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Projective Research and Explorations
This is a dedicated space to think beyond the traditional bounds of design, architecture, and urban planning. Rather than solve design problems idiosyncratically, PRE- is about defining avenues to broader ideas to be refined later. How can an approach unburdened by reality confront convention with new ideas, concepts, and typologies that empower design with agency?

pre- is the work of Brandon Hall (Yale 2014) and Brian Vargo (Harvard 2015). Get more

Featured in the international journal BRACKET: at extremes and Rice University School of Architecture’s PLAT 3.0 publication Collective Disruption. Find out more here and here

Every year, over 3 billion passengers around the world travel through a system conceived over 8 decades ago. Modern air travel is a cornerstone to the world economy, generating over $650 billion annually. Yet, despite its importance to the global economy, the industry relies on outdated rules and regulations that slow its progress and stifle its further growth. If the airline industry will continue to grow 6% per annum, it cannot simply maintain the status quo (i.e. world population grows at 1%). Systemic changes could not only increase the productivity of the airline industry, but also invite new possibilities to global infrastructure. How can we redefine the concept of the air travel to increase flexibility and confront systemic inefficiencies?

Despite the massive scale and importance of this infrastructure, the industry has posted a $63 billion deficit within the past ten years. The increasing inefficiency of an aging system has driven operating costs up 162% since 2000. Despite a persistently growing demand for air travel, airlines sell only 82% of their available seats because large scale airports are either no longer strategically located or outside of areas experiencing high population growth. The infrastructure has become increasingly congested, expensive, and inefficient.

Perhaps the cost of maintaining the current system actually limits its potential to grow. We propose a renewed airport typology to supplement these issues by addressing a systemic flaw. Why do airports limit the indefinite medium of aviation to only finite points? What if air travel can further propagate its mobility by finding a more adaptive system to truly become the most flexible of infrastructures?

The conventional system of air travel relies on two components – planes and terminals. One is mobile, and one is fixed. The conventional approach to streamlining the industry has fallen within this accepted paradigm, but what would a fundamental, systemic change mean to either? What if both components enabled a more accommodating flexibility?

We propose an adaptive system that makes use of an existing reality. What if we could make terminals mobile along the most flexible of mediums that already constitutes a major share of the transportation network – the conventional highway? Why not repurpose the 4 million miles of existing highway in the US to create temporary runways? By rescaling the 'airport' into a mobile terminal, a new infrastructural typology can provide unprecedented opportunity.

The highway system provides a malleable substrate – already wide enough in most locations and well within structural limits to land commercial jets, it can easily facilitate the basic requirements of an average commercial runway. Mobile terminals could divide the same functional, security, and mechanical requirements of a conventional airport into individual mobile gates that supplement the highway network. These gates are designed to the dimensions of a flat bed truck, and are thus easily moved to where they are most needed. Mobile terminal 'hotspots' will emerge and disappear over time, and routes can dynamically adjust to customer demand, models of efficiency, and the flows of existing ground traffic.

The mobile terminal is the logical response to the extreme inflexibility of a conventional airport. This typology can push the boundaries of mobility by connecting the potential of two infrastructures into an infinitely more adaptive system. It can coalesce the global mobility afforded by air transit with the regional network provided by the highway system.
The potential of this typology is far reaching. In Los Angeles, for example, 12,000,000 residents spread over 5,000 square miles, but share only three major airports. Mobile terminals could take advantage of the expansive highway system to create temporary runways during periods of low traffic, facilitating a hyper-efficient transportation network for one of the world's most congested cities. Terminals could also be easily gathered into areas of very high demand, for example massive sporting or entertainment events adjacent to existing large-scale parking lots. The flexibility of an adaptive system provides a synergy of transportation for all scales, more users, and in a wide range of contexts.

In collaboration with Chris Zhongtian Yuan. Why do museums feel like fortresses, impenetrable to the real grit of urban life? The museum is one of the oldest architectural typologies and maintains a transcendent cultural paradigm. But the prototypical museum is often stale, refusing to sacrifice mistaken ideals rather than authentically connecting to contemporary life. If a museum is to have real relevance in a progressively open culture, it should abandon its self-imposed policy of curation. The museum should meld into the reality of everyday life, becoming a living bookshelf for the city’s many urban stories. How can the spaces of a city be blended with museum galleries to create a museum typology that benefits the experience of both?

Our proposal for a new museum typology redefines how 'The Museum' can create meaningful interactions between its contents and all members of the public through a series of cohabitated spaces. The typical museum establishes a spatial hierarchy, dividing 'fine art' from the outside world. But this rigid model does not relate to the informal and interactive nature of contemporary art, nor the cultural importance of transparency in public institutions.

The site is understood as a case study. As is the trend for many contemporary museums, it occupies a post-industrial waterfront lined with continuous industrial brick warehouses. The site occupies the only open space remaining along a long row of warehouse blocks, providing a small urban plaza that connects the city with the adjacent water front. Building upon the only usable public space within this context would be thoughtless – particularly given that this building must accommodate a public purpose. Can we turn the competing need for an iconic museum and qualitative urban environment into a cohesive narrative that actually celebrates both conditions?

We propose to design a series of urban spaces the cohabitate between outdoor urban functions and interior galleries. By lifting the building's program above an entirely open ground floor, we can enrich the existing urban plaza with distinct activities. These public activities find their match within the interior program, establishing a variety of activities that redefine the boundary between museum spaces and urban life. This bears precedence on both realms – the public and the private – to give new meaning to the museum’s space in the urban fabric.
Our proposal articulates the public level into 5 zones - A sports court, a stage, a garden, a bus terminal, and a market plaza. These functions become different urban living rooms shared by public life and the interior museum spaces. The spaces created by the urban functions intersect with the museum's interior, fostering new dialogues and perspectives about how people perceive, understand, and connect with art in the real life of a city.
Rather than protect the art from the public, the architecture blurs the division between public and gallery spaces. A contemporary gallery and a city sport-court intersect to create an art arena for spectating: art, sports, and activity. This is not about imposing a rigid hierarchy. Rather it sets and supports a stage for activities that blend into both worlds. In doing so, it gifts the museums interior with a real urban life and the public realm with a meaningful urban space. The architecture concentrates its focus on an interior environment that is neither part of the museum or the city, but rather a mixing zone of both. Vertical spaces stack a variety of activities and program with collaged flexibility. This strategy is as spatial as it is cultural. It gives new precedence to the individual design of this museum and the more general typology.

The architecture concentrates its focus on an interior environment that is neither part of the museum or the city, but rather a mixing zone of both. Vertical spaces stack a variety of activities and program with collaged flexibility.

1st Prize, STCenters Competition. Exhibited at The Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC). In collaboration with Annie Peyton.

Over 1 billion cars are driven daily around the world. That number grows by 170,000 every day. In Los Angeles (the 2nd most populated city in the US), the number of registered cars is greater than the number of registered people. Cars are a reality of modern life; while many urban planning strategies attempt to erase cars from cities to counteract urban sprawl, they fail to maintain influence. A change in policy is less effective than a change in culture. Rather than simply deny the importance of cars in the modern society/economy, maybe we can inspire a slow shift in attitude that makes better habits more exciting. How can architectural and urban strategies popularize more sustainable systems of transit?

This exercise takes Rio de Janeiro as a case study. Over 90% of new cars sold in Brazil use ethanol as fuel (a compound produced from sugar cane). This is a vital component of the country’s growth (with a GDP growth rate approximately 3x that of the US in 2013), and planning decisions today will define the ability of Brazil to be a fully modernized economy. Despite the country’s admirable use of sustainable fuels, Brazil’s continued growth is still threatened by its own modernization. Every year, the number of cars in Brazil increases by roughly 10%, meaning that infrastructure in cities must accommodate 25% more traffic due to congestion. Planning authorities have sought alternative proposals to increase the transit system’s efficiency.

Our winning proposal addresses the culture of driving in Rio De Janeiro, one of the world's fastest growing cities. We propose a new transit terminal typology that redefines the car as an instrument to create public interactions and focuses the operation center on its role as a public space.
The competition requires an operation system within a traditional city block. We propose to forego the suggested building envelop of the competition, which is out of scale and context to its neighboring buildings, and rather build a simple canopy over the adjacent street connecting a major park and the beach front. Above this new, high-volume pedestrian street, we propose an interactive 'terminal board' that lets users request car shares with neighbors using a web based application. This digital/spatial terminal system uses a simple combination of light and color to highlight similar users and create meeting points for either car rental or car sharing.
Situated within this ideal public venue, the canopy is a natural attraction and readily available to it neighborhood. This translates to everday life in a variety of capacities. Imagine planning your next trip to the grocery store, mall, or airport through a social media plugin that automatically supplements the obligatory selfie with a car rental or car share suited to your needs. This level of integration can not only offer new avenues to operational efficiency, but also reconsiders how we can popularize sustainable strategies.

The program of the operations center is buried within the street below, allowing for a distinct space that functions more than anything as an exciting public venue. The street becomes an electric promenade that engenders a 'spectacle' surrounding the electric car. The proposal overlaps architectural space with an infrastructural system to create a new social platform. The proposal was unanimously awarded 1st prize by judges for defining a solution that 'with just a single gestures resolves the volume and the program a clear and concise manner.'

The US Military has the largest navy in the world, over 13 times bigger than its nearest competitor. The navy’s operating principle in the 20th century was simple: to have the biggest ships, the longest reach, and the largest fleet. This came to a climax at the end of the 1950’s, when the navy enlisted 6,578 vessels to active service. Today the active fleet has dwindled to 285, as advances in technology and naval strategy render the vast majority of older ships obsolete. But at an average price tag of over $100 million per vessel, where do all the outdated ships go?

In 1960, the National Reserve Fleet was formed to retire active ships to indefinite storage harbors. Ships were planned for regular maintenance as they waited to be repurposed, recycled, or left to sink. However, the retirement of ships has drastically slowed in recent years due to political pressure on the program, and now there are just as many ships unused as those listed on active duty.

The Reserve Fleet concentrated ships in harbors thought the United States. Over the last six decades, a few of these groups have become ‘ghost fleets’, stuck in a bureaucratic process that prevents the ships from regular maintenance and lengthens the timetable for their disposal. Ghost Fleets have been adrift for as much as twenty years past their appointed decommissioning, polluting their surroundings and littering their communities with an ostensibly negative symbol.

Recent studies by the US government have established three viable options for the reserve fleet’s disposal to improve the system: Indefinite storage, recycling and reefing. Indefinite storage has been proven the most expensive and dangerous, as elements within the ship eventually erode and pollute nearby ecosystems. Recycling programs have found substantial logistic and economic challenges that prevent widespread implementation. However reefing - sinking a ship by design and using its structure to create an artificial marine environment– has gained favor as a time- and cost- effective alternative. This will likely be the chosen method for future disposal. But rather than simply sink a ship, can we use its substrate for something more creative?

The Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in California is the most notorious ghost fleet in the US, as over 50 ships crowd the local community with their rusting skeletons. The bay is also one of the most important habitats for the California delta, connecting the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sacramento River. This delta provides essential irrigation to one of the world’s most populated regions and forms wetlands that are home to countless threatened species of birds and fish.

The scale of the reserve fleet has degraded the local environment and created a persistent eyesore for the local community. Once upon a time thriving wetlands encircled the entire bay, but the accumulation of toxins left by the untreated fleet and annual dredging has rendered its vicinity lifeless. Annual dredging removes the natural accumulation of silt from the Sacramento River that would otherwise run the fleet aground. The ships are currently planned to be removed and tugged over 6,000 miles to Brownsville Texas after being stripped of toxic paint and wildlife, at the cost of over 1 million dollars per ship. This solution leaves no money to remedy the existing pollution of Suisun Bay and risks countless ecosystems along the ships’ journeys to contamination from toxins and nonindigenous species.

The massive scale and structural qualities of the ship provide an ideal building block for a dramatically new landscape. But by keeping the fleet within Suisun Bay, the investment costs can be redistributed to cleaning up the areas already polluted by the ships over time. Some sections between the existing bulkheads are opened to the water, creating various water depths, temperatures, and salinities that encourage a diversity of marine life. A connective boardwalk creates public programs that link the ships historic story to everyday visitors. These factors work together to create an environment that balances ecological needs with diverse cultural goals.

This plan can restore the local environment by reclaiming the Suisun Bay Fleet for broader social goals. We propose to strategically reef selected ships along the destroyed coastline, and to connect their decks via a public boardwalk. By stopping the annual dredging operations and through the strategic positioning of ships, a limited number of ships can create a wetland superstructure. This gesture can reconstruct the wetlands to redefine Suisun Bay as a post-industrial success story, rich with life and cultural value.

The Navy’s stagnant reserve fleet invites opportunities for creative intervention. Rather than envision the fleet as a bureaucratic problem, we see it as a potential to give back to the community. We purpose that the Suisun Bay Ghost Fleet be reclaimed for widespread social, economic, and environmental goals. By creatively readapting the ships, we can activate their cultural potential. The Naval Boardwalk can be a sanctuary for wetland wildlife, a public boardwalk for learning and gathering, and a timeless cultural gesture that gives back to its community.

What presence does the library have when media is increasingly digital? Public libraries have been a cultural depository for centuries, but their real significance lies in their function as a public building. Nowhere else is space open to all members of the public, commercial-free. Does the decline of physically printed books mean that one of the last bastions of public buildings will also meet its demise? Or rather can the book be re-envisioned in how it relates the library with the community?

If the new library is to be a truly meaningful building for the community, we should address a fundamental question: Is a conventional library relevant in a digital world? Rather than readapt a doomed typology, what would a more investigative approach to a library’s programming yield? Our proposal remixes a library’s formative principles to celebrate its content, giving renewed excitement to such a fundamentally important building.

A typical library design separates its spaces into two major components - the reading rooms and the stacks. In this arrangement, the books are sequestered and compartmentalized, and the library is viewed as a sterile archive of knowledge. We suggest inversing this traditional relationship. If the book is an increasingly rare commodity, why not celebrate its value? Rather than protect books within a closed archive, we arrange the stacks along the perimeter of the building. This emphasizes the fundamental qualities that make books magical to both interior and exterior – with obvious consequence.

By accepting the consequence of digital media, books are limited to only their aesthetic value. No longer the actual medium for knowledge, the books can freely embody the spirit of the cultural realm they define. The books are arranged around a circular plan, creating a sacrificial layer that filters direct sun light into a diffused glow. In doing so, the books define an interior environment accommodating to the e-books and digital readers that have supplanted their functionality.

The building is organized vertically as a gently sloped (1:30) helix with circulation around the exterior. This creates a simple cylindrical volume and an unbroken façade. The skin of the building becomes a natural medium for the library’s contents. The natural beauty of books is the outward expression of the building, unabated by the clunky protective layer as in the traditional typology.

This bold spatial arrangement creates a strong icon for the community. The library’s role as a public building is emphasized by this simple gesture, creating open space that invites life into the heart of the library’s spaces. This typology offers a unique spatial experience. The library is not an archive for books, but rather an exciting public building that invites its community to gather, learn, and interact. The direct relationship the books have with the facade make a dramatic statement that gives renewed energy to the library’s future, and a qualitative interior environment.

The city is a living, breathing thing, filled with stories that will never be fully understood. One of those that is seldom represented is also ironically central to the reality of city life – vacancy. For most cities, the average vacancy rate for office space hovers around 10%, with peaks of 20% and valleys of 5% depending on the market’s timing. Post cards of world cities frame iconic skylines, inundated with architectural gestures, many of them empty from actual occupants. Why has this fundamental cornerstone of the urban environment been overlooked by architects and urban planners alike?

To study this question, we take the quintessential metropolis – New York - as a case study. New York is a constant state of simultaneous growth and degeneration, toppling over itself as it churns through endless cycles of development. More to the point, it is the birth place of urban planning policies that govern the CBD’s of major international cities worldwide.

In the 20th century, New York has been the laboratory for grand visions of urban planning. The city's manifesto has profound simplicity: to build with massive scale, guided only by a horizontal grid. But New York's urban principles have been increasingly challenged by the reality of its size, density, and congestion. The utopia sought by previous generations has become stale as the city's massive scale prevents its further growth. What does the city now aspire to be? To redefine its cityscape, New York must grow from its tradition of visionary urbanism.
New York once pioneered the guiding principles behind urban planning in large cities. As the first skyscrapers pushed the limits of height and scale, their unchecked density cast the public below in perpetual shadow. New York created the first major zoning restrictions for dense urban environments, passing a landmark resolution in 1916 that defined maximum heights and mandatory step-backs to allow light to the public realm below. Popularized into an architectural motif, these regulations helped shape the iconic Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and many others. Fifty years later, advancements in technology allowed for lighter construction, taller buildings, and extreme density in parts of the city.

Again, the city developed a landmark zoning resolution in 1961, establishing incentive zoning that required public space at ground level to balance building higher. This created the modern skyscraper, a sleek box with a public ground floor, as evident by the Lever House, the Seagram Building, and the conventional office tower. Now, another fifty years later, New York must revisit the fundamental principles that have governed its growth to create a new vision. The city's evolution has negotiated public wellbeing with private interests to achieve a greater density of quality urban living. The value of public space has grown ostensibly over time, as zoning regulations have required more and more consideration for the public's welfare. But how can the city's future extrapolate these principles into new typologies that further address the importance of public space in the city?
We propose to create a vertical zoning system to compliment the horizontal plan of New York. By supplementing the horizontal plane with a vertical infrastructure we can create an entirely new axis for public life, filled with prototypes for a new urban vision. While past visions of New York have entirely remapped the city, we aim to actually readapt what is already given. Perhaps the most fundamental element of the city's urban fabric is actually its least visible – the elevator. The city's verticality has essentially relied on the elevator as a vertical infrastructure. We propose to further this principle by appropriating the elevator as a completely public element of the city. In doing so, we redefine the elevator as a vertical street and create vertical mobility for public life.
This creates the means for an immersive, 3-dimensional public realm, where the cityscape can evolve with rich programmatic density. Vacancies in existing towers can be exploited, becoming temporary museums, markets, or galleries. New amenities can transform existing office towers into vertical neighborhoods. Public pools can be suspended in the midst of the cityscape. Roof tops can become community gardens and parks, activating unused spaces with public life. Cultural programs can propagate throughout the city, creating diverse activity in the dense fabric of the city.

These public amenities are essential for a sustainable urban habitat. The truly ‘vertical city’ unveils the programmatic potential of the urban environment, able to respond to the various environmental, social, and economic conditions that constitute the city. In this sense, we aim to create an urban identity that will result not in any one vision, but rather in an accumulation of activities, spaces, and urban life.