We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to the Honourable mention winners for our “San Francisco Affordable Housing Challenge” competition - John Shapiro, Jason Vigneri-Beane and Marcel Negret from the United States.
John Shapiro, Jason Vigneri-Beane and Marcel Negret from the United States
I am a full-time Associate Professor of Core Design in the School of Architecture at Pratt Institute and a recipient of Pratt Institute’s Distinguished Teacher Award, the Institute’s highest faculty honour. I am also the founding principal of Split Studio and a founding partner of Planetary ONE which are both multi-disciplinary design-research practices at the intersection of technology, ecology, and near-future scenario thinking in architecture and allied fields.
After receiving a master's in Architecture, I practiced architecture, graphic design in print and electronic media, and industrial design. These experiences convinced me that multimodal and multi-disciplinary thinking is critical to advanced architectural design and discourse in our period of agility and rapid techno-social change.
I currently coordinate the 100-level design curriculum in the B ARCH program at Pratt Institute. Prior to that I coordinated the MS ARCH post-professional degree and taught a variety of courses including the MS ARCH thesis research and design sequence, M ARCH design studios, digital media labs and theory seminars at home and abroad. As a professor and program coordinator for nearly twenty years, I have been integral to building Pratt Institute’s reputation as a progressive environment for architectural design, discourse and education by developing Undergraduate and Graduate Core and Advanced curricula, research seminars, design studios, design-media and digital-fabrication infrastructures, and international programs. Committed to architectural education, I have also taught at Chalmers Tekniska Högskola, (Göteborg, SE), Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk vid Göteborg Universitet (Göteborg, SE), Iowa State University and Columbia University.
I have always encouraged a mixture of disciplinary meticulousness and speculative experimentation in my courses and introduced curricula based on ecology, technology, media and near-future scenario design into the culture of the school. As a member of the Pratt School of Architecture Housing Consortium, I am an advocate of multi-disciplinary design thinking and I was recently awarded a strategic planning grant to create an Augmented Environmental Sensing Program that will bring together architects, scientists and software developers to work on environmentally sentient architectural componentry.
I am a tenured, full-time professor in Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment (GCPE), within the School of Architecture. This follows an eight-year stint as the GCPE Chair - during which time the department won a local American Planning Association award, the only one of the four metro-New York programs to do so. The GCPE represents a partnership of graduate programs in City & Regional Planning, Historic Preservation, Sustainable Environmental Systems, and Urban Placemaking & Management. I was the co-creator of the last program, as well as a GIS lab (SAVI), and another graduate program in Real Estate Practice (placed in a different department).
Prior to Pratt, I was a consultant for nearly 30 years, 25 at my own firm, Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates. We were one of the largest (but still small compared to architecture firms) independent planning consultancies in the Metro-New York region - with a staff that ranged from 15 to 25. The firm was founded in 1968 by Peter Abeles and Harry Schwartz; Paul Phillips, Richard Preiss and I constituted the third version of the partnership. My primary areas of interest were land use, policy, and economic development. About one-fourth of my work involved teaming up with architects such as FXFowle, urban designers such as Rob Lane of the Regional Plan Association, and placemakers such as Project for Public Spaces. I intermittently taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University in addition to Pratt; and served as the President of the local chapter of the American Planning Association in addition to other civic engagement (still continuing).
Now at Pratt, I am essentially a professor-of-practice. I teach across discipline: (1) the advanced, multi-disciplinary preservation/planning and land use/urban design studios for the GCPE, (2) implementation tools for the planners (and others across the GCPE), (3) place, economics and land use for the placemakers (et.al.), (4) adaptive reuse and redevelopment for the preservationists (et.al.), and (5) thesis in multiple programs. My goal is to be “Mr. Chips” - i.e., a mentor, in this case promoting the fusion of analytical and creative thinking that creates urbanists, not savant experts.
I am a Senior Planner at the Regional Plan Association. RPA conducts research on transportation, land use, housing, good governance, and the environment, and advises cities, communities, and public agencies. For nearly 100 years, RPA has been an indispensable source of ideas for policy makers and opinion shapers across the New York / New Jersey / Connecticut (“tri-state”) region. My current work at RPA focuses on land use and housing at the nexus of physical infrastructure and social equity. I am also a visiting assistant professor at the School of Architecture at Pratt Institute. The classes that I teach focus on developing hard skills and managing tools for students enrolled at the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment. Prior to RPA, I was Project Manager at the Municipal Art Society of New York, a long-standing organization that advances thoughtful planning and urban design throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
I have a master's degree in Urban Environmental Systems from the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment (GCPE) at Pratt’s School of Architecture. I also hold a bachelor’s degree from the School of Architecture and Design, Universidad de Los Andes, Bogota, Colombia.
In these capacities, I have been able to link design and systemic thinking with policy. With this combination, I have delivered technical assistance and analysis on urban and environmental planning issues. Previously and throughout my graduate studies, I provided design services ranging from site surveying to project renderings and construction drawings for landscape design, urban green infrastructure, and civil engineering.
Brief information about the projects that you/your company have been involved with. For instance, what scale have you focused on/preferred, any significant projects where company/ individuals have been involved?
As a founder of two design research practices (Split Studio and Planetary ONE), an architectural educator at Pratt Institute and a member of its Housing Consortium, I am fascinated with near-future scenario planning, systems thinking and machinic processes that merge the different scales and media of industrial design, architecture and socio-ecological phenomena that emerge around urban change and environmental concerns in the Anthropocene period.
My individual and collaborative projects include architectural robots, information-harvesting drones, resource-jacked structures, smart architectural componentry, amphibious architectural urbanism, swarming infrastructures, future city sectors, prefabricated landscapes, cyborg ecologies, physical-virtual hybrids of digital fabrication and augmented reality, and near-future scenario theory-fiction. Beginning with an Architecture Residency at Art Omi: Architecture, I am currently working on a long-term project called Bestia Ex Machina which develops design-research and text-based discourse on architecture’s multiple agendas, diversities and partnerships during our period of rapid techno-social and socio-ecological change.
My recent exhibitions include a solo exhibit for Bestia Ex Machina: Creaturing Architecture at Galleria Itinerarte in Venice, an augmented reality enabled landscape called Futures Trigger Pasts for the traveling EXIT_Architecture exhibit, and an environmentally sentient cladding unit called Local Eyes for the Aesthetics of Prosthetics exhibit in Brooklyn. A physical-virtual hybrid, Local Eyes is a digitally fabricated panel with integrated sensor technology and a custom-designed app that allows visitors to use phones or tablets to trigger real-time data visualizations of environmental information that is harvested by the panel’s sensors.
My recent and forthcoming publications include projects for robotic infrastructures (“Mecha_A38/Dark Invader” in Co-Machines: Mobile Disruptive Architecture), a self-sufficient resource harvesting house (“Stripped Down Villa 07” in XXL-XS: New Directions in Ecological Design), speculative designs for architectural envelopes that are driven by computational and ecological inputs (“Cryptomorph: Envelopes and Ecotones” in Antagonismos Journal), and a work of theory fiction involving a future settlement with flora, fauna, machines, drones, architectural objects, and prefabricated ecosystems (“Sector A-E” in TRANS-Fiction Journal).
In the span of my 40+ years of professional city planning work, I have prepared virtually every type of plan, further ranging in scale from site development plans (Essex Crossing in Manhattan, for instance) to neighbourhood (Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program in the South Bronx, New York), to municipal (the economic development plan for Washington, DC), to metropolitan (waterfront zoning policies for New York City), to regional (model zoning for Central Connecticut) - winning over 20 awards, including the first Presidential Award of the National American Planning Association. To highlight a few that directly bear on our submission:
- For the New York City (NYC) City Council, I prepared a citywide affordable housing analysis and policy framework, with the key finding that it would take a half-million units to create a normalized housing market exclusive of added demand.
- In connection with my work on behalf of a court-appointed Monitor for the promotion of “fair and affordable housing” in Westchester County, NY, we struggled with how to overcome the obstacle that the small number of affordable units created as part of a single mixed-income projects was never of sufficient scale to be marketed other than to random populations - most often the white relations of people living in the municipality.
- As a professor and civic leader in and outside of New York City, I have seen how even progressive communities become NIMBY if there are (a) notable and fast changes in scale, (b) triggers for gentrification, and/or (c) culture wars associated with “poor doors,” homeless housing, etc.
- My former firm was the expert witness on behalf of the NAACP and Public Advocate for the seminal court cases that go by the imprimatur of Mt. Laurel I and II - showing how one simple idea (builder’s remedy) can have massive impacts.
- My current work is largely in “planning as a mediation tool” - generating innovative ideas that break log-jams, such as (in Manhattan) the value recapture zoning strategy for massively upzoning East Midtown, at Essex Crossing the overall 50/50 affordable housing split - realized in different ways on multiple sites, and (while not exactly a mediation) the behind-the-scenes Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) zoning concept that cleared the way for the High Line.
Much of this experience is reflected in the San Francisco submission: The need to get to scale beyond what one unique site might offer (the NYC City Council study), creating a mechanism to integrate “fair housing” into “affordable housing” (Westchester), fitting the new housing into the preferred scale of the neighbourhoods while engaging local community development corporations (CDCs) in the marketing and management of those units (multiple affordable housing plans), looking for a simple solution that has broad applicability (Mt. Laurel), and designing something that is a win-win-win (Manhattan mediations).
My current work focuses on land use and housing as it intersects with infrastructure, in particular, public transit - generally referred to as transit-oriented development (TOD). I have leveraged my design thinking approach and data analysis capabilities to inform long term planning and urban policy.
As a member of RPA’s research division and with expertise in land use, I have advanced several TOD and economic development studies in Nassau and Suffolk Counties in Long Island, NY. More recently, my work has helped advance frameworks for transferring development rights from land owned by New York City’s Public Housing Authority (NYCHA) as a value capture mechanism to partially fund some of its physical needs. Over the past year, I have been conducting research regarding Accessory Dwelling Units and single-family conversions, as an untapped housing solution for the tri-state region (draft website soon to be launched, please do not distribute).
Throughout my graduate studies, I gave emphasis to environmental planning and policy. Resulting from the increased awareness around flood risk and resources being allocated in our region after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, I helped advance several flood resiliency projects in the south and southe-astern Bronx. I also participated in a year-long fellowship at the design and build firm Future Green Studio. This research project received an award by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and culminated in the publication of the book Spontaneous Urban Plants: Weeds of NYC.
In my spare time, I enjoy producing experimental visual and audio pieces inspired by urban theory and city experiences.
What does architecture mean to you and what is the role of an architect in your society?
I am increasingly interested in seeing architects as futurecasters. As much as I love architecture, it can often be seen as being static, reinforcing norms, developing slowly, and upholding social and economic hierarchies. But I am very optimistic about how contemporary and near-future thinking in architecture is repositioning it as a discipline that can be catalytic, proactive and much more agile than it has been in its past. Architecture is no longer necessarily a witness to change in the world but is becoming an active participant at multiple scales and over a variety of timings. There will always be important ways in which architecture plays a reactive or responsive role, but it is also exciting to see that we are learning a lot about its potential as a progressive discipline that can interact with other disciplines. It is becoming a less autonomous discipline, exploring its proactive agency and co-evolving more sympathetically alongside changing relationships among ecology, technology, society and systems at play in the Anthropocene period.
As an urbanist, not an architect, “architecture” means (to me) the material way in which we engage with place and people. Ideally, the architect is the person with the pen in hand responding to her/his/their own genius in collaboration with the client, others with different disciplines, and especially the present and future users, as well as to the genius-loci. I am especially interested in how the architect participates in policy… at the most prosaic level, informing codes (whether LEED or zoning or other); and at the poetic level, inspiring new models and visions to achieve sociability, delight in beauty, healthy living, sustainable practices, and engagement with the issues of the time.
I see design and architecture through a human-centred approach. A means for improving people’s lives, social interactions, and culture. The impact of the built environment on human lives is evident, and something that can be measured with specificity, such as social determinants of health. Poor housing conditions and lack of affordable housing options have also been linked to negative health outcomes. For example, some people might be forced to stay in substandard conditions only because they have no option to move. Others are forced to live in overcrowded conditions, making it impossible to implement social distancing measures. In San Francisco’s Mission District, living quarter density (note: not urban density) has been associated with higher COVID-19 cases and death rates. The nexus between architecture and urban policy - when embracing a human-centred approach - has proven capacity to improve conditions. Today, perhaps more than ever, we are challenged to replicate this nexus and nurture the collaborations that facilitate it.
Why do you participate in architecture vision competitions?
To keep our edge. Speculative design helps architects and urbanists to question “norms.” Together, through the crucible of vision competitions, we can explore break-throughs ideas for not just for architecture and design, but also for policy, place, and living.
What advice would you give to individuals who struggle to decide whether it would be beneficial for them to participate in architecture vision competitions?
If you ask the question “do I have time” – you never will. Go for it. You will learn new skills, generate and experiment with new ideas outside of your day-to-day work, and enter into creative wrestling with amazing people.
Team up with people who share the same vision but have very different skills and interests. It reduces minor points of friction, e.g., about the style of graphics and wording. The disagreements you have will be instructive as they will be cross-disciplinary.
The operative word in the posed question is “vision”. Responses to design competitions for specifically defined narrow purposes may not have a long “shelf life”. The lessons learned and inspiration from a vision competition will last your entire career.
There is the potential for honour and recognition. But the counter to any disappointment is the healthy bravado of, “I’ll show them”... and you will.
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