Emergent Conditions City Design

speculative design
Tools Used: Illustrator, Photoshop
Collaborators: Kaiyuan Li, Yanyi Wang, Eric Schubert, Miaoqiong Huang, Yiran Mao

Design Brief:

Create a city, a metropolis. This is, of course, an absurd task to try to tackle literally. Your project - your city - will be a creative and radical abstraction, a speculative imagining where certain conditions or situations are reinterpreted and amplified. Crucially, rather than taking a top-down approach to designing your city, you will create it from the inside out. You will let its form emerge through the act of combining custom parts which you will formulate. Consider your city as a condition which spreads out in all directions, an immersive environment without beginning or end. Your custom kit of design elements – the building blocks of your city – will emerge from your group's shared and individual investigations, interests, subjective experiences. Your city will ultimately take the form of a composite multimedia drawing, which you will collectively engineer, annotate, and imagine inhabiting.


This project began with each group member going on excursions around the city and making observations about locations that interested them. My excursion was to Vermonica - a public art installation near the Santa Monica & Vermont intersection in Los Angeles. I observed that there were plaques on each lamp stating what they were or their location, but no other information about the lamps, like the year they were made. In addition, there is an interesting design choice made by pointing the lamps parallell to the sidewalk - it appears that the lamps are for viewing from a car rather than from the sidewalk. 

The next part of the design process was to break our chosen locations down into a ‘kit’ of their parts. I created my kit by dissecting a map of public art in LA and isolating different neighborhoods based on their density of public art, from most to least dense.

The design process continued with each group member creating a kit solely out of a part of their kit. My city was inspired by private artwork becoming public artwork, creating a city made entirely of and dictated by public art. I used maps of art fairs, collaged together into a city of galleries, to create my city of art. Ultimately, I focused in on the gallery city by drawing an overhead view, including a representation of the systems of curation that govern the city.

As our final group project, we used Kaiyuan’s framework of a city based on political ideologies to create a city that combined all of our ideas: city of exclusion, city of shared space, city of public art, city of modules, and temporal subway city. Using the subway as a framing device, we guided passengers through the different ideologies that form a city.


Working collaboratively on this project helped me get many different viewpoints on what a city is. There were a vast mixture of ideologies, designs, cultures, and elements that contributed to this project. This project also provided me with a baseline for design thinking and problem solving with other designers.