Disc* (Design & Innovation for Sustainable Cities)



Global Cities | Global Challenges Seminar

The Global Cities/Global Challenges Seminar addresses some of the most pressing challenges global cities are facing today. Through a series of lectures on the past, present and future of urban regions across five continents, we will discuss the many wicked problems cities are tackling. The seminar will also expose students to a series of success stories, showing how conditions can change for the better through the agency of environmental design.

Urban Innovation Seminar

The Urban Innovation Seminar provides a framework for discussing and contextualizing studio work. Each week, a new topic is presented in lecture to ignite lively and engaging student discussions. To prepare for every session, students are assigned readings and writings on topics that foster an understanding of the urban environment as a complex system of economic, ecological and social patterns in constant flux, examining the forces at play in the shaping of the urban environment's patterns, and exploring design as a catalyst to make our cities more just, livable and resilient.


We need to view the fragility of the planet and its resources as an opportunity for speculative design innovations rather than as a form for technical legitimation for promoting conventional solutions. By extension, the problems confronting our cities and regions would then become opportunities to define a new approach.

Mohsen Mostafavi, Ecological Urbanism


The studio environment is at the core of the Disc* program. While all components of the program are vital and interconnected, it can be said that all roads lead back to the studio. This is where you can put the knowledge that you have gained from the lectures, seminars, workshops, and fieldwork to use in developing your design work.

The goal of the studio is to learn theory and skills to analyze a complex urban environment, assess needs through research and mapping, develop an informed design proposal, and creative effective representation utilizing computer software and digital fabrication methods.

In the studio, students use the Bay Area as a living laboratory for research and speculative design intervention through mapping, research, and design. Students will work at multiple scales (Regional, Urban, Neighborhood, and Building) illuminating the interconnection and complexity of local ecology and the urban fabric. Working in teams, students will focus on a specific site in the San Francisco Bay Area. Utilizing the framework of iterative design and creative discourse, teams will investigate the built environment, local stakeholders, and adaptation scenarios that result in speculative designs for an innovative urban form. The final design and research will be represented with a digitally fabricated interactive model called the “Conversation Board” and graphically with presentation posters and a book that includes a final documentation of the studio work.  



Digital Mapping - Past, Present, Future

The GIS workshop will expose students to the fundamentals of digital Geographic Information System mapping, gaining knowledge that will directly inform their studio work. In the GIS Workshop, students will geo-reference historic maps and visualize datasets geospatially in order to create new thematic maps. Through these exercises, students will not only learn the basics of the software, but also further their understanding of the environment and culture of their sites past, present, and future, gaining specific knowledge on historic ecology, urban morphology, land use, infrastructure, and demographics.

Graphic Design + Communication

The two Graphic Design and Visual Communication workshops will cover the fundamental principles and methods for effective visual communication in the the field of environmental design. Students will be introduced to the Adobe Creative suite of software, featuring InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. The workshops will generally focus on creating high quality presentation materials from design research to site proposal. Essential topics include the creation of compelling digital presentations and presentation board layouts.

3D Modeling, 2D Drafting, Graphics

This workshop will demonstrate 2D drafting techniques and digital 3D modeling in Rhino software. Topics in the workshop will directly support the studio project work. The workshop will focus on digital drafting and modeling to represent existing urban conditions and develop various design scenarios. In addition, students will learn workflows for exporting 2D graphics from Rhino to Adobe software for the purposes of presentation.

Digital Fabrication 

The Digital Fabrication workshop will demonstrate techniques for additive and subtractive manufacturing. Students will use Rhino software to create 2D and 3D files for fabrication of parts for the Conversation Board. This includes the use of 3D printing and laser cutting. In this process, they will learn to materialize digital designs into physical artifacts.

Architectural + Urban Design Graphics 

The Architectural and Urban Design Graphics workshop will build upon software skills and representation techniques developed in prior workshops with specific application to presentation-quality materials for the studio project. Emphasis will be on conventions of architectural representation, effective drawing types and styles, and the production of composite images using vector and raster graphics. 



The purpose of Disc* Fieldwork is two-fold. On the one hand, students deepen their understanding of the urban process by exploring sites that epitomize the most relevant challenges of urbanization. On the other, students are granted direct access to some of the places where innovative urban solutions are conceived and fabricated. Guided by Bay Area urbanists, students visit a variety of sites, ranging from future regional infrastructure hubs to epicenters of gentrification and social exclusion, to enclaves of wildness and biodiversity in the city. 

"The field trips were essential! I really appreciate the multiple layers of urban design we were exposed to." 

-Disc*2016 alum

Past site visit itineraries include:

Fisher Bay Observatory, Bay Model, Twin Peaks
Eastern San Francisco Waterfront: from Heron's Head to India Basin 
SPUR, San Francisco Walking Tour
Closed Door Visit to the Exploratorium: Studios, Fabrication Shops, Tinkering Studio, Exhibit, Living Innovation Zone (LIZ)
Instructables.com Headquarters
Autodesk: Workshop, Gallery, Digital Fabrication Lab