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Roto & Nels Long, Fall Studio 2018


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SCI Arc, Spring Studio 2021


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SCI Arc, Spring Studio 2017

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SCI Arc, Fall Studio 2013

SCI Arc, Fall Studio 2012

SCI Arc, Spring Studio 2009



Reclaiming Civility and Conversation

What if there was a place for radical inclusion and creative expression?

What if there was a place for to reclaim conversation and dialogue via verbal and visual storytelling?

What if we studied Black Rock City to use it as a precedent for social order, planning, and governance?



Communication             _conversation, dialogue, storytelling, agency, identity

Life Long Learning        _creativity, play, cooperative exchange, identity

Urban Nomads              _travelers, traders, tricksters, magicians, outliers

Architecture                   _fragmentation to order, pattern, form, space, light, tectonic

Food                                _resilience, connection, communion, nourishment, science



What is the basis for the breakdown in communication today? 

“in spite of this worldwide system of linkages, there is, at this moment, a general feeling that communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale. People living in different nations, with different economic and political systems, are hardly able to talk to each other without fighting. And within any single nation, different social classes and economic and political groups and religions are caught in a similar pattern of inability to understand each other”.                David Bohm


What is Burning Man?

This past week Black Rock City filled up with 70,000 people, and now it is gone, with a radical erasure of anyone having been present at all. An instant city, in fact. 

A peaceful gathering and no one died.  


How is it possible? The desert is turned into a self-organized city. Whatever is there is created. People are free to create anything, no exception. It is radical invention, having evolved a set of principles since 1986. Its collaborative planning, strategic self-organized deployment, and open sector governance challenges the conventions of a centralized hub and spoke system. Burning Man is a place where others’ uniqueness, freedom of expression and the right to do whatever you want (as long as it doesn’t violate anyone else’s rights) is highly valued.  So, in a fundamental way, it’s a place that inspires people to participate instead of to spectate, to suspend fixed judgement about what is right and wrong, and instead to become immersed in the field of infinite possibilities. And it is a place where everyone tests their ideas by constructing them full size in real time.


We will study Black Rock City to know its evolving planning and organizational strategies. Also, of great interest is its collaborative process and its governance system. We will deconstruct them systemically, and test them as a precedent for our current task, a caravanserai in the deserts of California. Why?

Current global events

Currently we see systemic failure of many institutional structures of industrial democracy, globally.

And what we see is the emergence of a new way of social ordering being brought on by advances in technology and a fourth industrial revolution. Displacement of humans from their homes and countries are among the most significant symptoms. 

We saw this once before in my lifetime, in the 1960’s a time when conventional institutional structures were challenged, threatening the status quo. Riots, marches, civil disobedience, legal fights, persisted for almost a decade. There was a lot of destruction but no real comprehensive plan for re-construction. But there were positive exceptions. In So. California, a handful of students and faculty reacted in anger to the injustice laid on them but turned to the flipside of anger, JOY, and founded SCI-Arc. In many ways it parallels the life cycle of BM, conceived as an idea and a desire to test it full scale in real time, based on a vision in the power and promise of Architecture. We searched for common ground, and constantly negotiated the rules of engagement. Some of us grew up here as the place grew up all the while believing this would be the place where we could experience something transformative, we could experience the nature of our own humanity. 



Is technology silencing this generation?

"technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online we fall prey to illusion of companionship gathering thousands of tweets and facebook friends, and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. But this relentless connection leads to a deeper solitude."                                                                Sherry Turkle



Have we sacrificed conversation for mere connection?

"our most basic technology, face to face conversation, is our most important tool. Talk is the key to so much of what we as human beings hold dear."                Sherry Turkle


reflections on a project

I wondered, what role of the Architect and her Architectural mind, plays?        

Technology is a great benefit to humans. It amplifies our senses, augments our body’s 

reach, physically and conceptually, and it connects us to a greater number of people worldwide in what was once unimaginable ways. But like splitting the atom, for all the good it has given us, there is a downside. With optimism and insight that come from our own conversations, we will address these new challenges with our creativity for making places for people. The Enchanted toy and Caravanserai will be our attempt at a provisional answer. We will ask as we work and play, 

what brings people together?

what keeps us together?

what gives meaning to our relationships?


on DIALOGUE     

"during the past few decades, modern technology has woven a network of communications which puts each part of the world into almost instant contact with all the other parts. Yet, in spite of this world-wide system of linkages, there is, at this very moment, a general feeling that communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale. People living in different nations, with different economic and political systems, are hardly able to talk to each other without fighting."                                                                                                                              David Bohm

                                                                                                                        Theoretical Physicist


Dialogue is a freely flowing, open minded, group conversation.         

It is an attempt to reach a common understanding, and common ground, experiencing each other’s point of view without judgement. This may lead to new and deeper personal and collective understanding.        

reflections on a project

on this site, we will construct 100 stoops for pairs of people to sit and converse, exchanging ideas and their emotional intelligence. These conversations will be the building blocks for storytelling and eventually the worldbuilding of a continually evolving physical plan and architecture. 



Have we lost a source for our common ground of being?

"it’s all a question of story.  We are in trouble now because we do not have a good story.  We are in between stories. The Old Story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective, yet we have no alternative New Story. Our traditional story of the Universe, sustained us for a long time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purposes, and energized action."

                                                                                  Thomas Berry, The Great Story



reflections on a project

We need a new story, one that replaces the old story, one that is an aggregation of all the stories told in the monthly mini-festivals taking place at the Caravanserai. Why? In the quantum world we now live in, a story, told from a single point of view, is no longer tenable. 

So, we are proposing a new concept for constructing an alternative story. 

What if we conceived of a place for people who believed it was possible to construct a new grand story, from an ever-growing number of unique individual stories. Many stories, connected and nested, becoming one grand story, a hybridized story, story that embodied and expressed diversity and unity.





The main objectives of our design research and creative production, this semester, 

will be to explore the nexus of architecture, human communication, technology, and social impact.

Like humans, Architecture goes through identity crisis from time to time. In parallel to our fear of losing our own identity, Architecture has retreated into itself to re-discover an autonomous state of being, 

We also rediscover in deeper ways, the uniqueness of our histories and theories. This is natural to any entity living interactionally and transactional world. The third law of motion is reciprocal action. In a quantum world change is not one sided, so periodically it is essential to check yourself out and to take note of what has been gained and lost in these transactions. To sustain promise Architecture embodies it must remain integral in all of its transactions with the world at large. It must engage the world at large for the benefit of that world. The equivalent of a positive transactional relationship, I often refer to is that of photons entering each-others ‘zone of interference’. Each remains integral and something wonderful is born of the relationship, light. On the other side of the zone they are still integral as they keep moving.


Collective learning and creativity gave us a history, making it possible for us to learn more, faster while in proximity to others. We benefit immensely living in and contributing to our community through our everyday interactions. It gives us purpose and meaning. 


This project, in the desert, will be our field of operations, the NEXUS, where we test these premises.


We will come at it from two directions, 

Architecture giving form to Life. (autonomous discipline)


Life giving form to Architecture. (embedded platform)


We will not take sides, instead we will mediate a ‘dialogue’ between the two. 

There are examples of social impact used as an alibi for dumbing down the architecture. Not acceptable. In fact, there are other examples where together they yield outcomes that are enriched in unexpected ways. Architecture plays an extra-ordinary role in the human enterprise as a dynamic memory and expression of the best we can be and do.  

We are currently living in a time of faith and fear when large scale, less than visible, radical change, confronts the status quo of all institutional structures. This calls for radical creativity.        

The problems we face are epic in scale, but to creative people with an Architectural mind, this challenge is welcome. The bigger the challenge the bigger the smile.

We will discuss the backstory and the front story for these epic problems, not to debate or argue a position, but to unpack them in ways that are useful and will give insight to the Architectural mind.




for mixing play, technology, learning, and life-long friendship


provocation 1

what if we could create an ideal toy that would be our companion from cradle to grave,

for conversation, play, friendship, and mentoring?



Technology is getting smaller and smarter and fundamentally more responsive to our needs and to some degree beginning to foresee our interests. Technology is atomizing and combining itself with many objects all around us and will continue to be woven into the background of our environment.       

An Enchanted Toy, enhanced with sensors, actuators, wireless connection, and embedded processing, will be our friend and concierge. This toy will also serve as a partner for practicing human conversation (social) and dialogue (intellectual).


Duration 5 weeks





for Cosmological Orphans (aka local and global Nomads and Outliers)


provocation 1

what if there was a place that gave agency, identity, and a sense of belonging and purpose, to individuals without a country, a commune, or a home, who had a wonderful story to share with others?


premise 1

The Caravanserai were roadside inns built to shelter men, goods, and animals along the Silk Road that connected China, Central Asia, and Europe in ancient times. These staging posts formed the world’s first globalized overland network and stand as a testament to a flourishing period of multicultural exchange. Their architecture, fortress-like or permeable in urban or safer territories, and their surrounding landscapes, once welcomed travelers, traders, and pilgrims to share goods, stories, ideas, and personal discoveries. It is a model that is still appropriate today. We will study how a once fortress like quadrangle can be fragmented and distributed over this 80 acre site. These varying size ‘fragments’ will be distributed and networked with paths and roadways according to your own planning and formal strategies. Each of you will test the entire list site strategies listed below to better understand each in this context and what they have to offer. You will also test several formal propositions appropriate to the planning strategy.  

Site: 80 acres desert lands in Mesquite Flats north of Joshua Tree)


reflections on methodology 

World Building designates a narrative practice in which the design of a world precedes the telling of a story; the richly detailed world becomes a container for narrative, producing stories that emerge logically and organically from its well-designed core. World Building is founded on three beliefs, namely that storytelling is the most powerful system for the advancement of human capability due to its ability to allow the human imagination to precede the realization of thought; that all stories emerge logically and intuitively from the worlds that create them; and that new technologies powerfully enable us to sculpt the imagination into existence.


Note: we will be periodically collaborate with the WBI / USC and Alex McDowell.



Communication              _conversation, dialogue, storytelling, agency, identity

Life Long Learning         _creativity, play, cooperative exchange, identity

Urban Nomads               _travelers, traders, tricksters, magicians, outliers

Architecture                    _fragmentation, order, pattern, form, space, tectonic

Food                                 _creativity, resilience, connection, communion, nourishment



strategies and methodologies change








reference (research)

paradigm and precedent

1. human settlements (emerging and evolving)

2. burning man (black rock city)


site strategy

metaphorical                 mirroring                        _earth and sky

symbolic                         spatial                            _hierarchical

medieval                        irregular                          _negotiated

geographic                    topographic                   _relational

geometric                      order                               _predetermined

Jeffersonian                   grid                                 _non-hierarchical

open sector                   contextual                      _distributed



_work-live-gather-construct-play-commune-administer-govern _workshops (studios, fab labs, classrooms)

_non-programmed sheds 

_story telling pavilions  

_dialogue follies 

_residential, cabins, airstreams, tents, 

_farm, aquaponic and earth based

_food processing and prep

_community kitchen

_cafe and restaurant

Program (conceptual)

a settlement 

for traders, travelers, tricksters, and magicians to find common ground via storytelling, work, and food.

a free zone 

for reclaiming conversation, dialogue, and creative expression for explorers, looking for a communal life.

a lifelong kindergarten 

for informal, lifelong learning, offering 21st century skills to succeed in preferred near future realities.

a platform 

for creating new grand hybrid story and transformative experiences.

an architecture 

for shelter, production, storage, and exchange, emerges from chaos and fragmentation of prior worlds into synchronized agreements, and coherent pattern, and form. 




A)         Communication               _conversation, dialogue, storytelling, agency

B)         Life Long-Learning          _creativity, play, cooperative exchange, identity

C)         Urban Nomads                _travelers, traders, tricksters, magicians, outliers

D)         Architecture                     _chaos and fragmentation syncs into pattern and form

E)         Planning                            _metaphoric, geographic, geometric

F)          Food                                 _creativity, collaboration, resilience, connection, nourishment


farm to table

Food will be grown in traditional land-based ways and aquaponics which grows year around and uses 90% less water than traditional farming. 

the entire farm to table process is intended as a learning laboratory.

The food preparation serving, and dining experience, will serve as cultural mediators. 

The search for common ground begins with sharing meals _

The food will be an exhibition and expression of world culture.

Food storage, herbs and spice storage, food preparation (ethnic spices, herbs, flavors)

and cooking will be organized for demonstration and teaching.  

There will be an annual harvest festival (ritual) 

All dining will communal tables.


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