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RoTo + Nels Long + Peter Chu, Spring Studio 2021

Pomona X


Course Description:


Building upon last semester’s successes utilizing the Core gaming platform as a platform for architectural learning and exploration, this semester we will continue to use Core to explore a future for urbanization that is focused on biodiversity, system thinking, open source development, and public health.


This course parallels a research project currently in development by RoTo Architects, which proposes a plan to redevelop mostly vacant downtown Pomona into a vibrant BioTech research and development corridor. In today’s climate of instability and uncertainty, we are looking to nature to provide resilient futures for human experience. Urban Forests (Miyawaki Method), urban agriculture (and agroforestry), and biotechnology research programs will determine the use of the zone, while patterns in nature will be your portal to conceptualizing a formal, spatial, and functional (symbiotic) strategy for this urban and architectural project.


The Fractal Geometry of Nature (Mandelbrot) establishes the system of natural organization, while the Manipulation of the Organic (Sullivan) begins to set up procedures for elaborating on natural systems. A clear and thorough exploration of order and proportion (Doxiadis) within these exercises is the goal for an architectural process that proposes resiliency in nature.


To facilitate this, students will be assigned to adjacent sites within the redevelopment zone and will be responsible for working together in Core to create a cohesive, interactive vision for the future of Downtown Pomona.


As with last semester, students will be working in Core and all modeling will be limited to kitbashing using the objects available in the Core platform. Throughout the semester we will have workshops presented by our teaching staff, past students, and industry leaders collaborating on this project. Students will learn to work collaboratively in a game development environment and will produce an interactive experience which will be showed to City leaders, for which they will receive credit.


Additional Information:


Forest Geometry

Fractal geometry can be used to describe length, surface, and volume of natural objects such as trees, rivers, and mountains. Unlike the straight lines of classical geometry, natural lines do not have unique invariable lengths. They become longer when we use smaller units of measurement, which are able to reveal finer details of the line. Although both unit and length change, the parameter governing these changes remains invariant. This parameter, called the fractal dimension, is specific for each line. Fractal dimensions of natural lines are greater than one and the excess indicates the degree of convolution. Not all tree variables are fractals. Stem surface is fractal, but volume is not. Therefore, volume as well as tree height should be calculated using the methods of classical geometry. At the same time, potential applications of fractal geometry are not limited to quantifying natural lines and surfaces. Fractal geometry may produce new methods for estimating stand density, predicting forest succession, and describing the form of trees. It is shown that the fractal dimension of tree crowns is a good indicator of various tree and site features such as species tolerance, crown class, and site quality. Therefore, the crown fractal dimension could be the most meaningful single number for tree description. At the same time, improved video cameras could make this dimension the easiest tree variable to measure.


Where To Observe Fractals In Nature:


1. Trees

Trees are perfect examples of fractals in nature. You will find fractals at every level of the forest ecosystem, from seeds and pinecones to branches and leaves, and to the self-similar replication of trees, ferns, and plants throughout the ecosystem.


2. River Deltas

The Ayeyarwady River Delta in Myanmar is a great example of the fractal branching patterns of river delta ecosystems.


3. Growth Spirals

You will also find fractal patterns in growth spirals, which follow a Fibonacci series(also referred to as the Golden Spiral) and can be seen as a special case of self-similarity.


4. Flowers

Observe the self-replicating patterns of how flowers bloom to attract bees. Gardens are amazing places to explore the fractal nature of growth.


Patterns in Nature

“From the point of view of physics, spirals are lowest-energy configurations which emerge spontaneously through self-organizing processes in dynamic systems. From the point of view of chemistry, a spiral can be generated by a reaction-diffusion process, involving both activation and inhibition. Phyllotaxis is controlled by proteins that manipulate the concentration of the plant hormone auxin, which activates meristem growth, alongside other mechanisms to control the relative angle of buds around the stem. From a biological perspective, arranging leaves as far apart as possible in any given space is favored by natural selection as it maximizes access to resources, especially sunlight for photosynthesis.”

Fractals are hyper-efficient in their construction, and this allows plants to maximize their exposure to sunlight and also efficiently transport nutrients throughout their cellular structure. These fractal patterns of growth have a mathematical, as well as physical, beauty.


The Miyawaki Method

As a young graduate student in the late 1950s, Akira Miyawaki learned about the emergent concept of potential natural vegetation (PNV). This, along with his studies in phytosociology—the way plant species interact with each other—guided his explorations of the vegetation growing throughout his native Japan. Eventually, he began visiting Shinto sites and observing their chinju no mori, or “sacred shrine forests.” Miyawaki determined that these were time capsules, showing how indigenous forest was layered together from four categories of native plantings: main tree species, sub-species, shrubs, and ground-covering herbs.


Using this four-category system, along with his surveys of these sites and his knowledge of PNV and phytosociology, Miyawaki designed his own system for planting forests. It works like this: the soil of a future forest site is analyzed and then improved, using locally available sustainable amendments—for example, rice husks from a nearby mill. About 50 to 100 local plant species from the above four categories are selected and planted as seedlings in a random mix, like you would find growing naturally in the wild. The seedlings are planted very densely—20,000 to 30,000 per hectares as opposed to 1,000 per hectare in commercial forestry. For a period of two to three years the site is monitored, watered, and weeded, to give the nascent forest every chance to establish itself.


Forest Parts and Layers



Forests consist not only of living (biotic) components like trees, animals, plants, and other living things,

but also of nonliving (abiotic) components such as soil, water, air, and landforms.


All of these components together make up a forest ecosystem.



Rain forest layers

• Emergent layer. The emergent layer has high treetops that rise above everything else.

• Canopy. The canopy is made up of thick branches and leaves of taller trees.

• Understory. The understory is the warm, damp, and sheltered layer below the canopy.

• Forest floor. The forest floor is the darkest and dampest layer.


Course Organization:

  1. Projects will be developed in Core and will utilize Git ( to coordinate contributions to the studio’s virtual site.

  2. Communication will be hosted on Discord in the form of voice channels for in game discussion and text channels dedicated to a number of specific knowledge areas.

  3. Weekly, students will receive multiple forms of instruction ranging from discussions on theory and research to critique and project-related discussion to workshops and technical instruction.

  4. In addition to Michael, students in this course will have Nels and other RoTo staff available to aid them throughout the semester.

  5. This semester we are working to establish a schedule of weekly workshops hosted by teaching staff on a range of technologies and design techniques.

  6. Additionally, we are partnering with a number of domain experts to offer workshops ranging from sound and musical experience design, biophilic and sustainable design, agriculture and landscape, media and games, neuroscientists, etc.


Student Learning Objectives and Outcomes:

  • Student Learning Objective 1: Working cooperatively in a digital platform

    • Student Learning Outcome 1: knowledge sharing peer to peer, research via crowd sourcing, learning applicable technology for collaborating on virtual projects

  • Student Learning Objective 2: Urban Masterplanning

    • Student Learning Outcome 2: repurposing underutilized, undervalued small city downtown with too many empty buildings, vacant land, parking lots

  • Student Learning Objective 3: Alternative futures for urban biodiversity

    • Student Learning Outcome 3: forestry and farming, or regenerative agroforestry (food, medicinal botanicals), Shinrin'yoku

  • Student Learning Objective 4: Nature-Inspired Architecture

    • Student Learning Outcome 4: designing affinity spaces and facilities for Bio-tech research, education, and enterprise based on natural geometry, manipulation of organic forms (L. Sullivan), and kitbashing primitives


Readings / Reference Material

  • Tompkins, Peter. The Secret Life of Plants

  • Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees

  • Sullivan, Louis. A System of Architectural Ornament

  • Mandelbrot, Benoit. The Fractal Geometry of Nature

  • The Call of the Forest (Amazon Prime Documentary)

  • Unnatural Selection (Netflix Documentary)

  • The Good Food Institute (

  • The Foresight Institute (

  • Biggest Little Farm (Netflix Prime Documentary)



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