Present Future is equal parts education, research, think tank, and soapbox. From urbanization, to media, globalization, the environment, technology, to name just a few of the issues that press in on us as never before, architecture can, and will, play a role in the most urgent questions facing us today.

Rice Architecture offers an intensive, three-semester research-based program of advanced architectural studies: Present Future. The program’s aim is to re-conceptualize the role of the architect from within the complex sets of relationships in which we live today. We are interested in how the discipline constructs new possibilities from never before seen political, economic, and environmental circumstances—by shaping new publics in support of new institutions, by forming new architectural and urban models, and by asserting new ambitions and optimisms. In short, Present Future is a forum through which we can rethink the nature of the architect’s social contract. 

Present Future is a concentrated undertaking culminating in a Master of Arts in Architecture degree. The program is structured around a three-semester-long exploration of a topic led by a Rice Architecture faculty member and advertised in advance of the application process. A select group of students forms the core: a collective intelligence responsible for developing a discourse that synthesizes theoretical, historical, and design ambitions. Subjects will be of contemporary importance and will be framed by a three-credit seminar in the first and last term and a twelve-credit collective thesis in the second term. In addition to free electives, each semester will include additional required credits that are deemed appropriate to the research topic. 

Present Future Studio, Semihcan Gosku & Ningxin Cheng

The program’s student body will include those with backgrounds in architecture as well as other fields; individuals with B.A., B.S., equivalent, or more advanced degrees in architecture or other disciplines are invited to apply. 

Present Future is decidedly proposition-oriented. To that end, each three-semester sequence will culminate in a book, exhibition, or symposium. The program is intended to be at once intensely focused and enthusiastically extroverted.

2019–2209 Research Project

The Present Future research project for the 2019-2020, titled Growing the City, Shrinking the Footprint, will begin a new phase of work on the problem of contemporary urban form.

Growing the City, Shrinking the Footprint is committed to an exploration of contemporary models of urban density. While the striking efficiencies of urban density have long been proven, we tend to limit our conception of dense urban environments to nineteenth and early twentieth century models. While the cores of Chicago, New York, or San Francisco have been updated, the grid infrastructure that supports them has not been reproduced since the Second World War. Even if we were able to reproduce this infrastructure, it is not altogether clear that we would want to. Today, the random piling up of ever-taller buildings onto relatively tiny blocks and streets is neither feasible nor is it desirable; due to the fact that our culture, our politics and our economy have so changed over the intervening decades as to rendered the old models obsolete. 

Over the past decades, average urban density have continued to decrease at a global rate of 2% per annum. This decline is owed to the fact that we have neglected to define a model of urban density that corresponds to problems and possibilities of the twenty-first century. From the perspective of an increasingly dissipated city, the simple research question that emerges is just this: what does urban density look like today?

Houston, Texas
Photo by Alex McClean

The first phase of the program will focus on research. Through projects at Rice Architecture and field trips abroad, a series of case studies will be documented and synthesized into a book-length assessment of contemporary uban density. This research will then guide the subsequent phases of the program which will consist of design-based speculation on the problem of urban density. This speculation, in the form of design proposals, will project new models as they might well emerge in the American city over coming decades. The context for this speculation will be Houston, Texas. The specific catalyst for shrinking the uban footprint will be the pressing need to clear approximately 180,000 structures that presently occupy the city's 100 and 500 year floodplain. 


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