2022 - 2025 | Hidden Infrastructures

Hidden Infrastructures: From ‘Spy-Hubs’ to Hollow Buildings that Conceal the New Digital .

If you have a smartphone in your pocket or a smartwatch on your wrist, then every movement you make, every interaction you have creates data. As a result, on a global scale, the amount of data created daily is growing exponentially. All of this data requires physical storage. Some can be stored locally on a smartphone, laptop or any other device that has memory, but there is a limit to the number of files and information that each device can hold. Most ends up the ‘cloud’ – a term conceived to simplify the technological realities to which it is connected, but which is actually a systemic infrastructure of cables, conduits and data centres spanning the globe.

If data is the new oil – the fuel that is going to drive the next phase of global economic expansion – then the submarine internet cables that crawl the depths of the ocean and connect societies across continents and oceans, commonly known as the digital infra- or substructure, are the equivalent to oil rigs and their own undersea infrastructure. And like oil rigs, these underwater data cables take a dramatic toll on marine life, as their installation requires dredging and damaging the seabed.

This infrastructure – digital and fossil fuel – and its deleterious effects on the environment are easy to hide when they are at the bottom of the ocean, but much harder when the infrastructure is part of our cities, part of our urban experience. Yet this is precisely what both oil and tech industries have long sought to do, frequently via architectural means.

Hidden Infrastructures is a novel exploration of this phenomenon, documenting the tactics of architectural disguise in infrastructural buildings serving the data (tech) and fossil fuel (oil) industries in the cities and suburbs of Los Angeles and New York. In both cities, these buildings may bear a formal resemblance to a familiar architectural typology on the outside but are created with an entirely different intention on the inside. Many are designed to be utilitarian and functional, but some are conceived to conceal their actual use.

Awards & Support (Grants)
Architectural League of New York & NYSCA 2023
Ford Foundation, MacDowell Fellowship 2022
University of Southern California, Architecture

Take Away:
Learn more through the AD Journal, Edited by Owen Hopkins in 'Multispace' (November/December 2023) published by Wiley UK, available via AD Journal.

Category: Hidden Infrastructure
Industry Internet, Oil (Fossil Fuel), Real Estate, Urbanism, Data
Location: International
Related to Artificial Intelligence, Architecture, Urban Planning, Urban Design, Urban Policy, Internet of Things
Reviewer Wendy W Fok


2020 | Digitalstructures: Data and Urban Strategies of the Civic Future

Digitalstructures: Data and Urban Strategies of the Civic Future explores contemporary issues surrounding of how Western and Eastern countries define the future of work and urban living. The research will explore what it will look like in the post-COVID-19 digital era, pertaining to data structures, urban strategies, and civic planning for the cities of our future. An in-depth exploration of graphical mapping and cartography, and how data interacts with various open innovation models in digital property and real property will be key. Developmental topics that explore broader topics hitting humanities and social sciences and engage with interdisciplinary and cross-cultural topics that question policy challenges facing “democracies” in the 21st century will be the focus.

The proposal will question and dive into what constitutes “democracies.” Western “democracies” may mean that the distribution of information may be different from the Eastern norm. What are the consequences of “democracy,” as we are in a shift of what these types of governance look like in the urban policies and planning of mega-cities?

Looking into larger topics of urban policy and planning, while exploring mapping and cartography as a visual-aid of data infographic and representation, I would like to work with researchers at the Kluge Center to engage in conversations about how planning Eastern cities with Western standards—such as a city like Hong Kong that is facing diplomatic upheavals which are affecting patterns of migration, data and information distribution, and policy challenges.

Being online now is different both geographically and politically. This project aims to examine acts of building out data and urban environments as a response to perpetually online modes of living. The Library of Congress has an abundance of resources, and the Geography and Map Division (G&M) has custody of “the largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world.” Cities that have their own fiber optics networks, and the maps of the underwater internet cable system are just some of the many archives to explore.

The research for Digitalstructures: Data and Urban Strategies of the Civic Future engages further into the contemporary issues that surround 21st century cities, the citizens and governing bodies’ use of technology, and transforming data into visual infographics that could be explored in augmented reality and mixed-reality through a digital platform. These issues are an expanded version of what Prof Fok completed at Harvard for their Doctoral dissertation in November 2017. The research for their Doctor of Design was made possible in-part by the generous support of the Digital Kluge Fellowship, the surrounding community, and its staff. As an inaugural Digital Kluge Fellow, Prof Fok utilized access to the archives at the Law Library, and had a fruitful collaboration with the Copyright Office.

Category Urban Strategies
Industry Economy, Urban Policy, Humanities, Social Sciences, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality, Architecture, Law
Location Western and Eastern democracies
Related to Future of Urban Living, Future of Work, Urban Development, Economy, Future of Design
Reviewer Prof Wendy W Fok
Case Study White paper


2019 | The End of Animal Testing

The cosmetics industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world, surrounded by controversies regarding ethics and sustainability, such as packaging waste, toxic dyes, cheap labor, and water usage and contamination. One issue, however, stretches beyond cosmetics into medicine and has become an infamous and incredibly controversial topic in the last few years as a response to growing technology: animal testing. Not only is animal testing inhumane, but it is a massive sustainability issue, abusing resources and energy, all while damaging the biodiversity of habitats around the world; Not to mention, the massive amounts of toxic waste created from the disposal of animal carcasses and various chemicals used in toxicity testing, laboratory sanitation, and the upkeep of animal quarters. It is estimated that millions of animals are used in research per year that goes unreported to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This is because the USDA does not require research facilities to report their animal usage. Though the morality of animal testing is generally not in question, the necessity of it is.

Some believe that animal testing is a necessity to any product being released for public usage; The suffering and deaths of animals are outweighed by that of humans. Some countries, such as China, even require animal testing before they allow any products to be released to the public, making it virtually impossible for cruelty-free companies to reach international recognition. The new development of bioprinting, spearheaded by Organovo, suggests an alternative method of study that is more humane, efficient, and sustainable, and could possibly bring an end to the controversy surrounding animal testing. Being in its early stages of development, many companies are apprehensive to invest in this new technology, fearing that it would be a waste of time and money. This monetary fixation invalidates the remarkable potential this technology possesses. The objective of this analysis is to (1) highlight the negative environmental impact of animal testing, (2) introduce the process of bioprinting, and (3) discuss the potential of bioprinting to further prove the validity of this innovative technology.

Category Bio-Printing
Industry 3D Printing, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Animal Testing, Cosmetics, Beauty
Location International
Related to Sustainability, future of technology, bio printing, sustainable systems, 3D Printing, Fabrication, biotechnology
Reviewer Wendy W Fok, Troy Droussiotis