Heterotopic Urbanism: Liminal Thoroughfares & Enclaves


The socio-cultural fabric of neighborhoods often revolve around a central commercial artery where the ebbs and flows of public life weave a mixture of people, storefronts, markets, and private and public life together. Various boundaries of rhythmic time scales, formal and informal rules (cultural, spatial, and institutional) keep people bounded to expected norms but can also operate in expected and irrational ways.

While Valencia is evident of economic processes that value norms of development, expansion, and progress (it’s infrastructure spilling onto Mission St.), Mission St. has somewhat resisted the forces of conventional progress given it’s nebulous, unregulated commerce connected to local and global networks. At the same time, similar program types (churches, markets, stores, restaurants) are found on both streets though compete for street space differently dependent on  “infrastructural” flows and constituencies.

The monolithic culture that is evident on Valencia operates under local management, yet its social and cultural image is arguably striated and globalized. Progress is defined by replacing irrelevant shops with completely new programs of leisure and entertainment and subject to volatile market forces–a destination spot. On the other hand, Mission St. is locally smooth in nature yet many of its commercial stores are rooted in the global market–a strip that reflects more mundane programs such as grocery stores and financial institutions.

Can architecture opportunistically break norms/habits/routines by challenging the boundary of the storefront facade, the static street, existing spatial thresholds and programmatic typologies that would be more in line with a new model of expansion and cultural mixing? Broadly speaking, is there an architecture that addresses the slowness of space and the fastness of culture? Can architecture produce novel forms of experience at the same rate of cultural desire? How can it embrace obsolescence in another way?

Architecture is capable of creating an entirely new norm of progress (one that embraces volatility and uncertainty) that is defined by recycling existing conditions and norms–defragmenting, reconnecting, and redensifying existing typologies and spatial conditions. This architecture results in a mutated form capable of resisting the forces of displacement and market volatility that would produce an entirely new culture of habits and routines. It would be malleable at the local level, deforming and densifying from within. This new model of expansion remains in a poised state of volatility  that is not subject to conventional market forces–potentially creating new and consumable forms of novelty and exchange.


Mulhem Khogeer_Thesis Abstract

Choreographing Hajj

An integral tradition within the annual pilgrimage to Mecca — Hajj — is the acknowledgement that every Muslim is equal no matter their socio-economic status. However, a closer examination of the day-to-day activities of these pilgrims, three million of whom amass in the nearby town of Mina over the course of five days, reveals the extreme range of diversity in activities between these various populations. The generic, standardized empty cube tents designed to support these activities is an over-simplified, “mute”, architectural infrastructure. How could it or should it adapt to the fluctuations of pilgrim’s behavior and activities? Can Mina evolve from its current irresponsive form into a culturally oriented, flexible model that supports heterogeneous activities while maintaining the concept of unity? There is a possibility to foster interactions amongst a population that is in fact extremely diverse (socially, ethnically, linguistically, economically, habitually and in many other ways) by leveraging an innovative architectural method that is defined and shaped by the character of its user rather than the traditional use-centric models.

Nomadic Property – Thesis Abstract by Ben Leavitt


The system of real property ownership delimits urban form and experience, and often inflexibly prioritizes private value over communal experience. While some nations have maintained pre-modern precedents of the commons and flexible application of spatial resources, the United States, in particular, largely upholds a rigid system of private ownership and use. Despite this image of stability, the influence of a volatile economy, social dynamics, and temporal use patterns destabilize this system, which leaves certain parcels fallow for various periods of time. Though “property” often implies a plot of land or an object of ownership, it is also synonymous with a quality or characteristic. These subjective properties define a place but are not necessarily tied to a particular location. Thus, an alternative concept of property can exist outside of the legal boundaries of object or location and, rather, as mobile and nomadically seeking spatial opportunity. How can this alternative definition of property enable the communal use of these sites within fallow periods? What loopholes can be exploited to enable this appropriation into the domain of the common?

Nomadic property manifests as a sort of toolkit of tactics, adaptable and potentially dispersed to various locations and scenarios, that proliferates through a social network. This practice involves temporary interventions, however circumstances would determine a variable duration. In the case of more contested sites, the intervention could take on the form of an event or catalyst, while it could have a phased transformative effect in a location with less real estate pressure. These spatial tactics can adapt to change over time and place, enabling a fluid concept of property that exploits spatial opportunity.

Conflating Industries

Advancements in digital and information-based economies have fostered the transition from large-scale industry to local, shared means of production. The volatility of these shifts requires adaptable handling of more diverse processing, transferring and manufacturing. With the advent of digital industries–global networks, cloud-sourced data, and heterogeneous production and fabrication–an adaptive design solution that transforms industrial remnants will provide relief from economic pressure.

The mechanisms of the industrial era–grain silos, shipping piers, power plants, etc–are a functional architecture that accommodate specific purposes. Due to fluctuations in economic and urban behavior, these structures often become outdated and dilapidated. Their future is reduced to two paths, preservation or demolition. However, industrial structures could provide far more intensive and extensive potential for conveying new forms of urban production. Industries including renewable energy generation, data storage, 3D and robotic manufacturing, and small-scale, urban farming could be adapted to these structures. By preserving their functional integrity and embodied energies, it is possible to adapt the logic of these buildings to serve in the emerging industries of the digital era.

Acoustic Volatility

Acoustic volatility has a major impact on human and animal communication.  We may even consider the volatility of acoustics and communication to be the same, if we expand our consideration of acoustics beyond our hearing range and our consideration of communication to encompass its impediments.  A phenomenon known as masking, when environmental noise drowns out a communication signal, drives this volatility.

Transondent Architecture:  Signal-Oriented Acoustic Reform

Urban noise functions as a byproduct of architecture and urbanism within a larger framework of sound as (spatial) territory, both public and private.  Animals suffer from masking, a sonic externality of roads and cities that disturbs communication patterns (such as dawn chorus).  Humans suffer from making as well, and also from the urban canyon effect that causes excess echoing due to the flat vertical surfaces of skyscrapers lining densely populated urban streets.  Ever since the late nineteenth centry, people have become aware of the deleterious effects of noise pollution in industrialized cities.

Noise abatement began in the United States with New York City’s Bennet Act in 1907, prompting solutions such as Anti-Noise Police and special zoning clauses to protect hospitals from excessive disturbance.  Compared to the city’s efforts in the public sphere, however, mass-production of acoustic tiles for the private sector was logistically simple.  Such tiles became popular during the Thirties under Taylorist acoustic reform, proliferating private solutions to a public problem.  By challenging the dominant receiver-oriented paradigm, signal-oriented planning and transondent architecture diffuse the soundscapes of densely populated areas and traffic corridors, mitigating negative effects of masking while keeping ambient noise nominal.

Hadit Mejia_Thesis Abstract

Amending Navigation Through Perception

Hadit Mejia-Castro


The vision, as the primary mechanism for navigating the physical world, has undermined the importance of other perceptual systems in architecture. As we can observe in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) Stations, the experimentation of the space has been marginalized to a point where information-based perceptual responses no longer perform an essential role in the navigation process. Generally, sensory characteristics of the built space have been determined by building design’s standards, however, these regulations only measure human comfort which are byproducts of insufficient analysis of the interaction between stimuli and human perception

. This tenuous connection between stimuli and perception has a sociological effect: detachment. The disconnection between the built environment’s stimulus, the inhabitant’s body and his perception has caused a collective state of distraction, which leads to the collective behavior of habit. How does architecture, using stimulations, that respond to the basic orientation and haptic perceptual system, establish new cognitive navigation patterns within the Bart Stations?

Studying the differences between habitual and volatile behavior, defining habitual behavior as conscious responses corresponding to visual stimulations and volatile behavior as the unconscious cognitive responses to hidden stimulations,  will generate the mechanism and cognitive maps that can be used for the creation of a more elevated perceptually inform-base navigation within the built space.


Phil Jones Thesis_Abstract


Circulation Code: a tactical guide for economically vulnerable architecture

Our economy produces a volatile landscape for architecture. In the worst of times businesses go bankrupt, houses get foreclosed, and factories become vacant. In the best of times obsolete buildings get demolished to make room for new economic ventures. When the flow of people is disrupted by economic volatility architecture becomes vulnerable. This vulnerability stems from the fact that buildings rely on the flow of capital, energy, maintenance, and material brought by people when they circulate to and from a building. The moment of interchange between global economic forces and the brick and mortar of a building takes place when a person enters through a door, ascends a stair, or rides an elevator. In this way the codes which govern circulation – door widths, stairs, elevators, and hand rails – are the fundamental way architecture interacts with the economy. These codes were originally developed and amended for safety concerns, but could be adapted to increase, diversify, and strengthen circulation to buildings and through buildings. In an increasingly dematerialized world in which more commerce, interaction, and exchange take place virtually, buildings must strive to remain relevant by being desirable as places for people to visit. There are two tactics, which are not mutually exclusive, that architecture can use to create desirable experiences and engage people in circulation. One is to create codes that facilitate an increase in the volume of transactions which occur inside of buildings. The other tactic is to dampen the influence of the economy by making codes that encourage non-transactional circulation through creation of public access and event programming.

Osma Dossani_Thesis Abstract

Reparametrizing Conflict and Competition in Mumbai’s slums

The opportunity of a city like Mumbai has led to an influx of rural migrants, competing to rise above poverty.   This influx has led to an emergence of self-organized settlements throughout the city, currently housing half of Mumbai’s population. Although emergence implies collaboration, it is competition, corruption, and conflicts, which have been steady factors in shaping these settlements and their growth.   While other computational algorithms have understood the spatial layer behind self-organization in informal settlements, and even considered some variables of human decision-making, none of these algorithms have taken into account the affects of conflict, corruption, competition, and collaboration as shaping variables.  These variables are embedded in the spatial and physical attributes of the slums, and influence the architectural and urban conditions present in the slums.  Should these variables change, the architecture and urban conditions would change too, and the probability of conflict in the slums could be reduced.  By understanding how conflict, corruption, competition, and collaboration affect the slums architecturally and urbanistically, one could devise a way of manipulating the architecture so as to reduce the probability of conflict.


Nastaran Mousavi_Thesis Abstract

Bordering Trauma; urbanistic response to nodes of behavioral malfunction

Cities are plagued with traumatic events like natural catastrophes, wars, economic conflicts, infrastructural breakdowns. Treating them as disruptions of systems which have either gradual or instant impact on where they are applied, these often sudden but sometimes gradual events violate an otherwise stable system causing not only social and psychological effects, as forms of disorientation, dislocation or depression, but also physical and spatial disturbances within the urban fabric.

Cities’ operations are dependent on the coordinated movements of multiple infrastructural and human components, and any disruption to one will result in widespread malfunction, a post traumatic urban condition. Mismatches and glitches, then become primary features. As a result of unplanned growth, cities like Tehran are increasingly revealing these moments of malfunction, discontinuity and rupture within their urban environment. These critical moments when cities are going through the transformational phases throughout history are directly overriding the performance of infrastructures and their interconnected relationship.

By revealing the relationship between the moments of equilibrium and perturbation, by investigating the origins and the potentials of these mismatches and glitches, and ultimately by exploiting them to create new clusters introduces new local functionality to these nodes that were formerly discontinuous. While these nodes may not resemble the other still/yet functional urban elements, they nonetheless offer an opportunistic malfunctionality which redirects these traumatic urban mechanisms to new productive infrastructural outcomes.