Linking Design to Finance | SMArchS Thesis

Advisor: Mark Goulthorpe
Readers: David Geltner, Rafi Segal

Significant shifts in technology and finance are altering the practice and position of urban design and development. These shifts—the torrent of micro-spatialized data, the amplification of designer instrumentality through computation, and the financialization of built capital into abstract securities—form a new relational infrastructure propelling the production of the built environment. Currently, coupling these shifts together remains the specialty of well-capitalized and sophisticated institutions, but the march of technological progress forecasts the widespread democratization of urban development skills and knowledge. This thesis explores the potential outcomes from mass accessibility to urban data, design computation, and digitized financing. I present a series of patent propositions outlining design methods that produce network effects through collectively financed, mass-distributed projects. The patents are then deployed in a project for three neighborhoods of New York City, on three-dozen sites, for one-thousand inhabitants. In the patents, I describe three design computation processes. The first is a method for the automated re-massing of urban typologies using procedural scripting and a geometry constraint engine in order to achieve open-space and density targets. The second is the automated valuation of a real estate development project using projected cash flows and construction cost estimations. Lastly, the third is an optimization method to match suites of sites, project massings, and financing arrangements, where I demonstrate the ability for the inhabitants’ spatial needs to be met within financial constraints. Assuming that these technologies will be in widespread use evokes a vision for clusters of households to collectively originate, fund, and construct networks of mutually co-dependent developments. With the ability to operationalize a co-ownership model of distributed live-work spaces, self-organizing groups will have a dramatically expanded capability to influence the design and use of urban fabric—in practice, a Lefebvrian ‘right to the city’.