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.

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.

Airport Landscape

“If the erasure of conventional boundaries is the most salient spatial feature of the late-twentieth-century condition, the airport may be taken as its most perfect landscape expression.” – Denis Cosgrove, 1990


Given the rapid growth of air travel that came alongside the great expansion of cities, many airports have since become obsolete, underutilized, and subsequently abandoned. Reasons for this include insufficient size of facilities, locations that became unfavorable for airport operations, decommissioning of military uses, and the functional obsolescence of buildings. With a database of over 1800 decommissioned airfields around the globe, we claim that the abandonment of airports is a pervasive phenomenon globally. Within a decade, hundreds of urban airports will cease operations. What will be done with these flat, concrete, highly complex sites—many of them in the center of cities—once they are no longer needed for air travel? The Airport Landscape Initiative gathers and examines contemporary design proposals for the ecological enhancement of operating airfields and the conversion of abandoned ones.

The Office examines the airport as a central site and case study for the practice of landscape and ecological urbanism conveyed through a variety of disciplinary perspectives including: exhibition (2013) and publication (2016) titled, Airport Landscapes: Urban Ecologies in the Aerial Age, with Sonja Dumpelmann, and two research publications Airfield Manual: Field Guide to the Transformation of Abandoned Airports (2017), and the Airfield Manual: The Case of the Mendoza Aeroparque (2017). Recommendations are not considered as design projects but as principles conveyed through design scenarios. For example, the Airfield Manual compiles case study strategies and best practices for the conversion of decommissioned airports for a variety of new uses. Written for an audience of civic, business, and political leaders as well as for directors of aviation, engineers, and managers, Airfield Manual offers an executive summary of the issues and options attendant to the ownership, management, deactivation, and decommissioning of the airport site.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim (PI), Sonja Dümpelmann, Pedro Aparicio, Sara Favargiotti, Matthew Moffitt, Lane Rubin, Ruben Segovia, Dana Shaikh Solaiman, and David Zielnicki.

Heliomorphic Manhattan

“For decades the optimal milieu for a variety of human activities has been achieved mainly through energy input… now a building can be transformed into a quasibiological system that sensitively responds to environmental variations, opening itself like a blossom, harnessing and absorbing ambient energies.” – Vladimir Matus, 1988


Heliomorphic Manhattan revisited changes, conceptual and projective, that contemporary models of computational geometry have brought to this design model. The topics of solar orientation and social order, public health, and political economy were fundamental questions for many protagonists and projects of modern planning. In the wake of the collapse of modern planning, singular models of social urban order based on latitude and solar equity have given way to neoliberal models of market-driven urbanization.

The speculative modeling of Heliomorphism was disseminated through a range of disciplinary audiences, including academic conferences and international exhibitions. The GSD conference Heliomorphism (2016) convened an international group of GSD faculty, doctoral candidates, and a select group of GSD alumni to examine its present potentials through three discursive frames — plug-ins, commons, and zero-sum — and showcased the work of Heliomorphic Manhattan.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim, Pedro Aparicio, Aziz Barbar, Mariano Gomez-Luque, Helen Kongsgaard, and Soo Ran Shin.