Future of the American City Initiative

“The future of the American city is very much linked to questions of urban development and urbanization across the globe. Therefore, I think there’s something very exciting to really think about the future of the American city in the context of this worldliness.” – Mohsen Mostafavi, 2019

The Future of the American City project is an urban study initiative aimed at helping cities tackle urgent challenges. Building on the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s unique, multi-disciplinary model, the effort will use architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning and design to come up with actionable, efficient solutions that take into account community needs.

Research on Miami will form the first phase of the project, a broader initiative intending to also examine the cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston. The school plans to host a summit to convene experts from each city to create a national discourse on the future of cities and urban life in America.

To engage Miami residents in creating new approaches to address pressing urban issues—including affordable housing, transportation and sea level rise—the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is providing $1 million in support to the Harvard GSD. With the funding, the school will embed urban researchers in Miami and Miami Beach to better understand the cities’ opportunities and challenges, and launch a multi-year study toward building solutions shaped by residents.

Researchers at the GSD have been actively connected with the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach for several years. Since 2012, the school has conducted six courses focused on Miami and held several major events in the city. Expanding on this work, the school will convene a range of experts, policy-makers, and members of the public to contribute to this new effort.

In its research, the school will focus on urban mobility, affordability, and climate change, themes that emerged from a series of previous discussions among its researchers and members of the Miami and Miami Beach communities. Following their analysis, students and faculty will offer toolkits, white papers, and other materials for review and use by city managers, mayors, and other civic leaders, many of whom will be directly involved throughout the study.

Project Team: Mohsen Mostafavi (PI), Charles Waldheim (co-PI), Jesse Keenan (co-PI), Chris Reed, Sean Canty, Lily Song, Aziz Barbar, Charlie Gaillard, Mercedes Peralta, Jeffrey S. Nesbit, Jessy Yang, Tam Banh, Theodore Kofman, and Jonah Susskind.

Partners: Michael Rock / 2 × 4.

Evergrande Times New City

“Agriculture is being increasingly submitted to the market economy and now this is the new state, a more digitalised landscape.” – Rem Koolhaas, 2014

Evergrande Times New City introduces new techniques by integrating advanced technologies with agricultural modernization for new town planning in the Chinese countryside. As a series of principles, standards, and applicable techniques, 50 Unique New Towns focuses on scenario programming, collaborations between town and agricultural production, and increasing the diversity of density and distribution. Covering an area of 10km2 and accommodating a range of 50,000 to 250,000 people, 10% of the urbanized area incorporates the surrounding agricultural land and includes new economic industries such as tourism, healthcare, education, and eco-production.

50 Unique New Towns’ primary themes—lifestyle, health, agriculture, energy, and culture—support an increase in agricultural modernization while simultaneously improving living conditions in the Chinese countryside by utilizing innovative technologies. With the great migration leading to demographic shifts, from the retired and aging population to agricultural workers and early nesters, the distance between agricultural land and dense urban cities has increased. However, Evergrande Times New City intentionally anticipates a return to the countryside, with people attracted by healthy living and promoting agricultural heritage.

China’s agricultural heritage is not only a vital component of conservation of cultural heritage, but also becomes the identity for distribution of Evergrande Times New City. Set within the central area of planning, the local heritage crop defines ecological cycles and cultural identity supported through agricultural tourism, leisure, and social programming. With an emphasis on integrating industry, service, and agriculture, the new towns benefit from living in harmony with nature and allowing for a diversity of density and walkability, and promote new forms of countryside accessibility.

50 Unique New Towns comprises 50 world-leading technologies and techniques based on five technical themes: Smart City [Data + Technology], Green City [Energy + Urban Form], Sponge City [Hydrology + Agriculture], Health City [Public Health + Lifestyle], and Culture City [Conservation + Culture]. These technical aspects provide applicable strategies for new town planning implemented into scenario planning and distributed across diverse regions in China. In relation to agricultural production and social activity, climate, geology, and solar irradiation models propose specific orientations and distributions through key innovative steps for scenario planning of future agriculture-based Chinese new towns.

Project Team: Mohsen Mostafavi (PI), Charles Waldheim (PI), Boya Zhang, Aziz Barbar, Mingyu Kim, Xun Liu, Jeffrey S. Nesbit, Mercedes Peralta, Seok Min Yeo, Pamela Cabrera, Kenney Carmody, Anna Kaertner, Steven Kosovac, Bonnie-Kate Walker, Zishen Wen, and Weijia Wu.

Faculty Partners: Scott Cohen, Ann Forsyth, Teresa Gali Izard, Holly Samuelson, Andres Sevtsuk, and Bing Wang.

Heliomorphic Seoul

“The conception of form is ultimately the understanding of the forces that gave rise to it, as a representation of a form is a diagram of forces in equilibrium.” – Victor Olgyay, 1963

The Han River is a symbol of Korean civilization. It has been a vital source of water and agricultural production for thousands of years. Long ago, the city of Seoul was founded just north of the river. Today, the city extends well beyond the river, spurred by rapid industrialization and economic expansion. The industrialization of the river has led to massive ecological damage and loss of biodiversity along the Han.

Heliomorphic Seoul proposes an image of the city driven by bioproductivity. Landforms emerge from engineered ecological systems. Dispersed engineering structures redirect water flow, stabilize land, and accumulate soil. Synthetic ecologies introduce pondweeds and egrets, feed anchovies and weasels, and extend ranges for tiger butterflies and short-eared owls. Continuous erosion and deposition nurture dynamic ecological cycles.

Hangangcheolgyo (Han River Railroad Bridge) has connected the South Korean peninsula for over a century. Tunnels planned for the site promise to render the bridge redundant. Heliomorphic Seoul transforms Hangangcheolgyo into a vibrant, productive landscape, increasing biodiversity and establishing a platform for ecological connectivity.

Twelve residential towers traverse the river, absorbing water and solar energy. Heliomorphic Seoul proposes sustainable energy models for thermodynamic performance, including solar orientation, absorption, and reflection. Façade panels use biomass to filter air pollutants and support habitats in the sky. Fog-harvesting screens capture precipitation high over the city. Heliomorphic Seoul produces novel forms of bioproductivity, radically reimagining the city’s growth traversing the Han.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim, Jeffrey S. Nesbit, Aziz Barbar, Mingyu Kim, Xun Liu, Ciara Stein, and Seok Min Yeo.

Partners: Eric de Broche des Combes / Luxigon.

Elevated Parks on Obsolete Transportation Infrastructure

“Infrastructure’s long-term value, whether used or disused, is tied to a place. It is a local and material response to societal and economic challenges. Today we spend so much time immersed in the mediating environments of networked society, staring at data through monitors and at highways through windshields, that we are prone to forget infrastructure’s powerfully physical nature.” – Ian Baldwin, 2019

This report presents a series of themes, considerations, and recommendations related to the practice of redeveloping obsolete urban transportation infrastructures. Given the pace of economic restructuring and ongoing urbanization, many cities find themselves inheriting elevated rail or road infrastructures that have outlived their original use. While many of these redundant infrastructures are razed to make room for new forms of development, an increasing number are being offered a second life as elevated public parks. The practice of adapting defunct urban infrastructures came to prominence in the 1990s with the conversion of the Promenade Plantée in Paris, a 4.7-kilometer-long elevated walkway atop an abandoned railway viaduct in Paris’s 12ème arrondissement. The practice was further developed during the 2000s with The High Line, a 2.3-kilometer-long park built atop a disused stretch of elevated freight rail line in western Manhattan. Following their success, elevated parks proliferated during the 2010s, a trend that is expected to continue to accelerate. In light of the wide and rapid acceptance of this mode of adaptive reuse, as well as the ubiquity of derelict transit-destined areas in cities around the world, this research project draws on a comparative, case-based study of such parks in order to inform the discipline of landscape and urban design.

The specific context for this analysis is the case of the IIIia Highway in the Barrio 31 area of Buenos Aires City, for which a similar redevelopment project was recently proposed as part of a larger urban integration plan. The work presented in this report, in line with the Office’s goal of addressing societal and cultural conditions associated with modern urbanization through design research, organizes and visually represents complex arrays of information related to Illia Highway’s prospective conversion. Instead of producing a definitive design, it negotiates between analysis and proposal, using simulations and scenario-based projections to reveal relevant conditions that can serve to later guide the design processes.

This research project revolves around a series of key themes — identity, accessibility, activity, hydrology, ecology, energy, and materiality — drawn from studying international precedents and presented in order of priority. Each theme, developed over the course of a chapter, serves as a lens through which to tackle areas of interest. As such, “Identity,” as a topic, becomes a point of departure for thinking about the materialization of the park; “Accessibility” refers to issues of entry, as points of access are related to the intricate and narrow spatial conditions of Barrio 31’s buildings; “Activity” proposes thinking through programming and events throughout the whole section of the highway; “Hydrology” illustrates how water can be both a challenge and an asset for the park; “Ecology” displays the interconnectedness between users, vegetation, biodiversity and microclimates; “Energy” considers the influence of the sun patterns and the need for shade in the proposed park; and “Materiality” helps to anticipate the volume of materials to be dealt with and notes the ramifications thereof. In addition, direct guidance is offered for the development of various scenarios along with advice on the convening of academic and professional peer reviews and the documentation and dissemination of findings. The Barrio 31 case in Buenos Aires is assessed in relation to similar projects in New York, Chicago, Paris, Barcelona and Seoul, integrating different forms of knowledge in order to foster social, cultural, and environmental renewal. With an ecological framework as its background, Barrio 31’s proposed park stands not only to join the city’s roster of celebrated landmarks, but also to set a new precedent for urban redevelopment around the world.

A synthetic representation of the precedents used is compiled at the end of the report in the form of a comparative catalog. This report ends with a series of general observations and recommendations, as well as a small list of winning proposals in the international competition for the design of the elevated park.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim (PI), Daniel Quesada Lombó, Erin Yook, Mercedes Peralta, Aziz Barbar, Daniel Ibañez, Sofia Xanthakou, Lane Raffaldini Rubin, and Charlie Gaillard.

Landscape as Urbanism in the Americas

“Landscape Urbanism presents an implicit critique of architecture and urban design’s inability to offer coherent and convincing accounts of contemporary urban conditions.” – Charles Waldheim, 2016

The multi-year project in collaboration with various Latin American institutions, Landscape Urbanism in the Americas, is guided through a series of discussions on the potentials for landscape as a medium of urban intervention in the specific social, cultural, economic and ecological context of Latin American cities. Over the past two decades, landscape has been claimed as a model and medium for the contemporary city. The discourse and practices of landscape as urbanism can be found in Europe, North America, and Asia. During this time, a range of alternative architectural and urban practices have emerged across Latin America, situating ecological and territorial implications for the urban project.

The conference series revealed a set of theoretical and practical skills that could benefit from the establishment of a dialogue within and beyond the Latin American region. This first set of conversations is now available online, accompanied by an archive of design projects curated by our advisory board. Through its research, education, public outreach programs and the careful selection of design projects, this ongoing collaboration provides a foundational platform as the first repository of its kind for landscape and urbanism to suggest alternative approaches to urban form across the continent.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim (PI), Felipe Vera (PI), Luis Callejas, Jeannette Sordi, Tomas Folch, Pedro Aparicio, Sara Favargiotti, Daniel Quesada Lombó and Mercedes Peralta.

Mobility-Oriented Design

“The city of Miami has always been modern. Born of the railroad and fed by the airlines, it was shaped by transportation systems that linked the city to distant destinations while dividing local districts. Perhaps as a result . . . the city has long been divided into interdependent, yet spatially distinct cities.” – Gray Read, 2009

Mobility-Oriented Design (MOD): The Case of Miami Metrorail investigates the multiple facets of public transit in Miami-Dade County and its effects on the urban fabric. Broadly, this design research project seeks to understand how public transit operates within the county and why it has historically underperformed. MOD focuses on Miami Metrorail as a case study and identifies and analyzes the specific parameters that have guided transportation and development within the city’s emergent transit corridor along U.S. Highway 1.

This research project synthesizes multiple perspectives and analytical frameworks to present the historical and contemporary factors that contribute to Miami Metrorail’s low ridership and poor accessibility. It pays particular attention to the influence of public opinion, the day-to-day experience of riders, and the relationship between the transit system and its surrounding urban context. A close analysis of these factors and an investigation of correlated prospects and issue areas informs several design scenarios that are intended to visualize and project future options and investment alternatives. Ultimately, this project proposes a menu of recommendations at a variety of scales that are meant to inform decision-making around reinvigorating Metrorail’s existing infrastructure, facilitating ridership, promoting higher-density living, and improving the rail’s integration into the urban fabric.

Project Team: Mohsen Mostafavi (PI), Charles Waldheim (co-PI), Jesse Keenan (co-PI), Jessy Yang, Aziz Barbar, Daniel Quesada Lombó, Charlie Gaillard, Mercedes Peralta, Tommy Hill, Sofia Xanthakou, and Fletcher Phillips.

Partners: Michael Rock / 2 × 4, and Eric Rodenbeck / Stamen.

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Heliomorphic Chicago

“The forms of buildings and groups of buildings must, themselves, be adaptive. The cyclic variations of nature must be specifically recognized as the governing purpose for the design of an adaptive architecture that will embody a new aesthetic.” – Ralph Knowles, 1974

Heliomorphic Chicago imagines the radical revision of Chicago’s urban form through optimized solar performance. The project makes new history by presenting a pair of counterfactual futures—two Chicagos that might have been. These alternative visions are modeled through specific parameters of solar access and ecological performance. The project presents alternative potentials for many of Chicago’s iconic buildings as opposing pairs, optimized in relation to either social equity or sustainable energy. Heliomorphic Chicago posits a pair of alternative histories for Chicago’s collective urban identity as derived from the simple, yet intractable, opposition of zero-sum economies —solar equity on one hand and solar energy on the other.

The speculative modeling of Heliomorphism is disseminated through a range of disciplinary audiences, including academic conferences and international exhibitions. Exhibited in the Chicago Architecture Biennial (2017) and recalibrated to reflect the conditions of towers.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim, Aziz Barbar, Matthew Moffitt, Daniel Quesada Lombó, Amir Karimpour, Helen Kongsgaard, Fletcher Phillips, Christopher Reznich, Lane Raffaldini Rubin, Dana Shaikh Solaiman, Isabel Strauss, and Jessy Yang.

Partners: Siena Scarff / Siena Scarff Design.

Airfield Manual

“Thousands of abandoned or underutilized airports exist around the world, and these redundant infrastructures present extraordinary opportunities for addressing the social, economic, and ecological challenges confronted by cities today.” – Office for Urbanization, 2017

The city of Mendoza, Argentina presents a unique opportunity to examine the extraordinary benefits that the transformation of decommissioned airfields might bring to the city and its inhabitants. The Mendoza Aeroparque is a 72-hectare decommissioned airfield sitting at the western edge of the Andean city in a strategic position between the foothills and the high plains. The Aeroparque sits today behind concrete walls surrounded by the ongoing urbanization of a 1200-hectare district spanning two municipalities and host to various social, natural, economic and urban challenges. The twin municipalities of Mendoza and Las Heras belong to a the larger metropolitan area along with five other municipalities including Godoy Cruz, Guaymallén, Luján, Maipú and Lavalle. Taken together, these department make up Greater Mendoza, a metropolitan area with 1,900,000 inhabitants. Mendoza is among the world capitals of wine production and is known for this specific agricultural, commercial, and tourist economy. Mendoza’s high desert climate features warm summers and very cold winters. Mendoza is presently the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. Situated in the Precordilleras de la Rioja, San Juan y Mendoza, the city was established in 1561 in an alluvial high plain whose ecological input dictated the organizational logic of its urban form. The region is predominantly a desert due to low levels of precipitation; however, pre-Hispanic water management techniques engineered the land to be amenable to human life. The city’s grid was designed to capture Andean snowmelt and provide an urban oasis through a system of channels called “acequias.” These channels form the morphological and hydrological logic of the city’s spatial structure. During the second half of the twentieth century, urban expansion advanced from the plain up into the mountains, occupying parts of the piedmont ecosystem of the Andean slope. The Mendoza Aeroparque, an exception to this historical line of urban expansion, is a major land area whose ecology can generate new sensitive urban forms.

This research report proposes a series of recommendations for the future transformation of the Mendoza Aeroparque. The Aeroparque’s location and surrounding conditions provide the ideal setting for a strategic urban plan that binds together multiple scales of impact and reprograms available land with mixed uses. Its objective is to share with local stakeholders a set of spatial considerations where landscape and ecology are the media of new urban form. These recommendations were structured following two site visits by the Office to Mendoza, Argentina in December 2016 and March 2017. Both visits comprise part of a half-year research project led by Principal Investigator Charles Waldheim and Research Associate Pedro Aparicio at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, MA. During each site visit, engagement with public officials, technical experts, the academic community, and local citizens offered nuanced visions about the challenges and opportunities that this airfield conversion might entail.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim (PI), Pedro Aparicio, Sara Favargiotti, Mariano Gomez-Luque, Matthew Moffitt, Ruben Segovia, Dana Shaikh Solaiman, Ximena de Villafranca, and David Zielnicki.

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Charlie Gaillard

Charlie Gaillard is an American strategist and research assistant in the Office for Urbanization. Gaillard completed his B.A. in English and Art History at Williams College. His work takes place at the intersection of language and visual culture. Prior to joining the Office, he held a position as a strategist at the design consultancy 2×4.

Seok Min Yeo

Seok Min Yeo is a Korean landscape urbanist and research associate at the Office for Urbanization. Yeo completed his MLA at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and his B.Arch at Syracuse University School of Architecture. Yeo’s work explores techniques of understanding and translating ecological phenomena into design methods, with a special interest in the relationship of the sun and the built form of the city. Before coming to Harvard, he held design positions at Payette and Safdie Architects.

Boya Zhang

Boya Zhang is a Chinese architect and research associate in the Office for Urbanization. Zhang completed his MArch II at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and holds his MArch degree and BArch degree with Distinction from Tsinghua University. Zhang’s research interests focus on the interactions between urban form and its environs shaped by cultural and political forces. Prior to joining the Office, he worked for architectural offices in Beijing, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Research Assistants

Celina Abba, MLA ’23

Christopher Ball, MAUD ’23

Fabiana Casale, MLA, MDes ’22

Olani Ewunnet, MDes ’22

Slide Kelly, MLA, MDes ’24

Angela Moreno-Long, MLA ’22

Arty Vartanyan, MLA, MAUD ’23

GSD Faculty

Preston Scott Cohen, Gerald M. McCue Professor in Architecture

Timothy Dekker, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture

Jill Desimini, Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture

Gareth Doherty, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Senior Research Associate

Ann Forsyth, Professor of Urban Planning, Director of the Master in Urban Planning Program

Jerold Kayden, Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design

Ali Malkawi, Professor of Architectural Technology and Founding Director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities

David Moreno-Mateos, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture

Richard Peiser, Michael D. Spear Professor of Real Estate Development

Chris Reed, Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture

Holly W. Samuelson, Assistant Professor of Architecture

Andres Sevtsuk, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning

Bing Wang, Assistant Professor in Practice of Real Estate and the Built Environment

Amy Whitesides, Design Critic in Landscape Architecture

Andrew Witt, Assistant Professor in Practice of Architecture

External Faculty

Rosetta Elkin, Academic Director of Landscape Architecture, Pratt Institute

Andrew Fox, Professor, North Carolina State University and Co-Director of Coastal Dynamics Design Lab

Teresa Gali-Izard, Chair of Landscape Architecture, ETH Zurich

Jesse M. Keenan, Associate Professor of Real Estate, Tulane University

Maggie Tsang, Wortham Fellow, Rice University

Kongjian Yu, Professor of Landscape Architecture, Peking University


Michael Rock / 2 × 4, New York

Eric Rodenbeck / Stamen, San Francisco

Eric de Broche des Combes / Luxigon, Paris


Pedro Aparicio, Research Associate

Aziz Barbar, Research Associate

Christina Burkot, Administrator

Bert deJonghe, Research Assistant

Sara Favargiotti, Visiting Scholar

Francesca Romana Forlini, Research Assistant

Mariano Gomez-Luque, Research Fellow

Mark Heller, Research Assistant

Camila Huber Horta Barbosa, Research Assistant

Daniel Ibañez, Research Fellow

Gia Jung, Research Assistant

Amir Karimpour, Research Assistant

Mingyu Kim, Research Associate

Sue Kim, Research Associate

Helen Kongsgaard, Research Associate

Christian Lavista, Research Assistant

Jaewon Lee, Research Assistant

Ting Liang, Research Assistant

Xiuzheng Li, Research Associate

Xun Liu, Research Associate

Jiangpu Meng, Research Assistant

Chris Merritt, Research Assistant

Matthew Moffitt, Research Assistant

Sam Naylor, Research Assistant

Javier Ors-Austin, Research Assistant

Mercedes Peralta, Research Associate

Fletcher Phillips, Research Assistant

Daniel Quesada Lombó, Research Associate

Lane Raffaldini Rubin, Research Assistant

Christopher Reznich, Research Assistant

Luciana Saboia, Visiting Scholar

Ruben Segovia, Research Associate

Sudeshna Sen, Research Assistant

Dana Shaikh Solaiman, Research Assistant

Soo Ran Shin, Research Assistant

Joshua Stevens, Research Assistant

Isabel Strauss, Research Assistant

Irene Toselli, Visiting Scholar

Maggie Tsang, Research Assistant

Ximena de Villafranca, Research Assistant

Abbey Wallace, Research Assistant

Zhaodi Wang, Research Assistant

Zishen Wen, Research Assistant

Lindsay Woodson, Research Assistant

Weijia Wu, Research Assistant

Sofia Xanthakou, Research Assistant

Jessy Yang, Research Associate

Erin Yook, Research Assistant

Haoyu Zhao, Research Assistant

Xin Zhong, Research Assistant