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 Future of the Automat

Before the fast food industry, there was the automat. The original automat food service company in the United States titled Horn and Hardart was able to deliver food to over 800,000 individuals daily. The word “automat” comes from the Greek automatos, meaning “self-acting”.

However, the first Horn and Hardart automat restaurants were far from automatic. A large number of employees were required to fill the automat compartments as each customer removed their desired item–inevitably turning the concept of automat restaurants into a smoke and mirror show. However, there were a large number of benefits that came from automat style dining such as the consumer being able to see the product they were purchasing before buying–enabling quality assurance.

With the development of touch interfaces and manufacturing costs being reduced due to the accessibility of technology, the return of the automat storefront and vending system is queued to make a return. In the midst of the technological revolution and access to interactive interfaces and multimedia displays, the automat can do far more than being an automated delivery service.

Now, the automat delivery interface can display responsive imagery that informs the consumer about the product, and how it came to be through supply chain data.

Companies such as Cooler Screens are already implementing digital interfaces in Walgreens flagship stores across the United States. The next step would be to create a digital interface that not only responds to the consumer and their market preferences but provides a social impact that aids in keeping the modern consumer informed on the product they are buying.

Due to the automats ability to be entirely automated through the point of sale and delivery process, the possibilities of site-specific installations are endless. These automat vending locations can be set up in any scenario, whether it be in private storefronts displaying limited edition design objects or products or in public site activations, enabling passersby to become actively engaged. By utilizing site-specific activations the automat can be a tool for engaging the public and providing a tailored product ranging from luxury objects to handmade designs crediting their creators.

By applying a new strategy and design to the automat breakthrough can be achieved which enables new types of innovative projects that are capable of activating new spaces. In order to embrace the future of urban living and urban economies, the potential of designs needs to be pushed in the making process as well as the way new technology is applied. As the future of manufacturing and consumption changes, there needs to be a response to the way objects are presented and delivered to the modern consumer. Futuristic design objects need to be delivered in a futuristic way.

One may formulate that the automat is further removing workers from the job market, however by minimizing the need to be on site to deliver products to their consumers there will be a new opening in the ability to train and specialized workers in new fields–emphasizing product development, supply chain ethics, and respond to consumer needs rapidly.

Take Away:
With the development of touch interfaces and manufacturing costs being reduced due to the accessibility of technology, the return of the automat storefront and vending system is queued to make a return.

Category Open Design
Industry Robotics, Retail
Location International
Related to Future of Urban Living, Future of Work, Urban Development, Economy, Future of Design, Retail
Reviewer Wendy W Fok, Logan Larkin
Case Study White paper, The Future of the Automat