Constructed Ecologies

Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Instructors: Evan Jones and Margaret Ikeda

Within the backdrop of the Architectural Ecologies Lab (AEL) Symposium in September, this Building Technology elective engaged in a focused design research investigation about architecture’s relationship to nature through a unique platform for student collaboration with scientists called the BioDesign Challenge. The class looked broadly at the philosophical distinctions between natural and constructed systems, examining case study projects and AEL research operating at the intersection of architecture, biology and technology. Building upon selected precedent projects, the seminar sought to understand the ecologically detrimental effects of human coastal interventions in the San Francisco Bay and suggest new scalable strategies for designing with living systems. Working collaboratively with biologists and manufacturers, design proposals strove to catalyze and foster new marine habitats by integrating advanced material and manufacturing logics. Resulting prototypes were fabricated with an interest in onsite testing in the San Francisco Bay.


Constructed Ecologies seminar, spring 2019:
Cristian Laurent
Joshua Eufinger
Lori Martinez
Maria Ulloa
Mithila Jagtap
Pete Pham



Mussel City

Mussel BOARD 1
Mussel BOARD 2
Mussel BOARD 3

Vertical Shore

Herring BOARD 2
Herring BOARD 3

Buoyant Ecologies Maldives

Fall 2017, Fall 2018
Instructors: Margaret Ikeda, Evan Jones

This studio focused on the Maldives, a nation averaging only 1.5 meters above the current sea level. The Maldives consist of over 1100 islands arranged in 26 atolls famous for their pristine coral reefs and resorts. Less photographed are their more populated islands where many smaller villages subsist on fishing and tourism, both of which are in danger of devastation from erosion, warming oceans and rising seas. The studio recognized this mutual dependence of ecology and economy and speculated on an adaptive architectural prototype capable of providing the Maldivians with a way to live independently of the land and self sufficiently on the ocean. Building upon previous research work testing digitally fabricated marine substrates in ocean water, the architectural studio scales up this research to investigate the formation of a floating community built upon a symbiotic relationship between housing, tourism, and research.

Informed by established collaborators including marine biologists at Benthic Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and fiberglass fabricators at Kreysler & Associates, the studio sought to synthesize ideas about making and performance at a variety of scales. The conservation of resources as it pertains to ecology, energy and materials was of central interest in a place historically dependent on imported resources. The studio was able to consult with local Maldivian residents to gain insight and understanding of their daily rituals, culture and environmental landscape.

Relevance of the work in the studio was further informed by engaging with an additional collaborator, The Hydrous, a local non-profit organization whose mission is to create “open access oceans”. Providing years of local monitoring and research into coral reef ecology in the Maldives with a network of scientists, divers, designers, filmmakers, and technologists, their documentation work provided a critical resource for understanding the local context and visualizing new forms and spaces for living on the water.

As an integrated building design studio, the students met with naval, mechanical and structural engineers at regular intervals to develop their projects into realizable propositions whose narrative included the process of assembly, adaptability and resilience. The process of the studio moved quickly and was driven by an iterative process of physical and digital modeling, integrating research and culminating in a set of comprehensive drawings rich in both technical specificity and inspired speculation.


Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2018: Marwan Bamasood, Sean Cunningham, Isha Fathmath, Vivi Isnata, Cassady Kenney, Elena Lazaretnik, Jennifer Pandian, Sabrina Schrader, Carlos Edgardo Serrano, Eric Soifer, Jen Tai, Maria Ulloa

Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2017: Georgia Came, Mai Yamada Duellman, Eric Fura, Sabari Gopakumar, Clare Hacko, Rachel Hammond, Justine Humble, Joaquin Tobar Martinez, Alexander Pardes, Rosa Ramos, Nicholas Scribner, Justin Smith, Samantha Villasenor, Yumeng Wang

Fluvial Commons


Fall 2018
Instructors: Shalini Agrawal & Julia Grinkrug
Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST)

Fluvial Commons examines the contested shoreline of San Francisco Bay and the impacts of displacement in tidal temporalities. By intersecting various disciplinary perspectives, student-investigators are invited to delve into the layers of culture and ecology in order to reveal the enabling (or erasing) role of water in community life. How do social structures, environmental conditions, and systems of power trigger nucleation, erasure and resilience of fluvial communities? How can we engage in the moment, recognizing that these communities are fluid? Through integrative research practices and artistic expression, this course develops experimental documentation and representation methods, revealing the unique potentials of the fluvial condition.

Pattern Mechanism Form

Fall 2016 - 2018
Instructor: Michael Bogan
Stanford Collaborators: Jolyn Gisselberg, Michelle Davison, Adam Idoine, Claudia Vasquez, Jacqueline Carozza

In this Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST), students created works of design using living organisms, under the mentorship of Stanford Biology Postdocs.  Design via the Scientific Method (hypotheses formation and testing) was the core of the studio.  The course consisted of four parts. 

Part I: Algorithmic Imitations of Life Patterns (Pattern).  Students learned that biological patterns are woven of blind, bottom-up mechanistic processes.  An understanding of this was developed via algorithmic (rule-based) drawings, in which the rules were either sentences or mechanical operations.  Variations on prevalent cellular growth and aggregation patterns were explored to investigate the parameters of the biological design-space at the cellular scale.

Part II: Diagramming.  Methods of diagramming were taught in the second module, with a focus on bio-motion.

Part III: Cellular Aggregation.  Slime mold, bacteria, and fungi were grown in environments architected to produce art.  This module explored growth and design Mechanisms

Part IV: Living Art.  We often teach students to bring aspects of ‘nature’ into their work, but rarely is this based on a real understanding of the biological forms that often move us deeply.  In the final module of the course students were able to deploy actual living systems, and learn about their affordances, inertial tendencies, will, habits, etc.  These organisms became co-authors of the studio projects.  The goal was to create a work of living art or design relevant to the student’s discipline.  (Form)

Local Fiber Incubator

Spring 2018
Instructor: Amy Campos
Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST)

This interdisciplinary class explores the range of local fibers found within a one and a half hour radius of San Francisco, the processing of them into proposals and artifacts, and the documentation and presentation of these resources.  Students connect directly with ranchers and farmers, hand spinners and fabricators and have instructional making time in a studio environment. Projects are arranged around field trips to gather fiber, research and information, and studio time to develop material form studies and prototypes, guided by a series of cumulative projects throughout the semester, which build upon each other to bring the students from small scale material studies to developed, marketable and functioning prototypes, exhibited publicly at the end of the semester. The course develops primary research skills, documentation in hard copy, photographic and video form, as well as hands-on workshops, including felting, dying as well as working in the soft lab and wood and rapid prototyping shops on the CCA SF campus, and finally and exhibition curation and installation. This course partners with a number of entities to enrich and contextualize the students’ making. These include: Fibershed, Black Rock Ranch, Coyuchi, Peace Industry, Stinson Beach Library, Mann Family Farm, and Janice Arnold.

Students develop a strong sense of materiality and place as well as a ‘globalocal’ perspective - on a small scale, by following and documenting fiber from its source through to final products; and on a large scale, by experiencing the economic pressures of small farmers and ranchers working in the larger economic systems of trade and commerce.  Students also develop an understanding of the relationships between rural and urban, local and global, rancher/farmer and designer, and slow and fast cycles.  In the studio, students are expected to gather intermediate skills in felting and will be exposed to potential augmented manufacturing techniques and to become adept at transforming fiber into final products through physical prototyping and development using CCA's labs.  


Wild & Domestic


Spring 2018
Instructors: Andrew Kudless & Nathan Lynch
with CCA Digital Craft Lab & CCA Ceramics

The various creation myths of architecture often alternate between early man either occupying found forms such as caves or constructing a primitive hut. Vitruvius mentions both of these possible origins for Architecture but he also mentions a third which is often forgotten: maybe humans first started building by watching more advanced builders: animals. Although we often think of architecture as a human activity, the diversity and sophistication of animal architectures are astounding. From wasp’s nests to beaver dams, animals have developed highly complex domestic spaces that often surpass the material, environmental, and structural performances of human-built forms. These nonhuman architects use a variety of materials such as straw and wood, however, many use earthen materials such as soil, mud, and clay to, in their own unique way, 3D-print their homes. 

We will use this alternative history of architecture as a starting point and source of inspiration on how we, as human architects, might conceive a different way of designing, building, and occupying domestic forms. The studio will focus on the act of extruding earthen materials as the primary building technique and develop modular and parametric bricks as the primary building system. This combination of primitive material with advanced technology serves as one of the primary research areas of the studio. Although we will start with basic clay and simple toolpaths, students will be encouraged to experiment with new recipes and more complex toolpaths as the term progresses in order to produce new building performances. 

In addition to creating domestic space for humans, the studio will also explore how human-built structures could support the dwelling of nonhuman species, particularly those undergoing habitat loss. The human act of building for animals has a long architectural history primarily centered on transactional exchanges between species. From bee apiaries and dovecotes to silkworm cocooneries and dairy barns, humans have been creating structures for nonhumans for centuries in order to benefit from these creatures: foods such as honey, eggs, and milk but also raw materials such as silk and even less tangible exchanges such as heat and companionship. However, urbanization and industrialization have increased the physical and conceptual distances between humans and nonhumans.  Furthermore, the way in which contemporary architecture engages the nonhuman world could generally be categorized into total rejection (pests), reduction (sustainability’s focus on energy), or benevolent separation (the picturesque). The studio will look beyond these and attempt to discover (or rediscover) other ways of living with the nonhuman. 
In an age when we are finally recognizing the extent of our deep relationships with the environment around us and the microbiome within us, the studio will seek a form of solidarity with the nonhuman. We will research how domestic architecture might serve as the medium to reevaluate the politics, cultures, and ecologies of living near and with other species. Students are encouraged to develop radical approaches to the siting, programming, and ecologies of their domestic designs in relation to both human and nonhuman clients. 

Kaiju: Architectural Monstrosities of the Energy Landscape

Spring 2017
Instructors: Nataly Gattegno, Hugh Hynes

This studio forecasted the architectural opportunities afforded by California’s rapidly transforming landscape of energy production. With widespread decommissioning of obsolete power plants on one hand, and legislation mandating ambitious targets for renewable sources on the other, one may predict an imminent transition over the next few decades to radically new forms of production such as Next-Gen nuclear power to meet the state’s voracious power needs. Much like the the coal- and petroleum-based economies that defined past centuries, such shifts in the energy economy would trigger wholesale transformations of the built environment, industrialized landscape, and associated ecologies.

The studio leveraged decommissioned infrastructure sites across California’s “energy equator” that crosses the state east-west from the Mojave Desert to San Luis Obispo to produce new symbiotic, parasitic and hybridized architectural organisms. Much like the monstrous “kaiju” of Cold War sci-fi, these massive new creatures opportunistically and hungrily seek energy wastes – heat, electrical, radioactive – that are an inevitable byproduct of any power production system to construct new competitive and cooperative relationships among architecture, technology, landscape, ecology and infrastructure.

No mere B-movie plot, these energy scenarios probed multiple trajectories and narratives by which new architectural contexts may emerge: pop-up company towns, mines retooled as luxury resorts, rogue transportation nodes, test tracks fueled by nuclear waste, biome “zoos” in cooling ponds, electrified robotic mega-farms. These speculative energy-architecture composites mine the pervasive byproducts and opportunities of these existing sites. Throughout the studio we probed alternative methods of video and narrative representation, but more importantly architecture’s capacity to speculate, forecast and be an active force of persuasion in this future landscape. 

Buoyant Ecologies Oakland

Fall 2015, Fall 2016
Instructors: Adam MarcusMargaret Ikeda, Evan Jones

As cities across the globe attempt to adapt to the uncertain implications of climate change, there is little doubt that rising ocean levels will have a tremendous impact on coastal cities worldwide, including those that line the San Francisco Bay. This studio begins with the premise that cities must actively develop new approaches to their constructed waterfronts, and that architects can play a significant role in designing new alternatives to the status quo.

The focus of the studio’s research is Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, a recreational oasis nestled within the expansive Port of Oakland and with spectacular views of San Francisco and the Bay. This site holds great historical significance as both the former terminus of the transcontinental railroad and the Oakland Naval Supply Center. The park is dedicated to public environmental education, and the student projects for this site build upon this mission by proposing an ecological research and public education center that straddles the edge between land and water. 

The proposals incorporate research into ecologically-optimized fiberglass substrates that, through variable geometries, provide diverse habitats for marine life above and below the water. The studio collaborated with fabricators at Kreysler & Associates and marine ecologists from the Benthic Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories to understand how fiber-reinforced polymers can be designed and fabricated to perform ecologically. This research builds upon work from the 2014 Buoyant Ecologies studio, and from a series of full-scale prototypes that have been installed underwater and monitored by the Benthic Lab team of ecologists.


Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2016: Fernanda Bernardes, Gina Bugiada, Bryany Burke, Madeline Cunningham, Taylor Metcalf, Mrnalini Mills-Raghavan, Georine Pierre, Stephany Rattner, Carlos Sabogal, Arash Sedaghatkamal, Nicole Van Malder

Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2015: Rafael Berges, Trishala Umesh Chandra, Kuan-Lun Ryan Chen, Jared Clifton, Keith Edwards, Kenneth Hu, Vaama Joshi, Susan Lopez, Shirin Monshipouri, Betty Nip, Min Joo Noh, Omar Soliman, Susan Wing, Ka Ki Yam


Fall 2014, Fall 2015
Instructor: Michael Bogan
Stanford Collaborators: Tobi Schmidt, Jolyn Gisselberg, Michelle Davison, Adam Idoine.
Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST)

This Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST) teamed CCA students with bioscience postdocs at Stanford to form collaborative teams that explored the synergies between biology, design, and art.  There were two primary goals:

1a. Create hybrid designs that were part human invention and part systemic living entities.

1b. Or use a living system to participate in the design of something

2. And in all cases, use hypothesis testing as a design method.  

The best way to explain this is with examples. 

William, an Industrial Design student, had read about “fish depression” and wanted to design a toy that his betta splendens could enjoy.  Because bettas display when they see conspecifics he hypothesized that his fish might respond to his own reflection.  He tested using mirrors and was successful. 

He then created a mirror ball, hypothesizing that something that was reflective and moved in the water, and moved when touched, would stimulate his fish.  He tested this, tweaked the ball, and it failed repeatedly.  He tired a faceted, floating, mirror tetrahedron, hypothesizing that a planar reflective surface would offer a better reflection than a curved surface.  This also failed.  He tested a rainbow ball, with different iterations including a spinning movement, and this too failed to interest the fish.  He created an underwater hologram of a swimming jellyfish using a submerged iPhone and an acrylic reflecting structure: again failure.  And he tried several other approaches.  Along the way, he noticed that what his fish liked to do was lean against the artificial grass in the tank and nap.  So eventually he designed a betta bed, and this at last was a great success.  The project was a betta-human design collaboration.

Ben, a Graphic Design student decided to create living fonts using bacteria colonies.  He swabbed bacteria letters onto agar plates, using different species of bacteria, and different nutrient levels in his agar.  He then let the bacterial growth and competition determine the shapes and fine details (serifs) of his fonts.  He developed this technique further by adding methods for stressing the bacteria, and by using kill solutions that created deletions.  The result was graphic design that was part human ingenuity and part bacteria.  These techniques were built on by other students who used fungi, and slime mold.

With Mary Cavanagh, and Lendert Gelens, Laura Kelsey-Meredith, Huanhuan He, Whitney Heavner, Dietsje Jolles, HoJoon Lee, Patricia Nano, Huy Tuan Nguyen, Leanna Owen, Angelica Parente, Karen Sachs, Jin Shen, Brady Weissbound

Buoyant Ecologies San Francisco

Fall 2014
Instructors: Adam Marcus, Margaret Ikeda, Evan Jones

This Integrated Building Design studio explores architectural opportunities at San Francisco’s edge: where the city meets the Bay.

The Embarcadero—an urban and historical nexus of industry, commerce, transport, and tourism—serves as a site for reimagining the waterfront as a critical and resilient element of the city’s ecology. Focusing on the slip adjacent to Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop, students have developed speculative proposals for a floating vessel that will both expand the workshop and open up new possibilities for public engagement along the Embarcadero. Just as the historical waterfront was a crucial engine for the industrial and commercial economies of its time, these projects speculate how the contemporary waterfront can engage with new realities and opportunities of San Francisco’s twenty-first century economies and ecologies. How can the floating structure—a place for assembling and displaying the creative work produced in the state-of-the-art Pier 9 Workshop—engage pedestrians along the Embarcadero and showcase emerging fabrication and production technologies? How can the vessel itself, in its construction, building systems, the research it facilitates, and the prototypes it produces, actively contribute to the surrounding ecology of the Bay? What kinds of architectural opportunities exist in such a mobile maritime structure?

The studio has collaborated with Autodesk’s Creative Programs Team, the Pier 9 Workshop, and research partners from the Benthic Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and Kreysler & Associates to explore these questions and imagine provocative and compelling new visions for the future of San Francisco’s waterfront.

The semester began with an intensive research charrette in which teams of students investigated specific topics, including subtidal zone ecology, vessel design principles, material and fabrication strategies, waterfront programs, land-water interface strategies, and building/environmental systems specific to this unique building typology. These themes extended into the design phase to help frame integrated approaches to the programmatic, material, and ecological parameters of the project.

The work of the studio was exhibited at the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco in the spring of 2015.


Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2014: Tyler Jones-Powell, Melissa Perkinson, Behnaz Banishahabadi, Maryam Nassajian, Jill Chin-Han Chao, Harrison Hong-Yi Chou, Sanna Lee, Hayfa Al-Gwaiz, Mikaela Leo, Jude Simon, Welbert Bonilla, Yasmine Orozco, Blake Stevenson, Dustin Tisdale

Luciferin Redux

Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014
Instructors: Michael Bogan (2011-14), Evan Pruitt (2011)
Stanford Collaborators: Mark Sellmyer, Tobi Schmidt, Chris Contag Lab

In this Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST) students worked in Stanford University's Contag Lab, which pioneered the technique of using firefly genes to make cells glow.  This technique allows cell movement and behavior could be studied in vivo.  Light-emitting substrates, luciferins (from luc -light + fer -bearer: light bearers), are at play here: thus the course name.

The course culminated with students manipulating populations of mouse breast-cancer cells into which firefly genes had been inserted.  Students developed proposals for the use of the cells, which the lab vetted.  The cells were then incubated under varying conditions prescribed by the students, at the lab.  And finally, the population of cells was manipulated in the lab, by the students, in a series of experiments designed to create art. 

Because the cells were to be manipulated in populations, the first part of the course reviewed basic biology, and population dynamics. This was paired with drawing exercises in which students created cellular growth and aggregation patterns using blind, mechanistic systems akin to natural ones.

Because the cells in the lab were suspended in a bovine serum, the course also included a module exploring fluid dynamics, specific gravity, surface tension, fluid mixing, fluid boundary layers, etc.  In a video assignment, from which stills have been pulled for this webpage, students were tasked with mixing fluids without mechanical agitation.