berkeley’s bio-local genetics once again integral and visible.
  • 2. Berkeley can be transformed from a city with many parks into a city within a park. This should occur at various connected scales, starting with all Berkeley neighborhoods having a green center.
  • 3. Every infrastructure improvement should include strategic thinking about parks. Making the city’s infrastructure add up to a multi-functional green should be the goal. There are opportunities to add strategic parcels to the park system, to exhume and display the city’s creeks, and to create hybrid public space.
  • 4. Streets are the greatest opportunity to build a layered and linked open space circuit. They are where most of the water flows and where the City already controls generous existing rights-of-way. Berkeley’s streets should treat runoff, move people on foot or bike, instead of automobile, and cool the landscape.
  • 5. The city will grow denser but “ecodensity” can be balanced by generous collective public space. Parks are destinations in the everyday life of the city where citizens meet, greet, and latch on to each other. One proposal is to re-design the Derby-Addison corridor as a 21st century plaisance where a wide green circuit would connect key parts of the city landscape.
  • 6. Berkeley needs money for parks. The legacy of Berkeley’s parks is a periodic, flexible commitment to park planning that readied the City for when acquisition and capital improvement opportunities arose. The time is right for another big push in park funding.
  • 7. Berkeley historically uses parks as a showcase for innovative thinking and a stepping stone for long term civic engagement. Change in Berkeley has happened best when working to achieve something positive and progressive, such as building the Adventure Playground or opening Strawberry Creek. A vision for a reunited park and playfield system where Berkeley’s ever more diverse residents go to be active and healthy should be a catalyst for community action.
Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Above, top to bottom: Codornices Park playground today (Marcia McNally); Shorebird Park picnickers (Marcia McNally); Strollers, Aquatic Park (Marcia McNally); Right: Glendale-LaLoma Park, 1969 (Royston, Hanamoto, Alley & Abey) Enlarge [+]

The future of Berkeley’s public park system lies in nurturing what it has but also capitalizing on moments in time when various agendas and needs can be stitched together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. We need to utilize the cachet of the 100-year anniversary before it faces and the acknowledged confluence of ideas that came out of this process dissipate. We encourage the CED community to participate, to seize the moment.

Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Live Oak Park playground 1940s (Berkeley Historical Society) Enlarge [+]
Louise Mozingo and Marcia McNally
Proposal for the Santa Fe Right-of-Way (Andreas Stavropoulos) Enlarge [+]

Urban Ecology: Change, Continuity and the Modified Ground

Urban History

The construction of the Central Freeway, which divided the Hayes Valley in the mid-20th century, treated the city of San Francisco as a blank slate, destroying the existing neighborhoods and community infrastructure in its path. Today, the Hayes Valley portion of the freeway is being replaced by a landscaped boulevard and housing with the intention of creating a whole new place.

Rene Davids
Octavia Boulevard Proposal Enlarge [+]


The current proposal for Octavia Boulevard responds to the removal of the freeway with a similar clean-slate attitude regarding the city fabric. But the culture of cities is enriched by historical continuity, including some of those episodes perceived as mistakes in retrospect. Our proposal for the parcels “O” and “P” of Octavia Boulevard retains a portion of modified topography and recaptures it as a roof profile. Rather than the wholesale imitation of a Parisian street, our project suggests a hybrid urbanism that draws inspiration from San Francisco’s topography and indigenous building traditions.


To maintain the vitality and character of neighborhood streets, the design combines three types of apartments served by a single stair, an arrangement that allows a number of families to co-exist in a “townhouse” configuration. While the residential units form a system of stacked apartments, we have eliminated a few to create visual communication between the interior courtyards and the street. Many of the units are duplexes that offer attractive double-height spaces and a dual orientation to allow for cross-ventilation.

Rene Davids
Octavia Boulevard Proposal Enlarge [+]

Tianjin City Building

In September, Studio Urbis was asked by the Hexi District government in Tianjin, China, to prepare a conceptual design for four sites divided by an intersection of a 12-lane arterial highway and six-lane “local collector.”

We took this project on as “research” into the problems of superblocks with increasingly wide roadways and setbacks that predominate contemporary Chinese development. This current pattern reinforces boundaries between sites, with each development discontinuous from the rest of the city. Our strategy was to extend the pedestrian fabric of the district into the form of the buildings as three dimensional paths that move through multiple levels of all four sites and span the river of cars. The city of Tianjin, agreeing with our analysis of the district, has accepted our proposal for an expanded pedestrian environment.


Winner of an international competition, Limelight, a temporary installation, was conceived to celebrate one of England’s beloved champion trees at Westonbirt Arboretum.
David Meyer
A bird’s eye view of the installation in early summer; Inset: A basswood model of the design, illustrating the simple earthwork surrounding the champion tree. (David Meyer) Enlarge [+]

Meyer + Silberberg created an earthen “medallion” that calls people to the tree and then provides them with a perfect spot to sit in admiration of the country’s grandest sycamore maple.

The idea called for a gesture that would complement the tree without detracting from it. It felt like we were not so much creating a landscape as revealing one. That informed our decision to create the form using nothing but dirt, grass and light. The design exemplifies two ideals that are central to my studio and teaching. First, the importance of concept, and second, the importance of mindful execution.

Limelight quickly became the talk of the festival and the design received the “Visitor’s Choice” award–high praise from the most passionate gardeners in the world.

David Meyer
Left: The axial view of the installation from the front in late summer, when the meadow has grown out and a path has been mowed that draws one into the installation.; Right: A visitor enjoys the solitude while gazing up at the sculptural structure of the tree. (David Meyer) Enlarge [+]

Volumetric Evolution: 21 Point Manifesto

  • SOLITAIRE: Logic, Numbers, Science, Inner Process
  • LIVE FEED:  History, Theory, The Living, DNA
  • GNAR: Epoch, Speed, Velocity, Extremism, Gravity
  • CONTINUOUS NON-ORIENTABLE: Surfaces, vert-mass, Façade, Earthwork, mega-form
  • N-BETWEEN: X-Ray, Parallelism, perpendicularity, Adjacency
  • BLACK ON BLACK: The Hidden, mini-mass, Built-in, Storage, folded shadow
  • PLASTICS: Folds, Lofts, Pulls, Strokes, Vectors
  • PRISMATICS: Crystal, Rhomboid, Reflection, Translucency, Multiplicity
  • CANTILEVER: Time, Structure, Action, Extension
  • FLUIDITY: Contour, Wire Frame
  • PIGMENT: Color, humanity, Art, Programmatic fluctuation
  • CAMOUFLAGE: Anti-pattern, Transparency, Overlay
  • STAR SKY: Vertical movement, Roof Deck
  • SYNTHETICS: layering, Skin, envelope
  • KNIFE SPACE: Feasting, Cooking, Devouring, Kitchen
  • SEVENS: Proportion, Eroticism, Sexuality, Model, Structure
  • RHYTHMICS: Instrumentality, Music, Sound
  • PLASMATICS: Anamorphous, Biological, Nostalgia, Blood
  • CINEMATICS: Projection, Wall, Sequence, Event
  • TECHTONICS: Building, forces, Texture, Fabrication, Construction
  • RE-EVOLUTION: Eternal Recurrence = Again + Again + Again

Experimentation is a conscious aim of Volume 21: Office for Architecture. A critical awareness of the ‘envelope’ of architectural practice chases us toward a series of motivations, procedures and strategies for working. The ideas are active in research (design process), technology (fabrication and construction) and pedagogy (writing and teaching).


Keith Plymale
Speed 101–A study of acceleration, speed and ‘collapsed’ perspective. A museum competition in Nor-Cal was developed using analogous process methods  used in construction: material lamination, spatial layering and de-lamination for fabrication & construction.  [project collaboration with Michael Tauber] Enlarge [+]
Keith Plymale
Ponte Dell ‘Anzelo’ Lungo — A conceptual bridge spanning the Giudecca canal in Venezia. A 21st century ‘hybrid’ program for a city within a megaform, like its 1591 sibling; the Rialto, the span is to be as luminous, thin and translucent as physically possible. Enlarge [+]

Strange Attractions

Arriving by automobile to most American cities the exit ramp marks the boundary between fast and slow. The city street grid connects park, plaza, lot and yards.

Urbanist Jane Jacobs suggested that parks are mere abstractions without the streets that act upon them. In the same context are urban landscape types simply abstractions until we begin to think about the things and spaces that they touch?

Walter J. Hood
Walter J. Hood Enlarge [+]

This research project suggests that there can be spatial relationships between the freeway and the park, and that there may be an indeterminate system that can be derived from their relationship.

The public landscapes serve as case studies for cities with large-scale infrastructure (freeway) morphologies. Examining the various landscape types in each city (parks, plazas, streets, etc.,) reveals a simple set of landscapes that preceded the freeway as the governing morphology. In each city the freeway is superimposed onto a clear system of streets, squares and parks.

The attraction between the park and the freeway is facilitated in two scenarios.


The freeway and its rights-of-way are autonomous, fallow space in the city…a fence; a protected boundary; space set aside for future use; a planting zone to ameliorate and mitigate; a set-aside; a space for future expansion; a space for enlargement. Freeways never get narrower. They always get wider.


Large parks within the city are now an anomaly. Eight hundred or more acres in the middle of the city! Industrial sites no longer in use are yielding large parcels for park use…but most are at the city’s edge. By the end of the 20th century we are content with parks that are a mere one-quarter acre. Given this scale, parks can’t give structure to the city, to the neighborhood. They just multiply without a clear strategy. Everyone wants open space!


These studies suggest that parks and freeways can attract one another. This manifests in two ways: the park can strategically multiply itself or it can be enlarged. In either case a new city form manifests. Formally indeterminate, the scale and structure can now act upon the freeway–and in turn the freeway can act upon the park; a strange but welcome attraction!

Walter J. Hood
Walter J. Hood Enlarge [+]