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

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 [+]