Reformatting Land — Engaging Students into Pressing Urban Challenges of the San Leandro Bay

Two of the most pressing urban challenges facing the Bay Area in coming years include rising sea levels and rising house prices. While seemingly unrelated, both challenges require us to rethink how we deploy, evaluate, organize, and urbanize land. Relatedly, these demands are new opportunities for us to consider how ecological and urban processes find synergetic relationships. Reformatting Land, a studio taught by Neeraj Bhatia at CCA, is examining different states of land and water to unpack how design can create more equitable and resilient cities. Working with the All Bay Collective team as part of the Resilient by Design challenge, the studio is employing scenario building through different scales of time to test how architecture can empower people and environments in the future — even if these futures are difficult to envision. Students have centered their investigation on the San Leandro Bay and constructed a massive 12-foot model of the site to test different scenarios through projected animations.

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This unique challenge requires the integration across disciplines as well as across generations, and students have been fortunate to work closely with members of the the All Bay Collective team through reviews, workshops, and lectures. Over the course of the term, students engaged with the following ABC guest speakers:

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Richard Hindle (UC Berkeley)

Richard’s lecture on ‘Inventing Landscape’, examined the role of patent innovation in large-scale environmental systems. Using the Mississippi Delta and California Delta as case studies, he revealed how specific technologies were deployed to territorialize land. This provided a radical way to consider innovation that could occur in a bottom-up fashion, yet aggregate to a territorial scale.

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Chris Guillard and Jamie Phillips (CMG Landscape Architecture)

Chris and Jamie discussed the historic distinction between culture and nature, which is dissolving in our post-nature, Anthropocene Era. Investigating how culture and nature can be integrated and synergistic, they discussed their Treasure Island project as a case study on how flood protection, urbanism, and equity can be considered together.

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Kristina Hill (UC Berkeley)

Kristina’s lecture on ‘Pond Urbanism’, asked “Can a city float”? Using case studies from the Netherlands, she foregrounded innovative technologies that enable urbanization along the water’s edge.

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Nicholas De Monchaux (UC Berkeley)

Nicholas’ talk situated design discourse in the Bay into two related histories — the development of the aesthetics of Apple Computers and Star Wars. Reconsidering the narrative of Bay Area design, his talk focused on how two influential things of global culture emerged from the distinctive qualities of place and ecology of the Bay.

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Brad Leibin (David Baker Architects)

Brad exposed students to how faster and denser housing can produced affordability. Specifically he examined the role of pre-fabricated and modular housing as a way to create higher quality environments at a lower cost. This provided a unique model to address the growing need for affordable housing in the Bay.

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Stephen Engblom (AECOM)

Stephen presented research he is doing with the AECOM Cities Group. Focusing on case-studies from ranging from London to Brooklyn, he revealed how the triple-bottom line model can be employed to ensure a productive negotiation between different stakeholders as well as a re-framing of ‘value’.


These lectures have proved to be instrumental to the students in the development of their course work. The studio’s final review will be on April 28th. It will be exciting for all of us to participate in the studio’s final review on April 28th.


Jake Herson