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


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


2019 | Housing Alternatives for Students

Across major cities in the United States, there is an unspoken housing crisis for students and working-class individuals. In areas such as these, many individuals must opt for shared living situations due to the fact that apartment costs are extremely high. Even with roommates, however, the prices are still too high. Students in these cities are often put into a predicament: either stay inexpensive, ill-kept, freedom-restricting dorms or find off-campus housing with multiple roommates and commute every day. As the price of college skyrockets, there are many instances when on-campus housing creeps towards becoming the same price as tuition.

At The New School University, for example, the cost of the average double dorm is $19,200, which is almost the cost of tuition for one semester.

1) It is unjust that individuals who work at minimum wage are unable to afford basic housing. Even those in the middle class cannot afford a simple 2-bedroom apart in New York City, as it costs around $38,000 a year; this would mean that an average individual would have to make at least $162,000 a year to live comfortably.

2) Affordable housing is one of the biggest problems in the United States and has, unfortunately, has not been subject to a lot of attention from the mainstream press in recent years.

There are, however, some initiatives that aim to fix these problems. Some companies aim to create decently priced and large shareable living spaces. There has also been an influx in sustainable, off-grid style housing; this would include converting shipping crates into small studios, or modern “tiny houses”. While they are certainly not perfect solutions, they are ultimately an active step forward. There must be an affordable, comfortable, and sustainable solution in fixing the housing crisis that is affecting the members of the working class and university students.

Take Away:
Across major cities in the United States, there is an unspoken housing crisis for students and working-class individuals. In areas such as these, many individuals must opt for shared living situations due to the fact that apartment costs are extremely high. Even with roommates, however, the prices are still too high.

Category Sustainable Design
Industry Housing, Architecture, Real Estate
Location International
Related to Urban Planning, Urban Policy, Sustainability, Future of Housing, Shared Housing, Shared Economy, Modular
Researcher Milena Correa


2019 | Plastic Products & Plastic Bans

With the extreme consumerist society we live in today, companies are looking for ways to produce more while spending less. These methods benefit the company higher up by making more money without giving much thought to how their methods may be affecting the environment around them. With all the amounts of products that consumers purchase and discard, 91% of plastics are not properly recycled and there is now believed to be 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. Keep in mind that plastic was only invented in 1907 and plastic takes at least 450 years to fully decompose. The first plastics are still existing somewhere in our oceans. Within a little over a century, we have and still are managing to produce and throw away eight metric tons of plastic each year, adding to the 150 metric tons already floating around the ocean. But recently, the US has been implementing different kinds of plastic bans in target locations, such as coastal states. For example, California and Hawaii were the first states to have placed a statewide ban on single use plastic bags, while specific cities began charging ten cents per bag while encouraging Californians to start using reusable bags when it comes to grocery shopping. In July 2019, Seattle became the first major city in the US to enforce a ban on single-use straws and utensils while California, has begun to start removing straws from restaurants. The UN Environment has even made strides to fight plastic pollution by launching a global campaign to eliminate single-use plastics by the year 2022. With plastic being one of the main sources of pollutant breaking down our natural Earth, are the current bans we are placing enough to combat over a century’s worth of plastic dumping? And with all the awareness being spread today, why can’t the US ban all single-use plastic countrywide?

Only nine percent of the plastic products shoppers have purchased is actually properly disposed and recycled. This is often due to the fact that a lot of states in the US do not mandate recycling and when it comes to the laziness of people, some may find it too much effort to sort through trash and properly recycle plastic. Even when people do recycle after finishing the use of their product, if even a single piece of trash were to fall in the wrong place, it ruins the batch of plastics to be recycled and requires even more sorting. With 260 million metric tons of plastic products being produced around the world each year, about ten percent of those plastics end up in our oceans.

Now that we know the statistics, we move onto what the United States of America is currently doing to combat these extreme numbers on plastic damage. California and Hawaii were the first states to put into place a statewide ban on the single-use bag, such as the ones people may find in grocery stores. Within these states, each city is tackling bags differently. Plastic bags now out of the picture, paper bags are being used as a replacement but many cities and counties across California are placing ten to 25 cent fees on paper bags to further encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags during check out. More and more cities in other states are now beginning to take similar measures with bans and charges as California and Hawaii. When it comes to the single-use plastic straw bans; New York, California, Hawaii, Washington, New Jersey are already implementing the bans. California, Hawaii, and New York City having pending straw ban legislation. Seattle became the first city in the United States to place a ban on plastic straws and all plastic utensils and now full-time restaurants in California have gotten rid of straws. Even companies are banning the use of straws. Starbucks, for example, is beginning to transition from straws to recyclable plastic lids and even paper and compostable plastic straws. Many airlines are even taking action. Shelby O’Neil, a 16-year-old girl scout, was able to convince Alaska Airlines to ditch plastic straws and stirrers, and now Alaska Airlines has partnered with a Seattle based nonprofit organization, Lonely Whale, to support their plastic movement.

Around the world, there are countries mandating plastic bans and the United States need to take an example from some of them. Kenya, for instance, has implemented one of the strictest bans on plastic bags. If one were to be found using, selling, or manufacturing a plastic bag, they could face a prison sentence up to four years or get fined 38,000 USD. Canada is banning plastic in microbead form, often found in cosmetics and bath products, by prohibiting the manufacturing, import, and sale of them. A third country fighting plastics is Taiwan. Taiwan has placed one of the farthest-reaching bans, by phasing out all single-use plastics including straws, bags, cups, and utensils. Taiwan’s movement should be fully in place before 2030.

When we question the effectiveness of these bans on the environment, there is a lot we are certain about but the future is promising. Since Ireland’s plastic tax, plastic pollution and litter has decreased by a whopping 95 percent. A study conducted in San Jose has concluded that there has been a decline in the litter of “approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system, 60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in City streets and neighborhoods.” With the research currently conducted, plastic bans are serving as the right step towards winning the battle against the already existing and tremendous amounts of plastic pollution.

Take Away:
The staggering numbers and effects plastic products have on our environment and the measures we need to take in order to combat such disasters from worsening. Phasing out plastic packaging and bottles should be the first steps for consumers, while carrying their own refillable bottle on them and bringing their own sources of packaging, will assist in diminishing waste. If everyone or an increased amount of people impose greater efforts, we believe this will improve the impact on the environment.

Category: Sustainability
Industry Waste Management, Plastics, Fossil Fuel, Recycling
Location: International
Related to Sustainability, future of sustainability, world economy, sustainable systems, recycling
Reviewer Wendy W Fok, Samantha Chun