[IN]CITY Final: Sky Gardens

The last two weeks of the [IN]CITY summer program have flown by like a whirlwind. After copious readings and precedent studies, our class finally took on the daunting task of crafting a series of redevelopment proposals for the North Berkeley BART station.

My team was given the somewhat enviable assignment to go “sky-high” and shoot for the highest possible housing density, in terms of housing units per acre on the site. We took that mandate to heart and went all out to maximize land use in our proposal. My primary role was to create a render of our proposed site plan in 3D modeling software (Rhino), and I was not shy about building vertically!

My first attempt at modelling a site plan – hopefully just the start of many!

My teammates, with their diverse skill sets, took point on other aspects of the proposal: defining development principles, detailing an orthographic view of the proposal, quantifying the exact numbers and distribution of housing/parking, specifying streetscapes, outlining land use, etc.

Here is our proposal in full: [pdf version]

Our proposal was guided by both class-wide principles as well as principles we defined to uniquely distinguish our approach – playing off the word “RADICAL”
Our very detailed orthographic (2D, top-down) view details some off the site amenities as well as the very green precedent cases we were inspired by
An isometric/axonometric view of our model along with quantification of the unprecedented housing diversity we were able to achieve with our configuration
Cross-section views of our proposal, including creative streetscape redesigns of the bordering roads
Detailing of our proposed land use (mostly housing) along with ideas for social infrastructure and flexible, community-oriented programming

I’m so proud of the work that we were able to deliver as a team, especially in such an extremely compressed timeline. (Haven’t pulled so many all-nighters like that since… school :P) We faced many challenges and many rounds of critical feedback, but I believe the end result is much stronger for all of it and will become a gem in all of our career portfolios.

Wrap-up

When I started this course, I thought I had a fairly clear understanding of urban planning, and was about 80% sure I wanted to start a new career here. Now, six weeks later, I’m 100% sure I want to continue this journey. I have learned so much about the many diverse facets of planning –  everything from the design of the public realm to streetscapes to zoning models and more.

There’s an adage that goes: the more you learn about something, the more you realize how much you do not know. (Variants of this quote go back to Einstein, Socrates, 老子, etc.) This holds very true for planning – as I have become more immersed in it, the more depth I keep discovering.

Planning is so much more than just designing housing structures or laying transit lines – though I have found that I do love this kind of work. Ultimately, I’m starting to see that planning is concerned with the very fabric of society itself: how people live and interact with each other on a day-to-day basis as well as across generations. (The incoming Dean of the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design described this quite eloquently in his parting speech for us.)

As such, the potential impact of working in this space is absolutely huge. This is quite eye-opening to me as someone who comes from the tech industry – because in tech we talk a lot about “changing the world” but rarely does the software we build actually benefit people in ways as fundamental as planning does.

This revelation, combined with the sense of fulfillment I’ve experienced during this course, has given me a renewed sense of purpose and enough signal for me to push forward. Onward to the next phase!

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