Launch Slideshow

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Next Progressives: Future Cities Lab

Next Progressives: Future Cities Lab

  • Nataly Gattegno, 35, and Jason Kelly Johnson, 39, founded Future Cities Lab in 2003.

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    Nataly Gattegno, 35, and Jason Kelly Johnson, 39, founded Future Cities Lab in 2003.

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    Ian Allen

    Nataly Gattegno, 35, and Jason Kelly Johnson, 39, founded Future Cities Lab in 2003.

  • Exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of a 2012 show entitled The Utopian Impulse, Hydramax is a proposal for how the San Francisco waterfront can respond to rising sea levels. Rather than barricade the city with dykes and seawalls, Hydramax offers soft tidal edges with responsive, biologically inspired architectureaquatic parks, gardens, and wildlife refugesthat harness the water for drinking, power, and food production. The model displayed at the museum incorporates motion sensors that, when triggered by visitors, cause featherlike solar collectors and fog-catchers to wave slowly in the air.

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    Exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of a 2012 show entitled The Utopian Impulse, Hydramax is a proposal for how the San Francisco waterfront can respond to rising sea levels. Rather than barricade the city with dykes and seawalls, Hydramax offers soft tidal edges with responsive, biologically inspired architectureaquatic parks, gardens, and wildlife refugesthat harness the water for drinking, power, and food production. The model displayed at the museum incorporates motion sensors that, when triggered by visitors, cause featherlike solar collectors and fog-catchers to wave slowly in the air.

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    Future Cities Lab

    Exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of a 2012 show entitled “The Utopian Impulse,” the Hydramax Port Machine project proposes how the San Francisco waterfront can respond to rising sea levels. Rather than barricade the city with dykes and seawalls, Hydramax offers soft tidal edges with responsive, biologically inspired architecture—aquatic parks, gardens, and wildlife refuges—that harness the water for drinking, power, and food production. The model displayed at the museum incorporates motion sensors that, when triggered by visitors, cause featherlike solar collectors and fog-catchers to wave slowly in the air.

  • A detail drawing of Hydramax.

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    A detail drawing of Hydramax.

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    Future Cities Lab

    A detail drawing of Hydramax.

  • A social media whispering wall, as the architects describe the project, Datagrove was exhibited last year outside the San Jose, Calif., opera house. The installation monitors trending Twitter feeds in Silicon Valley and, when visitors approach, broadcasts them on LCD displays and over speakers. The firm designed and fabricated all the digital and electronic equipment and actuators.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmp7251%2Etmp_tcm20-1879203.jpg

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    A social media whispering wall, as the architects describe the project, Datagrove was exhibited last year outside the San Jose, Calif., opera house. The installation monitors trending Twitter feeds in Silicon Valley and, when visitors approach, broadcasts them on LCD displays and over speakers. The firm designed and fabricated all the digital and electronic equipment and actuators.

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    Peter Prato/Future Cities Lab

    A social media “whispering wall,” as the architects describe the project, Datagrove was exhibited last year outside the San Jose, Calif., opera house. The installation monitors trending Twitter feeds in Silicon Valley and, when visitors approach, broadcasts them on LCD displays and over speakers. The firm designed and fabricated all the digital and electronic equipment and actuators.

  • This post-apocalyptic reimagining of Trump Tower in New York City is, in classic visionary fashion, both fantastical but also grounded enough in pragmaticswith a workable structure and scale drawingsto make it seem like a real possibility. A nomadic dwelling with sleeping pods and a suspended hostel, the architectural system harvests rainwater and captures wind energy.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmp8CC6%2Etmp_tcm20-1879222.jpg

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    This post-apocalyptic reimagining of Trump Tower in New York City is, in classic visionary fashion, both fantastical but also grounded enough in pragmaticswith a workable structure and scale drawingsto make it seem like a real possibility. A nomadic dwelling with sleeping pods and a suspended hostel, the architectural system harvests rainwater and captures wind energy.

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    Future Cities Lab

    Super Galaxy, a post-apocalyptic reimagining of Trump Tower in New York City, is, in classic visionary fashion, both fantastical but also grounded enough in pragmatics—with a workable structure and scale drawings—to make it seem like a real possibility. A nomadic dwelling with sleeping pods and a suspended hostel, the architectural system harvests rainwater and captures wind energy.

  • Designed for a 2005 competition in Seoul, South Korea, Energy Farm explores the role of architecture in the citys physical, cultural, and environmental ecosystems. The hypothetical structure uses responsive site technologies to enhance and boost its environmental and energy performance, making it responsive to user needs on a microscale.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmp762B%2Etmp_tcm20-1879206.jpg

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    Designed for a 2005 competition in Seoul, South Korea, Energy Farm explores the role of architecture in the citys physical, cultural, and environmental ecosystems. The hypothetical structure uses responsive site technologies to enhance and boost its environmental and energy performance, making it responsive to user needs on a microscale.

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    Future Cities Lab

    Designed for a 2005 competition in Seoul, South Korea, Energy Farm explores the role of architecture in the city’s physical, cultural, and environmental ecosystems. The hypothetical structure uses responsive site technologies to enhance and boost its environmental and energy performance, making it responsive to user needs on a microscale.

  • Exhibited at the Van Alen Institute in New York in 2009, Glaciarium reflects the firms engagement with responsive digital technologies, experimental materials, and environmental issuesnamely, climate change in the Arctic. A block of ice inside the irregularly shaped structure, covered with a plastic skin, slowly meltsthe sound amplifying and speeding up when visitors approach.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmp7A04%2Etmp_tcm20-1879207.jpg

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    Exhibited at the Van Alen Institute in New York in 2009, Glaciarium reflects the firms engagement with responsive digital technologies, experimental materials, and environmental issuesnamely, climate change in the Arctic. A block of ice inside the irregularly shaped structure, covered with a plastic skin, slowly meltsthe sound amplifying and speeding up when visitors approach.

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    Zechariah Vincent/Future Cities Lab

    Exhibited at the Van Alen Institute in New York in 2009, Glaciarium reflects the firm’s engagement with responsive digital technologies, experimental materials, and environmental issues—namely, climate change in the Arctic. A block of ice inside the irregularly shaped structure, covered with a plastic skin, slowly melts—the sound amplifying and speeding up when visitors approach.

  • Also designed for a 2009 exhibition at the Van Alen Institute, Aurora, like Glaciarium, highlights the global warming crisis. The exhibit, composed of a web of cables, LEDs, and tensile elements, is a spatial representation of the Arctic landscape that includes real-time data on ice field movement. The project lights up in response to viewersa metaphor for our complicity in climate change.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmp6D8F%2Etmp_tcm20-1879200.jpg

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    Also designed for a 2009 exhibition at the Van Alen Institute, Aurora, like Glaciarium, highlights the global warming crisis. The exhibit, composed of a web of cables, LEDs, and tensile elements, is a spatial representation of the Arctic landscape that includes real-time data on ice field movement. The project lights up in response to viewersa metaphor for our complicity in climate change.

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    Zechariah Vincent/Future Cities Lab

    Also designed for a 2009 exhibition at the Van Alen Institute, Aurora, like Glaciarium, highlights the global warming crisis. The exhibit, composed of a web of cables, LEDs, and tensile elements, is a spatial representation of the Arctic landscape that includes real-time data on ice field movement. The project lights up in response to viewers—a metaphor for our complicity in climate change.

  • This art installation, commissioned in 2011 by the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, was displayed at Proxy, a temporary urban activation project in Hayes Valley that featured food vendors housed in transformed shipping containers. The project explored fabrication techniques and served as a gathering place for visitors, who could walk inside the latticed wood.

    http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmp9061%2Etmp_tcm20-1879225.jpg

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    This art installation, commissioned in 2011 by the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, was displayed at Proxy, a temporary urban activation project in Hayes Valley that featured food vendors housed in transformed shipping containers. The project explored fabrication techniques and served as a gathering place for visitors, who could walk inside the latticed wood.

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    Peter Prato/Future Cities Lab

    Trilux, an art installation commissioned in 2011 by the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, was displayed at Proxy, a temporary urban activation project in Hayes Valley that featured food vendors housed in transformed shipping containers. The project explored fabrication techniques and served as a gathering place for visitors, who could walk inside the latticed wood.

Nataly Gattegno, 35, and Jason Kelly Johnson, 39, founded their practice in 2003 with a name that embodies their multiscaled, wide-ranging ambitions: Future Cities Lab. The firm, based in San Francisco, and with an outpost in Gattegno’s hometown of Athens, Greece, is harnessing sophisticated technologies to address pressing urban issues such as migration and population growth, food and energy shortages, extreme and unpredictable weather, and rising sea levels.

The two partners, who got married after meeting as students at the Princeton University School of Architecture, view the city as a complex ecology and the role of the architect as being grounded in ethics. “Our projects evolve from thinking about how cities should be,” Gattegno says. “We experiment to envision the future.”

The setting for these experiments is a loft in the semi-industrial Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. The space—part conventional office, part electronics lab, part workshop—is a study in ordered chaos. “All our fabrication is done in-house,” Gattegno says. “We love experimenting and making things.”

Cabinets full of wires, circuit boards, and actuators line the walls, as do bins piled high with hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, and other tools. A freestanding clean room houses a CNC router and a laser cutter. The partners view every project, model, and competition as an opportunity to explore unconventional and leading-edge technologies. “We are firm believers in the necessity of design research and speculative practice,” Gattegno says. “In fact,” Johnson adds, “we have structured our lives around this.”

To support their burgeoning practice, both partners teach architecture at the California College of the Arts. Gattegno and Johnson have collaborated with various experts—material engineers, computer interface designers, and paleobiologists—as they have pursued a range of efforts: design/build projects, the prototyping of digital and electronic technologies, and beta-testing in many contexts, including a small host of gallery installations and temporary structures. Johnson also collaborated with architect Andy Payne to design Firefly, a set of software tools that augments the design capabilities of Grasshopper (a free Rhino plug-in).

The firm has won its share of honors, including the Architectural League’s 2011 Prize for Young Architects and Designers, and the partners were named 2009 New York Prize Fellows at the Van Alen Institute. Visionary practices such as Future Cities Lab can make profound contributions to architecture by shifting and expanding how we understand the boundaries of the discipline. But the firm’s biggest challenge remains: How to segue from more-or-less pure experimentation into the design and construction of actual buildings—a transition that Gattegno and Johnson’s former professors at Princeton, Jesse Reiser, AIA, and Liz Diller, once made themselves.

“Our practice model is inspired by practices like Reiser’s and Diller’s that are research driven and speculative. Both of them pushed and pushed until the work was material, spatial, public, and urban. In each case, the body of research aggregated to produce a very potent kind of architecture,” Johnson says. “In the end, we want to make space, to make buildings. We love the challenge of actually making what we are thinking about, of getting down to the details and imaging how it happens in time and space.”