Course Syllabus

The Street Studio

In late Modern city planning, street design was almost entirely driven by traffic planning parameters with moderate consideration for vegetation. Today, from the homeless population in LA’s Skid Row and London’s tunnels, to the surveillance system deployed via street cams in Beijing and Hong Kong, from google’s much contested sidewalk lab pilot in Toronto, to the pink Pussyhats and the yellow vests, the street in the new millenia is nothing short of the new frontier of cultural expression, public discourse and technological transformation. 

Thus in the streets around the world, along with the apparent as well as latent fault lines of social fabrics and technological apparatuses, profound fractures can be seen everywhere. Domesticity of the disenfranchised confronts civility; camouflage tactics evades state control; the under-represented parades in a rainbow of colors. The old discourse of street design rooted in managerial ethos is fundamentally insufficient. With critical urgency, a new discourse fueled by new polemics needs to be forged in the emergent void.

In this studio, we research the new players in the street, rediscover past experimentations that might still offer relevance and study possible new typologies that might be constitutive of a contemporary discourse. 

Here on the islands of New York City, several high profile and high stakes public realm projects including the highline, Governor’s Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Hudson Yard were completed in the past decade, changing how New Yorkers relate to each other and the real-estate landscape tremendously. 

We will map the studio project onto Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, where the site is steeped in history, which is rapidly disappearing amidst rising new developments triggered by upzoning. Is it too late to rescue its history? Is it possible to imagine a streetscape that flows like a river of time and brings together the past, present and future?

Studio Topics:

  1. The Shape of Our Time

The world, as we knew it, used to be “constructed” out of isolated, relatively stable concepts, such as democracy, managed states and ethics etc. in a space strung taut between the subject (I) and its infinite extension (the vanishing point of a perspective drawing). 

As the current technologies’ ability to hold and transmit information far beyond what can be grasped by the individual (world wide web, big data, AI) expand, we encounter and become aware of phenomena far larger than our lived experience (globalization, history, climate change).

New vantage points (through AR, VR, social media, surveillance etc.) are activated in these previously unseen spaces, and they map out almost instantaneously many more new objects, which in turn make infinitely more vantage points possible, so on and so forth. 

In this process, space becomes destabilized. At times, it seems expensive; other times, compressive. An elastic membrane woven from numerous perspectives and narratives holds our lived experience within. Inside, what was once one coherent reality swells and ruptures. Densified and agitated, pressure builds up. 

  1. Experiments

As conception of space is fundamental to the discipline of architecture, SO - IL has ruminated on the possible shape of our time through the means of architecture since its conception. 

We accept that “constructing” is no longer a sufficient technique. “Collaging” seems rudimentary and can only represent the layered character of the space we inhabit but not the mechanics of it. The increasingly autonomous system management apparatus offers no subjectivity thus no possibility for experience. We suspect that space is dynamic if not chaotic; its limits elastic and its structure layered from multiple subjectivities. 

The methodology of our experiments often involved turning abstract concepts such as climate change, migration, urbanization, media and representation into tangible experiences and navigable spaces. They become real life spatial models that can be occupied, manipulated and transformed, and the temporal quality of them allow the space to open up, rather than close in.

We also draw from experimental projects from the 1920s and 1970s - two important periods of the last century in which the relationship between the individual and the systems was intensely debated and fueled many projects we might find relevant today.

  1. Reading list

Atlas is set in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong), and written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections--"Theory," "The City," "Streets," and "Signs"--the novel reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.

Borrowed Spaces, a chronicle of the ways in which the grassroots citizens of Hong Kong reshape their city to make up for the shortcomings of their bureaucratic government. Mango trees sprouting on roundabouts, fishball stalls, and neon signs: these are just some of the Hong Kong icons that are casualties in the struggle to reclaim public spaces. Christopher DeWolf explores the history of Hong Kong’s urban growth through the daily tug of war between the people’s needs to express themselves and government regulations.

Foams: Spheres Volume III: Plural Spherology moves from the historical perspective on humanity of the preceding two volumes to a philosophical theory of our contemporary era, offering a view of life through a multifocal lens. If Bubbles was Sloterdijk's phenomenology of intimacy, and Globes his phenomenology of globalization, Foams could be described as his phenomenology of spatial plurality: how the bubbles that we form in our duality bind together to form what sociological tradition calls "society." Foams is an exploration of capsules, islands, and hothouses that leads to the discovery of the foam city.

Homo Ludens is a book originally published in Dutch in 1938 by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga. It discusses the importance of the play element of culture and society. Huizinga suggests that play is primary to and a necessary condition of the generation of culture. 

Kinaesthetic Knowing tracks neo-Kantianism’s alter ego from Helmholtz to Freud, from Wundt to Wölfflin, and from Obrist to the Bauhaus, dramatically revising our understanding of German formalist aesthetics during the long nineteenth century. Through sheer force of erudition and archival imagination, Zeynep Çelik Alexander brilliantly demonstrates the convergence around 1900 of aesthetic philosophy, psychology, and modernist design pedagogy in an experimental epistemology based on bodily movement. As she shows, this paradigm recalibrated long standing philosophical antinomies like mind versus body in a manner that casts bright historical light on today’s renewed interest in affect and embodiment. 

Like a Thief in Broad Daylight illuminates the new dangers as well as the radical possibilities thrown up by today's technological and scientific advances, and their electrifying implications for us all. In recent years, techno-scientific progress has started to utterly transform our world--changing it almost beyond recognition. In such a context, Žižek argues, there can be no great social triumph--because lasting revolution has already come into the scene, like a thief in broad daylight, stealing into sight right before our very eyes. 

The Shape of Time presented a radically new approach to the study of art history. Drawing upon new insights in fields such as anthropology and linguistics, George Kubler replaced the notion of style as the basis for histories of art with the concept of historical sequence and continuous change across time.

The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry Into a Category of Bourgeois Society retraces the emergence and development of the Bourgeois public sphere - that is, a sphere which was distinct from the state and in which citizens could discuss issues of general interest. In analysing the historical transformations of this sphere, Habermas recovers a concept which is of crucial significance for current debates in social and political theory.

Views of Nature, or Ansichten der Natur, was Alexander von Humboldt’s best-known and most influential work—and his personal favorite. While the essays that comprise it are themselves remarkable as innovative, early pieces of nature writing—they were cited by Thoreau as a model for his own work—the book’s extensive endnotes incorporate some of Humboldt’s most beautiful prose and mature thinking on vegetation structure, its origins in climate patterns, and its implications for the arts. 


  • Pre-midterm assignments


Following the model of our “The House” studios, the “The Street” studio will be divided into two sessions. Prior to mid-term, we will undertake research and precedent studies. You will be provided a reading list of contemporary theories on topics that may include but not limited to climate, nature, play, science, representation, media, urbanization etc. Concurrently, each student will pick one precedent project loosely related to your topic for which a model of 1:50 or 1:25 scale should be made. 

Model making paired with meditation of theories is designed as an exercise of meshing concrete forms and abstract thoughts together, which is also a rehearsal for the second part of the studio.

A list of precedents has been selected from past works by SO-IL:

L'air pour l'air (Views of Nature)

Transhistoria (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Pole Dance (Kinaesthetic Knowing

Into the Hedge (Atlas)

Breathe (Homo Ludens)

Tri-columnade (The Shape of Time

Passage (The Shape of Time)

Storefront (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere)

Pollination (Borrowed Spaces)

In Bloom (Kinaesthetic Knowing)

Flockr (Like a Thief in Broad Daylight)

In addition, another list of works by other artists/architects working in similar mode:

Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballett (Kinaesthetic Knowing)

May Ray’s Rayograph (Like a Thief in Broad Daylight)

Ugo La Pietra's Living is being at home everywhere (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere)

Aleksandra Kasuba’s Living Environment (Homo Ludens)

Haus Rucker Co’s Mind Expanding Program (Homo Ludens)

Site’s Highrise Homes (Views of Nature)

Gutai’s Work “Water” (Views of Nature)

Lina Bo Bardi’s Teatro Oficina (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s River (Views of Nature)

Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument (Foams: Spheres Volume III: Plural Spherology)

Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome (Foams: Spheres Volume III: Plural Spherology)

(With students’ permission, selected models will become part of the SO-IL archive afterwards.)

The last deliverable for mid-term is the authoring of your own site on DVRC and Fulton Mall. Beyond specifying a physical location, the description of your site should also provide answers to some of the following questions.

What is the social location of your site? Is it constituted within or in relation to the city?

Whose history does your site address, and who can access it?

Who are the current and potential future stakeholders on the site?

How can interventions on the site open possibilities of diversity in representation and the opportunity of building a discursive public?

What are the endangered existences on the site? Natural species, systems and habitats, demographic group, memories, urban commons.

What are the embodied energies on site? Cultural, political, artistic, natural, artificial, digital, etc. 

What are the current spatial models of the site? Which is the predominant one?

What are the latent spatial agencies on the site? How can they be activated?

What kinds of information can be harvested on the site, with what means?

Is the information in private possession, or does it enter the commons?


  • Final project


Design on one site, for one client/user/beneficiary, focus on one program of varying temporal limits––sporadic, intermittent, semi-permanent. Example: temporary housing, common kitchen, open air school, art exhibition, movie theater, nature, lighting system etc. One constant element of all projects is water, which can be understood as a resource or substance, recreational or infrastructural. Whatever the function or purpose, it should become an amenity accessible to as many populations as possible. 

All studio projects will be plugged into one common site model of 1:250 scale, accompanied with a 1:10 mock up of critical detail, a set of drawings (plans, sections) at 1:50 scale. Drawings and models are intentionally large to resist them from becoming abstractions but stay firmly situated in the physical. Time permitted, a movie should be made per studio stitching all the interventions together. 

Critics and collaborators of this studio will include, Eszter Steierhoffer (curator of the SAAL Process: Housing in Portugal 1974-76 at the Canadian Center for Architecture), Markus Shaw (Chairman of NGO “Des Vouex Road Central), Regina Myer (president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership), Beatrice Leanza (executive director of MAAT), Claire Weisz (founding principle of WXY, currently leading the downtown Brooklyn public realm masterplan), Kai-Uwe Bergmann (partner at BIG, currently working on the downtown Brooklyn public realm masterplan project together with WXY), Jared Della Valle (architect & developer of Alloy in Brooklyn), Tiffany Lau (executive director of the Urban Land Institute in Hong Kong), Mabel Wilson (associate director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies and co-director of Global Africa Lab)

Past studio final drawing


  • Draft schedule


01.22 Lottery

01.23 Studio introduction

01.27 Pin-up: Research of thesis and precedent

01.30 Desk-crit

02.03 Desk-crit

02.06 Pin-up: Precedent model/drawing progress

02.10 Pin-up: Site selection and discussion of thesis for your own project

02.13 Desk-crit

02.17 President day

02.20 Desk-crit

02.24 Desk-crit

02.28 Midterm: Research, thesis and project presentation + precedent model/drawing

03.02 Desk-crit

03.05 --

03.09 Kinne: Lisbon/Porto

03.16 Spring break

03.23 Desk-crit

03.26 Desk-crit

03.30 Pin-up: Progress review of study models

04.02 Desk-crit

04.06 Desk-crit

04.09 Pin-up: Progress review of preliminary drawings

04.13 --

04.16 Desk-crit

04.20 Pin-up: Presentation of final design in drawings and 3D models

04.23 Desk-crit

04.27 Desk-crit

04.30 Final: PPT + Model + Drawing

Course Summary:

Date Details