Digital design and fabrication have combined with ubiquitous computing and globalization to change the field of architecture. At California College of the Arts in San Francisco, faculty and students in the Bachelor of Architecture, Master of Architecture, and Master of Advanced Architectural Design programs team up with companies, agencies, and community groups to make architecture that addresses the challenges and opportunities of economic growth, climate change, and technological disruption.
One ongoing initiative is a multi-year design research project showing how cities can redevelop their waterfronts without damaging marine ecologies. In the Buoyant Ecologies project, students and faculty from the school’s Digital Craft Lab work with external partners to show how innovative waterfront architecture can actually enhance marine ecologies. By teaming up with fabrication specialists Kreysler and Associates, scientists from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop, and the Port of Oakland, professors Margaret Ikeda, Evan Jones, and Adam Marcus recruited high-level experts to advise students and help them test their ideas.
Working with these biologists and fabrication specialists, students design floating labs and buildings that increase usable waterfront space and also help to restore marine habitat in the San Francisco Bay.
Another group of Digital Craft Lab faculty members, including Jason Kelly Johnson, teach students how to transform the building industry and design process by prototyping robotic assemblies for 3D printing architecture. In the Creative Architecture Machines project, students don’t just learn how to use a Kuka robotic arm--they become robot builders, collaborating to construct machines that combine scripting, mechanization, and materials science to build out of natural and synthetic elements. Projects include a programmable loom for weaving space frames and an array of earthmovers that use swarm logic to design and construct architecture.
By prototyping their architecture robots at tabletop scale, studio participants develop proofs-of-concept for systems that could operate at building scale, too. Creative Architecture Machines teaches students how they can use contemporary tech tools and strategies to disrupt the building industry and the architecture profession.
Not all tech innovation involves CNC milling or robotics. CCA Architecture faculty and students engage in other kinds of disruption, too. Professors Neeraj Bhatia, Christopher Roach, and Antje Steinmuller of the Urban Works Agency--another of the school’s research labs--have partnered with the city’s Planning Department to discover ways for San Francisco to accommodate new residents without losing its distinctive character and beauty. Students analyze the city’s zoning, housing stock, and real estate market to generate design strategies that balance growth with preservation. Their solutions range from tiny apartments tucked into former garages to big infrastructures aimed at creating entirely new neighborhoods.
In these initiatives--and also in studios and seminars offered by the school’s Build Lab and its Experimental History Project--students at CCA Architecture engage in creative practice where material and formal experimentation meet social engagement and technological innovation.