Renee Y. Chow

Professor / Acting Dean and Chair
Architecture, College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley

Living with Water

We have been designing and developing our cities using a model of towers surrounded by streets that now dominates throughout the world. It is a model that urgently needs to be challenged. This talk will focus on water — on the increasing volatility of precipitation — as a lens to understand why this model is failing. To increase urban capacity for flooding and drought, new paradigms of development have to be found in the conditions of locales. Building a situated urbanism is a win-win for sustenance that is both environmental as well as cultural. Speculative case studies will illustrate the concepts of this talk, moving from lower density settings around San Francisco and the canal villages of Shanghai to higher density challenges in Hanoi.

Renee Chow is Professor of Architecture and Urban Design. Her work focuses on the intersection between architecture and its locale. One problem for contemporary design is to link the structure of the city and landscape with its individual pieces—to design how each affects and is affected by the other. In making pieces of our cities—highways and streets, parks and buildings—our current architectural culture too often strives for a degree of formal autonomy from surrounding circumstances. The experience of a city becomes a cacophony of competing markers. The experience of the textures of neighborhoods, the orientation of districts, and the collective practices of dwelling disappear as our design practices increasingly lose the tools to make them.

Professor Chow is author of Suburban Space: The Fabric of Dwelling which illustrates potentials of single family houses when designed as fields; Changing Chinese Cities: The Potential of Field Urbanism published by NUS Press. She is also principal of Studio URBIS, an architecture and urban design practice formed in collaboration with her partner, Thomas Chastain. Projects include single and multi-family residences, institutional and commercial projects as well as urban and community specific development plans and studies.

Professor Chow has been honored by the College of Environmental Design with the Eva Li Chair in Design Ethics from 2005 to 2010, by Architecture Magazine as one of its “Ten Top Architectural Educators” in 2009, and by the AIA California Council with its Research and Technology Honor Award. She received her SBAD and M.Arch. from, as well as previously taught at, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.