PRESENT FUTURE is an intensive, three-semester research-based program of advanced architectural studies culminating in a Master of Science in Architecture degree.

PRESENT FUTURE explores the prospects of urban and architectural design from the perspective of our current environmental conditions. The transformation of the atmosphere’s chemical composition, and its increasing effects on agriculture production, sea level rise, and the mass extinction of species, suggests a future that bears little resemblance to the one that we live in today. While a picture of the future is beginning to emerge—in the white papers of scientists, in the speeches of activists or politicians, and in the fictional worlds in which books, films and television place us—the design specifications for this future have yet to be written. An opportunity exists to fully imagine the urban conditions that would not only respond to climate change, but would exploit the opportunity to produce a culture of collective engagement which many cities routinely deny.

While the problems we face are global in scope, the solutions best arise from local circumstances, the constituencies they affect and the evolving political and cultural institutions that are fashioned in response. For each project, PRESENT FUTURE brings together a diverse group of architects, landscape architects, engineers, urban researchers and city officials whose combined expertise is required to meet the complexities of our problems. Through a studio setting the group comes together around a specific site and work through a series of alternative architectural and urban scenarios. These scenarios are not simply routine technical upgrades nor do they only solve the limited problem of excessive energy consumption and carbon emissions. Rather, they explore an overhaul of the economic, political and cultural practices that are at the root of each situation. In a search for local solutions, these scenarios will outline a viable urban culture that is calibrated to the environmental limitations of the neighborhood, the city, the region and the planet.

Present Future Studio, Semihcan Gosku & Ningxin Cheng

The specific environmental concerns that each matriculating class examines will be framed in a three-semester sequence, beginning with a three-credit seminar in the first semester, a twelve-credit collective design studio in the second, culminating in a book, exhibition, or symposium that will be produced in the final semester. In addition to free electives, the curriculum includes additional required courses on issues related to the semester's work.

This is a cross-disciplinary course of study focused on design and open to all interested students with advanced degrees, not only those with advanced degrees in architecture. The minimum requirement is a B.A. or B.S., or its equivalent.

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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