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The City As Platform: Monuments Of Ecosystem

Architecture & City Project. 2020

SCI-Arc Vertical Studio 2020 Fall

Instructor: M. Casey. Rehm

Site: Lucerne Valley, Los Angeles


The design of platforms is becoming an emerging critical facet to city and architecture design profession. Already implemented as tools for optimization, management, and automation, this project engages the disciplinary and cultural consequences for platform based design technology. A smart city neighborhood situated in a nearby desert site, Lucerne Valley in Los Angeles, will be used as a test bed for rethinking design at three different scales: Platforms for Interaction (building design), Platforms of Automation (design proliferation), and The City as Platform (augmented digital layer of contemporary cities). In different design stages, I developed different applications at each of these scales to produce a comprehensive project with hands-on experience with the technology.

The ubiquity of software platforms in contemporary architectural design and built environments remains an underexplored territory within the discipline. Economic and political factors have advanced these technologies into the domain of the architect. The underlying agenda for most applications of platforms in architecture is to automate some aspect of control for improved efficiency. For example the vertically integrated design/construction firm Katerra’s primary focus is on material logistics and automation friendly designs to create efficiencies in the construction industry. Or in several smart city proposals, including the completed Songdo smart

city in Korea, the platforms are utilized to create efficiencies in daily life for their occupants by linking user applications to city infrastructural systems including waste management, climate control, and transportation.


Project Profile

For this project located on Lucerne Valley, I thought initially the present condition that metropolises have become more concentrated settlements for us, and the relationship between human-beings and nature has gradually become alienated. Thus, I start to think about how to build up stranger bond towards nature to cope with the complex environment, so as to further explore how humans and other non-humans can adapt to living in the same environments.


We start with designing 6 different components based on  connections quantities logic with python scripts. And I assigned different natural forms of texture combined with basic building structure and different architecture functions to construct these components having different accessibility.

In this project, I also simulate some real living environment of some creatures like mushrooms, lichens and design these components of ecosystem. When a series of these biocenosis communities is established, I hope that humans can think about how to take the beauty of present earth for granted.


In the form of the assembly, I hope to use regular concrete and stones to simulate the real and irregular natural forms. Whether it is the attached ecosystem in the building, the texture and handrails of the building, and the benches in the public space, I hope to emulate natural textures and colors to convey people's memories and emotions of the lost nature.


For interior space, I hope to demonstrate the dual benefits of allowing natural ecosystems to enter the building both for people's body and spirit. Utilizing the mode of Quadrangle courtyard which is a traditional residence form in Beijing, I hope all accommodation modules can enclose some natural open space like courtyard where children play with animals and family member can hold public activities.

FLOOR plan task3.jpg

Obviously, it’s not easy for human-beings to manage all the ecosystems for mushrooms or other creatures and recognize the potential dangers of these ecosystems like plant viruses and toxic mushrooms. However, it’s possible for us to training machines to recognize the diseases and potential dangers for these plants. These information from AI can be informed to residents here and get away form these potential dangers.


I also want to utilize the different space quality of the building to change the behaviors and activities of people living here. The growing ecosystem embedded in the building serves for people, plants and animals here. In this environment, I hope residents can change the ways they live in city that humans now spend 90% of their time indoors. 

As the border between human-beings and nature become blurry, human can walk through different spaces just as surrounded by the real nature and keep away from the noise and pace of life at busy cities.


During the early stage of design process, we developed an Interactive modelling application on Unreal Engine. This application is a game platform of component-based builder, where users can select components of building or landscape from the menu to customize your city and interact with animals and present landscape. In this process, we considered this  simulation as an aesthetic and functional methodology for design (more details in project 4).


At the second stage of automation, based on the scanned site information, we chose different programs like residence and farming to make some function and style transfer of the site area with AI training of CycleGan. Then we generated a composite master-plan for the site based on the AI classifier technique and information of site and programs’ function. After that, utilizing Pix2pix which is a deep neural network for image identification of pixels, I refined the distribution for function layout such as terraces, farming land and residence.


With the surveillance system for plants disease, automatic farming system and clean energy technology, I want to building up a city environment where there is no waste and generate a self-sufficient huge ecosystem for the whole city platform.

In this rugged mountainous terrain, I hope that walls, handrails and roofs of the building are seems to be all naturally formed in the mountains. To commemorate and recreate the surrounding nature. Just like MachuPicchu, it is both a connecting center and a natural extension of the surrounding context. When the architectural features are embedded in the stunning mountain landscape, I hope to use it to embody the harmonious and  aesthetic relationship between human culture and nature.


Adding natural movement to existing sustainable building technologies can help residents realize these green qualities. The activities of light, wind, animals, plants and ecosystems have proven to calm the residents in the building and make them feel peaceful.


I also want to use technology of AI and AR to collect data and give us some feedback of information. As the natural owner of the city, all who live, work, and stay here have possibility to become the “eyes on the street”, recognize city and collect data of the city. Then, the scattered eyes of machines will provide an overlapping virtual world to represent how they recognize this city world.


For the whole project, we used different tools and technologies for optimization, management and automation to engage the disciplinary and cultural consequence for platform based design technology. This encourages designers and citizens to rethink these parallel relationships: the relationship between space and users, the relationship between space and design tools, and how the latter has changed in the context of technological advancement.


Studio Project

Architecture & City Project

SCI-Arc DS Vertical Studio


M. Casey. Rehm

Course Coordinator

Damjan Jovanovic, Soomeen Hahm


Shuai Ma


Lucerne Valley, Los Angeles

Tools and Techniques

Rhinoceros, Unreal Engine, Python, Processing, AI Neural Network (Object Detection, CycleGAN, Image Classification)

Fall 2020

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