The "Self-Evolving City"

Seminar and exhibition by Jin Young Song

Model with exoskeleton lit up in the dark.

Photo: Jin Young Song

Published November 20, 2018

The "Self-Evolving City" exhibition by Jin Young Song explores the ways in which we systematically accept the role of users and search for alternative urban forms.

On view in the Hayes Hall Atrium Gallery, the exhibition is presented in two parts, both exploring user engagement in the formulation of architecture.

According to Song, assistant professor of architecture, the rapid development of a commodity-driven culture has homogenized the ways in which we live, work and play in the modern city. Despite this trend, people and their wants and desires are essentially heterogeneous. This increasing complexity of social forces, including short program life, changing needs, and market pressures, erodes the architect’s authorship in the creation of spaces. Users find their own meaning and purpose, improvising upon the original intent of the architect. Architects are no longer master builders due to the unprecedented speed of technological development, specialization of products, and the emergence of a range of expert consultancies in the building industry.

This contemporary culture in the building industry gives rise to a narrowed scope of architectural capability, pressuring architects to become mere specifiers of products. In these predicaments, architects have a limited contribution to how cities are shaped. If Architecture as a commodity cannot respond to fundamental socio-cultural challenges, what ‘Self-Evolving’ systems can we develop that incorporate users and are capable of constant reconfiguration?

The first part of the exhibition, "The Function of Threshold," is based on an urban design seminar directed by Song that explores this topic using the existing urban condition.

The second part of the exhibition, "Connected Living," is an interactive model of modular components users can add to the structure.

Song first advanced his concept for "Connected Living" as the winning design in the 2017 Ideas Competition organized by the International Union of Architects committee and Seoul Museum of Art. 

Part 1. The Function of Threshold: Building Entry Behaviorology

Large model with very dense streets and buildings.

Photo: Charles Wingfelder

The face of a building is an ambivalent, transitional space operating as a threshold between the inside and the outside. It produces a perception of invitation or authority, linkage or barrier. Research conducted through Song's seminar focuses on how the ‘face’ functions and shapes novel urban culture, and proposes ways to revitalize declining traditional markets streets and provide affordable housing, especially for younger generations.

The seminar suggested an open framework for micro-housing units stacked on top of deteriorating pedestrian-oriented markets through structural innovation and prefabrication. The market achieves a sustainable density and activity while allowing the city to provide alternative affordable housing for young people. Due to complicated ownership of small parcels, the team provided an open framework of the construction logic using air-rights of the ground-oriented traditional markets. Additional suggestions include: micro-piling, structural solutions aided by engineers, incremental development, and requiring above ground level connections to nearby developments. 

Part 2. Connected Living: Metabolic Evolution of Residential Towers

Tall tower framework is filled in by living modules.

Photo: Jin Young Song

Imagined conditions of the future city reflect both our fear of current problems and hope for ideal solutions. Our cities are full of heterogeneous desires as people and their lifestyles continuously change, and the architecture of ‘living’ has not been able to adequately adapt to these lifestyles.

This exhibition aims to explore how emerging technologies may impact our way of living, systematically undoing urban sprawl and revitalizing the compact city.

"Connected Living" suggests an experiment in a radically responsive system of architecture, more sustainable and accommodating of rapidly changing lifestyles. The organic platform of connected towers constantly changes and renews itself with facade-integrated robotics and prefabricated modules. The size of the housing units can expand and shrink as needs shift, and utility units such as gardens, working, or outdoor units can be delivered based on user preference. Artificial Intelligence can calculate the complex sum of user requests to make efficient physical changes. The forest on the ground is preserved while the architecture of "Connected Living" constantly works for us.

To simulate this self-evolving residential tower, visitors were invited to punch, and glue their own paper units that “Robots” later installed in the tower.