The New Urbanscape

UCLA’s cityLAB is working with campus partners to engineer changes in how we use physical spaces during a digital era.

For a few weeks in the spring of 2015, in a patio behind UCLA’s Broad Art Center in the northeast corner of campus, stood a new building. It wasn’t a classroom or a lecture hall. It was a house.

Just 350 square feet, with a frame of two-by-fours and bent metal poles wrapped in translucent plastic sheeting, the house was aggressively unconventional — in its site, its materials, and especially in its size. And that was the point. This home was a prototype of the future house of Los Angeles — a small, cheap-to-build and environmentally sustainable structure that could fit in the backyard of nearly any of L.A.’s million dollar-plus single-family homes. Designed and built by Kevin Daly Architects and a team of architecture students, the house was a class project, but also a proof of concept for a bold proposition: solving the city’s housing crisis.

This project was conceived and built by cityLAB, a multidisciplinary think tank within UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design. As its name suggests, cityLAB conducts research and experiments on the city and its design, using the tools of architecture and urban planning to take on the biggest challenges facing urban areas around the world — from housing affordability to the role of transportation in urban development to the interior and exterior spaces of a future defined by automation. Through a mix of scholarly research, design studio problem solving and speculative proposals, cityLAB thinks deeply about — and tries to shape — the 21st-century city.

Architecture Professor Dana Cuff founded cityLAB in 2006, when the future of the city was an open, and sometimes confounding, question. It was just a few months after New Orleans had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and a few years after New York had suffered destructive terrorist attacks. These extreme conditions, compounded by increasing urbanization and climate change worldwide, urged Cuff to rethink what role architects like herself should and could play.

“It seemed to me that architecture just didn’t have the responsibility and capability that it needed to have to respond to these really urban crises,” Cuff says. The complex future of cities needed a more complex set of answers. “If we tied in to politics, tied in to economics and could collaborate across the spectrum of city builders, we could actually innovate and experiment,” she says. ...