How will people travel in 50 years from now? In this two-semester studio class, students conceptualize and design transportation systems of the future. By exploring the relationship between transportation, architecture and urban environments, students create a prototype using 3D modeling, virtual reality or other types of technology with the goal of solving the present and future mobility issues.
ArtCenter: How would you describe this class to a friend or a prospective student?
Marta Nowak: Students work on one large project that spans two semesters. This year, we chose the topic of a mobility hub where four transportation systems come together, anything from scooters and ride shares to trains and buses. Students consider several factors, including how these systems interconnect, the number of passengers and how people transfer. The project is also set in a fully autonomous era, after 2035, so we want students to speculate about the new technology and how to plan a city 50 or 100 years from now.
This course taught me to broaden my ability to think within the complex nature of real-world obstacles. Discovering and understanding the existing limitations is only the first step to engineering and executing a solution.Zane LiuGrad Transportation Systems and Design
AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience/classwork?
MN: The world is very interdisciplinary. Students need to be able to communicate with other professionals, like engineers and architects, so they can have their projects realized. This class is unique because we approach mobility from two different angles: We look through the lens of transportation design, as well as through the lens of urban design and architecture. Students learn how architects and urban designers think about cities, and how they research and approach problems. Understanding more about these different disciplines, the language, documents and ideas, is really valuable.
AC: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
MN: The mobility hubs we have today aren't working. In general, these hubs aren't adapting to new modes of transportation; it feels like we're building on vestiges of the past instead of reinventing the way they should be operating. Maybe hubs don't need to be a physical structure, they shouldn't be so big, or should be more disbursed? This subject is really hot right now and we want to be part of these conversations.
AC: What tools do students use to create prototypes of these mobility hubs?
MN: After research, ideation and sketching, we move to development. Students create a 3D model of a mobility hub, but it isn't static — it's augmented to show how systems intersect and interact. How this is done is tailored to each student's project. For example, some projects are better understood through VR, while others might require projection mapping or animation. So there are two components: representation through the physical model and the projection that shows how people will experience it.
AC: What are some of the assignments and materials you hope will challenge students to break new ground creatively?
MN: I always tell students never compromise your idea, at least not at the beginning. You can compromise later, but the idea has to be there. And it has to be sharp and clear. I'm constantly pushing students to think in the future. Thinking in the future instead of the present is the most challenging part of the class.
AC: What were some of the most surprising ways students responded to assignments?
MN: There are moments when students come up with very simple, yet radical ideas. For example, students had the idea to turn all of Wilshire Boulevard into a park. To me, that's an example of a bold proposal on a city-scale prioritizing people's experiences, and you have to make transportation work for the concept. In my opinion, the best projects put people first and strive for grand gestures, rather than trying to create small solutions. When students challenge and completely reimagine a current concept, that's really exciting for me.