This summer at the College of Environmental Design, 31 college students from across the globe participated in the Design and Innovation for Sustainable Cities Program (DISC*) where they were challenged to craft innovative, design-based solutions to global environmental issues affected by increasing urbanization. Guided by UC Berkeley faculty and a number of Bay Area designers, makers, urbanists and entrepreneurs, DISC* students studied methods to tackle complex problems with innovative, people-centered design in five short weeks.
Over the course of the program, which included design and digital fabrication studios, lectures, workshops, field work and site visits, students developed and tested their ideas with the support of groundbreaking practitioners within the Bay Area design community.
This year’s DISC* studio theme was titled “SF@1Million” and focused on the growth of San Francisco’s population to one million people by the year 2040. Given the city’s issues with infrastructure, climate change, social inequity, sea level rise and unaffordability, students were challenged to redesign the city to accommodate or resolve these issues in ways that were sustainable, resilient and socially conscious.
The program was built on four platforms -- 1) The Urban Innovation Talk, which introduced students to local practitioners like Victoria Salinas, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Oakland and Jeremy Lowe, Senior Environmental Scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2) Fieldwork & Site Visits, which allowed students to interact with the urban environment hands on and meet with guest speakers like Laura Tam, the Sustainability Development Policy Director at SPUR and Susan Schwartzenberg, the Senior Artist and Curator at the Exploratorium; 3) the Global Cities and Urban Innovation Seminars, where students developed a theoretical framework to shape their understanding of the urban issues facing cities; and 4) the Core Studio & Digital Workshops, where students ultimately built out their own designs by hand. Working in teams, students redesigned four distinct metro areas in San Francisco from design conception to prototyping to presenting the final result to guest critics and their instructors.
Caroline Lindquist, a 22-year-old student majoring in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Energy and Sustainability and a minor in Urban Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, learned about DISC* from friends and former alumni of the program. She enrolled to experience the design side of urban planning as her background focused primarily on the policy side. “DISC* helped me realize my love for tactical urbanism, public spaces, and landscape architecture,” she said.
“My two favorite parts of the program were the lecture series with [Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Lecturer] Ghigo DiTommaso and learning the software programs Rhino, PhotoShop, and InDesign to express my ideas, Ghigo lectures with a passion that is contagious. His ideas inspired me to re-design my final project for university this fall, so I can build off of new skills I have learned at DISC*,” Lindquist explained. “My other favorite part of his lectures were the DISCussions it inspired. Our class consisted of students from 11 different countries. Hearing about urban design examples from Thailand, Hong Kong, Oman, and more exposed me to exciting new ideas for reimagining cities.”
Lindquist’s group project focused on the Market Street Hub, which includes Market Street from Octavia Boulevard down to Hyde Street at the San Francisco Civic Center. Her proposal addressed lack of green space, transportation for the growing population and affordable housing. Her design focused on turning the 101 Freeway into an elevated linear park, spanning from the intersection of 101 and Octavia Boulevard to where 101 meets Highway 80.
“This park differs from the Highline in New York because it would service a bike lane and a light rail system. The light rail system would begin at a transport hub at Octavia and travel across the Bay Bridge to the East Bay, reviving the bustling Bay Bridge Rail System of the 1940s and 50s,” Lindquist said. “Also, high rise apartments would be built in the vacant lots south of market and west of Van Ness, of which 40 percent would be ‘affordable rate.’ These high rise buildings would extend the existing city skyline while maintaining beautiful views of the bay.”
For Sai Prateek, a 2015 graduate of Syracuse University and architect from Mumbai, joining DISC* came with the hope that it would help determine his niche within the world of planning and architecture and solidify his interest in pursuing a graduate degree. DISC* not only introduced him to “inspiring individuals at the peak of their careers,” it also helped Prateek find his passion for urban resiliency. “The program is a focus that amalgamates architecture, urban planning, design for disaster prevention and community service, fields that speak to me both academically and personally,” he said.
Prateek’s project focused on the Geary Boulevard area of San Francisco by adding housing density to its currently car-centered, low housing stock and revitalizing neglected public spaces to make them more pedestrian-friendly and green.
“It was surprising to me that you have Geary Boulevard with no pedestrians and cars as far as the eye can see and then on the next street, Clement, no cars and extremely pedestrian friendly,” he explained. “The most daunting challenge to our project was trying to create housing density for when San Francisco hits one million people in 2040, while at the same time taking the street experience into consideration so that it doesn’t feel similar to the concrete jungle of Manhattan.”
Prateek’s favorite part of the program? “Meeting such great and inspirational lecturers and individuals, getting to know a great set of minds from all over the world, relearning some old software and exploring new ones, and being able to explore the wonderful city of San Francisco,” he said, adding, “All these little moments came together to create a great and memorable experience for me.”