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


2013 - 2023 | Data & Digital Infrastructure

digitalSTRUCTURES: Data and Urban Strategies of the Civic Future engages with digital property and data infrastructures, and explores new modes and impacts of data collection affecting architecture and urban infrastructure.

Digital currencies (cryptocurrencies) and digital property require large amounts of land, resources, and data centers and infrastructures to store these “supplies”. There is a larger architectural and urban infrastructural challenge and urgency on how these various kinds of digital exchanges are mediated, to limit the detrimental use of our everyday resources.

Using a mixed-media approach, this book couples a novel exploration of XR (mixed-reality) and AR (augmented reality) into several parts of the book. To prolong the shelf-life of emergent data and case-studies on the topic, the book is complemented with an open-access digital platform for readers to access video interviews with the industry experts, diagrammatic mapping and graphical cartography, and 3D artifacts that shows how data interacts with phygital properties.

Authored by Wendy W Fok, who has been researching and writing on the topic for over a decade, this book includes a foreword by Jesse Reiser and Julian Harake; interviews with and contributions by Greg Lynn, Saskia Sassen, Minerva Tantoco, Lydia Kallipoliti, Michael Young and Kutan Ayata, Andrew Witt, Amber Bartosh, Mik Nayeem, with an ongoing list of interactive interviews.

Take Away:
Learn more through the full published book, available via ORO Editions and Amazon.
Or, on the dedicated project page: http://digitalstructures.cc

Category: Data, Digital Infrastructure
Industry Internet, Real Estate, Urbanism, Data
Location: International
Related to Artificial Intelligence, Architecture, Urban Planning, Urban Design, Urban Policy, Internet of Things
Reviewer Wendy W Fok


2021 | COVID-19 STRATEGY | K-6 Schools - Jun Zi Lan Montessori

Who will benefit from this project?
School facilities are unique because of their building typology and occupants. Most have four times the density of office spaces, which increases the opportunity of infectious disease spread. Children are vulnerable because of their developing physical and mental health. Each school or district must evaluate their protocols based on individual timelines, finances, and staff. It is important to note that comfort levels will vary among families, educators, and staff.

Jun Zi Lan Montessori School is a community dedicated to developing respectful, self-motivated, and life-long learners. The Jun Zi Lan Montessori program is also one of most unique programs within the Wildflower Schools and Montessori system, as it is the only bilingual (Chinese-English) Montessori program in the Cambridge, MA area. It is also a minority woman owned business. With this unique pairing, Jun Zi Lan’s Montessori system is designed for students ranging from 2-years to 6-year-old. Each cluster of 5 students or less is focused and paired with 2 lead teachers.

How will working with an architecture team enhance the project and support your goals?
Jun Zi Lan Montessori by WE-DESIGNS will be one of the rare bilingual (Chinese-English) programs in the United States. This rare opportunity brings bi-racial and bilingual families to learn more about cultures that are key to developing a more diverse and equitable community. This project is a keystone project that highlights both M/WBE Architecture and Non-Profit partnerships, and POC (People of Color) in architecture, design, health, and schools.

Working with the WE-DESIGNS team would allow our Jun Zi Lan Montessori partners access to a dedicated team of experts, trained-architects, designers, educators, and creative-researchers. As a dedicated educator with over a decade of teaching experience, our managing partner, Wendy W Fok, has a sincere and full-hearted interest in developing a replicable and modular system of post-COVID-19 design-solution for the Montessori schools. We want to make this a systematic prototype that could be used both throughout the United States and abroad, as a standard and launch point for how to engage with elementary school students between the ages of 2 and 6-years-old.

More significantly, if this partnership succeeds, it will provide the larger Montessori school systems to have access to a useful, safer, and healthy opportunity to bring joy, life, and diverse communities together. Schools are not only a pillar of support for communities, but they are also locations that foster the future growth in the minds of the next generation. Through building safer schools for the post-COVID-19 world, this example could set-forth momentum to realize a brighter future for children with less opportunity to attend elementary and pre-schools.

How does your project address sustainability (environmental, social, and/or economic)?
According to the AIA “Reopening America: Strategies for Safer Schools,” Schools are the beating heart that allow our communities to flourish by nurturing the next generations of talent, heroes, and leaders. While their primary purpose is to educate, school buildings and campuses provide several other community functions.

Students, families, and communities depend on schools for food, health services, social-emotional support, creative and physical outlets, protection, and human connectivity. For the 2019–20 school year, elementary and secondary schools in the United States supported nearly 56.5 million students while employing 3.7 million teachers.

During the pandemic, more than 130,000 elementary and secondary school buildings in the US were closed, sending all students home. Innovations like virtual learning enabled educators to continue teaching students. However, barriers to virtual learning exacerbated socio-economic inequities among students. Accessibility to virtual classrooms varies depending on technological means, including Internet capabilities and computer or tablet availability. In some households, students learn and complete schoolwork on smartphones that are sometimes shared among siblings.

Our proposal wants to change this. We want to allow our design to promote more equitable educational opportunities for biracial and bilingual families, communities, children, and the future of people of diverse backgrounds.

Take Away:
The entire world is trying to figure out what comes next, and no one has all the answers. We feel it is important to take it one step at a time at re-evaluating the needs of education, especially for children under 10-years-old, and continuously evaluate the response as our collective vision clears.

Category: Education, Healthcare, COVID-19 Pandemic
Industry: Education
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Related to: Future of Urban Living, Urban Development, Economy, Future of Education
Designers: Wendy W Fok, Carmen Cordova
Case Study:  Jun Zi Lan – Montessori


2020-21 | FATVillage - Equitable Real Estate Development

FATVillage, the downtown historic warehouse district, is burgeoning with productivity. Techies, designers, artists, and creative professionals call this daytime enclave home. Just miles north of Miami, soon under 30 minutes by high-speed rail, and with direct access as far north as Orlando. FATVillage has and is further developing an integration with artists and designers. An untold number of artists in Miami found opportunity in FATVillage during their journeys. The four block district itself is named after the 501c3 non-profit arts organization FATVillage Arts District Inc. Property owners Doug McCraw and Lutz Hofbauer created it to rally philanthropic support around sustaining an artist community. In 2015 the not-for-profit won a Knight Arts Challenge matching grant.

Despite not having the favorable collective forces, the sort that created the art hub in Miami via targeted investments from the private and public-sectors (cash and caché) building an art ecosystem, FATVillage has weathered the storms (literal and metaphorical) with resilience. No real stories of this community having to move north, west, or from one place to another at the whim of real estate deals. Exceeding demand, with a lack of square foot inventory, has forced FATVillage to watch tenant success stories move to bigger spaces elsewhere. Facing steadily rising values, and numerous opportunities/pressures to follow the typical narrative (handing over to market pegged development void of artist sustainability), the property owners have stayed the course ‘protecting’ the artistic mix for 17+ years. This is highly unusual on a national scale, especially amidst the greater displacement story of art communities worldwide. In future terms, this is a less speculative model of a district serving a creative cluster, and the gains afforded to the greater community. FATVillage is older than Wynwood Arts District, and Art Basel’s presence in Miami. It is factually more stable in respect to its homestead. In 2016 a new arts organization was welcomed, ArtsUP! An experimental gallery with an interdisciplinary concept founded by Neil Ramsay. Neil with a background in economics and finance, has been subsequently named Director of FATVillage Arts District Inc. The interdisciplinary fusion will see more concepts incubated on this campus of sorts, and spun-out from FATVillage. One being the already city-approved streetscape, which promises to be a work of art and technology in itself. FATVillage, an unpretentious curio of artistic-processes and creative developments is also about to embrace the culinary arts.

FATVillage incubates artists blending them with the professional business, design and technology talent on-site. This produces art not in the traditional sense, or not how we may be accustomed to seeing it. FATVillage has launched companies with its resident artists, and tenant-creatives in partnership. ART + LIGHT + SPACE, The Projects, FAR, and next in line (no pun intended) CUUE. ART + LIGHT + SPACE is soon to turn one of the city’s most prominent structures, into the city’s most prominent art work. The Projects at FATVillage, an 8,000 Sq,ft warehouse art space, directed and curated by a couple that met while enrolled in Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Peter Symons and Leah Brown, push the boundaries of staid constructs consistently. Fine Art Resources (FAR) consults corporate clients on art acquisitions, and also maintains a more traditional white-cube gallery space, FAR Gallery. CUUE will be announced in early 2017

Soon the F.A.T in FATVillage will come from Food, Art & Technology. In answer to the demanding call from both the downtown population and restaurateurs interested in this 33301 location, with its 21-45 y/o creative demographic. The type attracted to an organic cultural emergence from an authentic history of industrial grit, and ‘making' occurring in FATVillage. FATVillage is relatively small only in geography, but this unsuspecting district has been noted, and is coming under further notice nationwide. It’s a differentiated experience when explored below its surface, and that is part of the FATVillage appeal. The Food & Cooking Channel Networks’ South Beach Food & Wine Festival, has selected FATVillage for its next South Florida concept, and so the story goes.

Category Urban Strategies
Industry Architecture and Real estate development
Location Fort Lauderdale, FL
Related to Future of Urban Living, Future of Work, Urban Development, Economy, Future of Design
Reviewer Wendy W Fok, Neil Ramsey
Real Estate Developers Doug McCraw, Lutz Hofbauer
Case Study FATVillage


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