Journal

June 30 — It’s an early, unusually cloudy morning at the end of June, and I’m in my favorite seat on the Caltrain heading from SF to Palo Alto. Last car, west side, upper level, six seats down. Funny how something so publicly shared can feel like mine in a special slice of time, like a desk in high school. It’s a strangely uneventful day of work, just a presentation of the Solar Decathlon project to a high school summer program and a SPUR Member Party in San Jose later today. Just earlier this week I had a day with eight meetings in a row (almost had to skip lunch) and it’s not even the school year.

In May I went to my first wedding for a friend my age, a freshman dormmate, at Fish Camp right outside of Yosemite. It was a wonderful break from my workflow, driving through the night with a friend, going on morning hikes, and participating in the beautifully simple wedding ceremony. We had a whole group of dorm friends who came out, which kicked in that kind of nostalgia for the first time. Seeing Mykel get married also made the idea suddenly and viscerally real. I’m going to another wedding for a college friend in August, and will probably be getting used to it over the next year.

That wedding was the bow on about four weeks of non-stop project delivery, starting with completing a Tenderloin design competition with a great team, then getting an intern and putting together a booth for the Maker Faire with my high school architecture class out of milk crates, then delivering a development proposal for two sites in South Stockton for their new community development corporation, then preparing for a visiting delegation from Sichuan University and our Sustainable Urban Systems Symposium. It felt a little like being a chef at a restaurant churning out dish after dish with no time to waste in-between — a lot like being in college again.

It’s been a great three months, finishing up my first formal year as lecturer at both Nueva and Stanford. It was certainly a bumpy and largely winged journey, and it’s hard for me to judge at this close distance whether I have learned a lot this year compared to being in school, or whether the switch from consumption to production mode has starved my brain of some nutrition. I feel like I’ve been racing quickly from activity to activity, letting deeper inquiries pass on by or pass off to others, but at the end it feels like I haven’t moved much at all. Perhaps this is a normal experience out of college. All I know is that while I didn’t expect to be this invested in teaching after one year, the work feels satisfying. It feels humbling, to stay close to the teaching and learning environment, and at the same time it’s incredibly challenging. It’s as if I am proving myself and catching up to myself simultaneously.

To be more concrete: I am planning to stay at Nueva at least one more year, to see it through to its first graduating class, and to keep working on something I’m passionate about, a high school-level curriculum on architectural design. My work at Stanford is also moving in a positive direction, with a significant base of support for the Sustainable Urban Systems Initiative. This has empowered me to commit more fully to instruction and developing a new master’s program and center, which means in the short term that I’m moving up to 50% employment at Stanford. Meanwhile in Cloud Arch Studio I’m plenty busy with the third iteration of Common Ground for the Market Street Prototyping Festival, and given that this one will be on Market Street, right outside the Philz Coffee by the Ferry Building, for two whole years, I should be putting all the time I have to making it excellent. I’ve got a great team helping out as well, including some star students from both Nueva and Stanford. I’ve also got a team working on the CORE project, for which I’m planning to travel to Bangladesh* at the end of July to observe slum conditions. It certainly is a lot on my plate, despite my doubts.

These past three months have been absolutely incredible for music. Here’s a list of highlights (limiting myself to my favorite two songs per album):

  1. dvsn – Another One
  2. dvsn – Do It Well
  3. M83 – Atlantique Sud
  4. M83 – Laser Gun
  5. Drake – Feel No Ways
  6. Drake – Fire & Desire
  7. Mutual Benefit – Many Returns
  8. Mutual Benefit – Getting Gone
  9. Radiohead – Present Tense
  10. Radiohead – Daydreaming
  11. James Blake – I Need a Forest Fire (ft. Bon Iver)
  12. James Blake – Meet You in the Maze
  13. Tegan & Sara – Boyfriend
  14. Tegan & Sara – 100x
  15. Flume – Say It (ft. Tove Lo)
  16. Flume – Tiny Cities (ft. Beck)
  17. Whitney – Follow
  18. Whitney – No Matter Where We Go
  19. Kevin Morby – Black Flowers
  20. Kevin Morby – Water
  21. Blood Orange – Best to You
  22. Blood Orange – But You

If you want this as a playlist let me know.

Top ten movies:

  1. Everybody Wants Some!!
  2. Sing Street
  3. Green Room (RIP Anton Yelchin)
  4. Finding Dory
  5. Captain America: Civil War
  6. Eye in the Sky
  7. The Lobster
  8. The Shallows
  9. The Nice Guys
  10. Hardcore Henry

And ten great books:

  1. Tinkers by Paul Harding
  2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  3. The Martian by Andy Weir
  4. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  5. The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
  6. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
  7. More Human by Steve Hilton (co-written by my friend Jason Bade)
  8. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  9. 1984 by Haruki Murakami
  10. The End of Faith by Sam Harris

The City has been good to me. I’ve explored a great deal more of the neighborhoods around SoMa. I’ve enjoyed having a place to work in the Mission, and frequenting more of the restaurants in the area. Many friends and family have commented on how unsafe they think San Francisco is, but I personally haven’t experienced any danger. I think maybe my experiences through the Market Street project and the Tenderloin competition have embedded me in the fabric of street life, or have given me a haughty sense of confidence. What I do know is that we have to fight for our public space to be a place of empathy and compassion. We may have to fight for the whole soul of this city. In April I attended a Stanford alumni event at WeWork, featuring a panelist of alumni who were working in the Tenderloin community (826 Valencia, School Board, CityImpact, Glide). I was there because I wanted to absorb as many qualitative insights as I could for the Tenderloin design competition. When I got there, the bar area in the back was packed with techies who had formed a spontaneous pitch circle (I’m not kidding). I chose instead to sit next to most introverted person I could find in the room (as I usually do), an older fellow who was at Stanford when the Mendicants were first founded. A few minutes later we headed over together to the other corner of the room where the panel was about to start. However, as they began speaker introductions, the techie crowd in the back was still networking and causing a ruckus, despite the purpose of the event being this panel. I was instantly annoyed and looked around desperately to see if the organizers would deal with the issue. Others in the audience, and the speakers themselves, had the same look. Nothing happened. We all labored through the entire panel discussion with this competing drone in the background. It’s as if we were all too stubborn to do something about it. I thought it exemplified gentrification and the class divide of our city perfectly, and not even a real class divide, but a divided Stanford class. It reminded me of my experience on Market Street, seeing gentrification literally take shape across a single block between 6th and 7th. Yes, the City has been good to me, but the City itself is not well.


 

* July 2 — I woke up this morning to see an update to a news article I had been following the previous day. Yesterday it was a hostage situation in a Dhaka bakery with two officers killed, and I’d looked it up on Google Maps; it was just a short walk from the apartment I’ve been planning to stay at in the Gulshan diplomatic area. I shot off a message to my research colleagues, noting that the U.S. Department of State may release a travel warning for the country which will prevent the undergraduates from traveling. This morning, I woke up to learn that the bakery was a regularly frequented place for my colleague and her friends in past years. I also learned that twenty people, mostly foreigners, had been killed. According to a local paper, the terrorists tortured anybody who couldn’t cite the Quran, and those who were killed were likely stabbed to death.

It looks like I might not be going to Bangladesh later this month.

Final note before I close. It’s probably clear from two of the books I read this season that religion is a big topic on my mind. It also connects with my views on politics and some of the big stories of this year. I’ve been planning to write a manifesto of sorts, but I’ve been hesitant to publish, essentially because of my trip to Bangladesh, where an atheist blogger was stabbed to death on a street in the middle of the day less than three months ago. Now I think yesterday’s incident substantiates my fears. But I plan to publish before the end of this year, and if I don’t end up going to Bangladesh it could be much sooner, and it will be one of the most important essays I write.

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Journal

24

I’m writing from my kitchen table in my hometown Arcadia; tomorrow I turn twenty-four. My mom bought me plane tickets back home for just a few days, and it’s a nice opportunity to take a breather and observe how quickly the last three months have past, and how fortunate I’ve been to have acclimated so well to the next chapter of my life. Since I moved to San Francisco half a year ago and started my juggling act of part-time projects, there have been so many first times and new norms:

First time paying rent. New norm walking to buy groceries multiple times a week.

First time I’ve been car-less. New norm spending $70 a week on public transportation (reading lots of books, listening to lots of podcasts).

First time doing taxes. New norm bookkeeping everything that can be counted, even my steps.

First time going to the doctor all by myself. New norm spending every weekend work-free, working instead on this crazy little thing called love.

The last time I sat down to write to nobody in particular was the new year; I think perhaps having my birthday in the first days of spring is a serendipitous sign that I should try to write, at the very least, at each changing of the seasons. Perhaps we each owe ourselves that much reflection. So maybe if none of the particulars of my life are much too interesting to you, reader, the real value might be in awakening the storyteller within yourself.


 

In January my class at Stanford started its second of three quarters, while my class at Nueva started its second of two semesters. Teaching has been an incredible joy; at the same time it keeps the burner on at all times, reminds me of how far I am from satisfaction. I see a lifetime through that door but know that I will never walk through. I must satisfice myself with my teaching abilities and focus on the path I’m on – developing a Center for Sustainable Urban Systems at Stanford. (More on that (hopefully) in one season.)

The network of collaborators and projects continues to grow. For a brief stint my professional relationships in San Jose blossomed through a potential collaboration with some institutions to work on the problem of homelessness in Santa Clara County. Some exciting work started up again at Google, as well as a whole new passion for affordable housing in the Bay Area with some initial explorations in East Palo Alto with accessory dwelling units. My friends in Stockton are building momentum for action within their community, and I’m looking for ways to support them. The summer is shaping up to be medley of these projects as well as the next iteration of Common Ground in San Francisco and housing in Southeast Asia. The spirit of Cloud Arch Studio is alive and well.


 

More and more I’m seeing myself as an urbanist as I dive deeper into issues like housing, mobility, health, and governance all across the Bay. I’m beginning to know how little I know, and it excites me. This is the door I want to walk through. I truly believe that the future of sustainable cities lies in a systems-based framework of knowledge acquisition and decision-making. It means we need to break free of the illusion that we can “plan” the future and instead build the tools, levers, and programs we need to grow organically, incrementally, and flexibly towards a future that works.

It also means that we need to break free of the silos we put ourselves in through education and build an adaptive system of problem-solving that treats our environment, our institutions, and ourselves as all one mess of inter-related problems. Roads and buildings aren’t the only things that need to be engineered. We need to engineer the economic, political, and social structures that often have an even deeper influence on our lives.

We need to break through the illusions of politicization and polarization that pervade the media and have embedded themselves in our culture. Take the presidential race that has made headlines the last few months but still feels like a delicate subject. Why is there such a taboo around talking about politics? Why are we so scared to hurt people’s feelings? Why have we allowed ourselves to believe that we need to respect people’s political opinions because somehow ideology is a sacred virtue? Why can’t we call bullshit when we see it, take 99% of what our society cherishes as political/sacred diversity and reframe it as objectively solvable through science, data, and common sense? I don’t care if you call yourself liberal or conservative; I care to know which policies make the world a better place. Fuck your political correctness when the entire political system is corrupt and disillusions us to believe we can’t find common ground, that there is such a thing as original sin.

Look, when it comes down to it, there is only one fundamental political spectrum, and that is Me vs. We. Selfish vs. Compassionate. Pre vs. Post evolution of the human race. Politics is all about power; let’s not fool ourselves into believing it’s about right vs. wrong. Right vs. wrong is the collective story of human ingenuity.

Thinking about cities has convinced me that we can help humans flourish if we focus on engineering systems that work. One of those systems is evidence-based problem solving. Another is transparent and democratic governance. There are many more new systems to be explored, and many more trials and errors before we can make it all function. But I think there is a future that can be described as a-political — if that means we can dismantle the power structure that allows a select few to subvert the collective good for personal gain. If that means that differences of opinion and honest diversity of values are not pit against each other through vicious escalating battles but instead tested, dissected, and inputted into an inclusive and iterative improvement in human well-being. We’re not going to get there through national politics; but maybe we can through local city governance and policy. This is where we have the ability to experiment with real ideas, involve real people, and solve real problems.


 

Apologies for that philosophical digression. (Where would I be if I was my brain?)

In other news, Winter 2016 was a wonderful season. With a constant flurry of ideas I felt like I was never languishing. I felt happy. I tried my ambitious 365 days of Twitter poems again, but once again it couldn’t last (as of today I’m seventeen poems behind). But here are some 140 character poems I really enjoyed writing:

 

When we lost the signal
We used our nerves
Spooling them out for
Miles across LA
Sacrificing the feeling
In our toes just to
Feel less alone (#1)

Can we take two ends of the line
And make ’em cease to exist?
Can we pool the precious
Molecules in our lungs
And fight this fight together? (#6)

Those who were forced to leave
Left their hearts in San Francisco
While those who came
Hammered and chiseled away
At the city’s broken soul. (#20)

Poetry is an excuse
To conflate the mundanity
Of our experience with
Unnecessary flourishes.
“It fixed me.”
“It broke me.”
That is enough. (#21)

You have inherited a history of love,
While I’ve inherited a love gap.
The tested truths that
Fortify your heart are mere
Theories in mine. (#40)

If I lose poetry, do I lose my soul?
Do I lose my apartment to techies
Who tweet what they think,
Instead of thinking about
What they tweet? (#50)

I grasp for words I have known but,
Like shooting stars, they do not
Reappear. Even this poem
Was seconds away from
Vanishing into thin air. (#65)


Winter 2016 was also a great season for art. For music, I “discovered” Nick Drake before I found a few excellent new albums, particularly The Life of Pablo by Kanye West, ANTI by Rihanna, and I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975. Ten tracks I couldn’t stop listening to:

  1. Kanye West – Famous ft. Rihanna and Swizz Beatz
  2. Kanye West – Low Lights
  3. Kanye West – Waves ft. Chance the Rapper
  4. The 1975 – Somebody Else
  5. Rihanna – Kiss it Better
  6. Ra Ra Riot – Call Me Out
  7. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.
  8. Nick Drake – Hazey Jane II
  9. Alabama Shakes – Don’t Wanna Fight
  10. Roomful of Teeth – Partita for 8 Voices

Ten great movies I watched (yes, still loving that Moviepass with Boanne):

  1. The Revenant
  2. The Hateful Eight
  3. Deadpool
  4. Where to Invade Next
  5. Race
  6. The Witch
  7. Anomalisa
  8. Zootopia
  9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
  10. Hello My Name is Doris

And ten great books I read:

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandell
  2. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  3. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  4. Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos
  5. No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal
  6. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  7. The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker
  8. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton
  9. The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins
  10. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

 

Some final thoughts.

As I grow older, the most striking feeling is not the aging of my body but the becoming more and more of myself. It’s finding out the way I live my life and realizing, suddenly, that this is no longer a phase of me but a part of me.

I know that I am not a naturally happy person. I am a vessel of empathy, and sometimes that empathy is a distorted empathy that fills me with anguish and anxiety, that makes me see the darkness underneath the surface of all things, makes me blame myself more than I should. I’ve heard this refrain more than once in just the last three months, and I know it’s a part of me that I will struggle with for the rest of my adult life. But the conspiracy of love is strong and is always fighting, for all of us, whether we are aware of it or not. It shows itself when you stop to notice it, as you’re sharing dinner with friends and savoring the seconds more than the tastes, as you’re Skyping with a friend thousands of miles away who feels so much closer, as you’re watching a student grow in ways you’ve never imagined. As you’re falling more in love with a girl every time you see her face, every time you touch the small of her back, every time you build a piece of IKEA furniture with her.

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And, on this last evening of twenty-three, as you wait for your mom to drive through that driveway, like you’ve watched since you were little, and look forward to a home-cooked meal with family. Everybody has a conspiracy of love between the lines of their story.

 

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Year in Review

2015 Year in Review

NOTE: This post will be continually updated with additional writing (and possibly new contenders to the lists) until the end of the year.

We grow so much each year. It’s a shame to lose that for ourselves, and it’s a shame not to share that growth with others.

Ever since my college days, I’ve found great value and enjoyment in writing a review of books, movies, music, and the like at the close of year. Sometimes it’s been a bit memoiristic as well; one piece I keep coming back to is “The Tree of Life” from 2011. To me, the value of writing an annual review is not narcissistic; rather, I consider it essential for self-reflection, and efficient for packaging valuable experiences for friends and acquaintances.

I recall where I was right at the start of 2015, having just finished an incredible year. In 2014, I spent nine months traveling through 23 countries in Europe on a budget of about $10,000 with my best friend Dylan and a whole cast of interesting characters on the road. The impetus for the trip was an immense feeling of exhaustion after my undergraduate career, as well as some encounters with depression that pushed me to seek refuge from places I called home. Spending winter in central Europe, spring in eastern Europe, and summer in western Europe gave me time to reflect on my adolescence and the life I wanted when I returned to California. The trip was also a refreshing experience of creativity and inspiration. I ended up turning about half of it into a series of short films, writing a novel as a form of therapy, developing a Moral CV, and developing the vision for what is now Cloud Arch Studio, among many other things. So in the end, seeking refuge in the unknown brought me right back to where I was, and closer to the person I had always been.

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As for emotions, I have found solace in the idea that happiness is part of a cycle, as are all our experiences. There is no use running away from sadness, because the weight of sadness is what allows us to truly appreciate the lightness of happiness when it arrives.

The cycles of nature and the waves in our lives coexist and propagate through the same narrative. Almost as soon as I settled into grad school, I fell in love again. Once again I found myself cycling between school and outside projects, sometimes in and out of control, but on the whole with renewed purpose. In August, I wrote a blog post about my career plans to move between different part-time jobs and projects, striving each day to perform five basic acts: to Learn, to Teach, to Make, to Give, and to Love. Put another way, the cycle of production and consumption is critical to our daily growth. Neither the couch potato nor the workaholic is as balanced as the person who upcycles meaningful goods and ideas into new creations on a daily basis.

This is why I invest so much time in books, movies, music, podcasts, and the like. Apart from being enjoyable to the artist in me, they truly have inspired my own work in explicit and subtle ways, and as part of our collective consciousness, they are a kind of glue that binds, a kind of thread that weaves our experiences together. I’d now like to highlight those that impacted me the most, so that you may find them equally enriching.

Best books I read in 2015

These were not necessarily published in 2015; alas, one of the greatest sadnesses in life is that the rate at which new books are written far eclipses the rate at which any individual can consume them (the same is true for the upcoming categories as well). Furthermore, I seem to have wasted a great deal of my first twenty years letting important books pass me by. When I was freed from the grasps of college, I renewed a vigor for reading which got me to 24 books in 2013, 26 in 2014, and hopefully 30 this year (22 at the time of writing). I’d like to think that I can keep this trend going for many more years, especially as I have just gotten seriously into nonfiction this year. I once said that my goal in life is to one day be able to just read books for the rest of my life.

My new lifestyle is very conducive to reading because I take the BART and Caltrain regularly around the Bay. In fact one of the biggests benefits of ditching my car for public transportation, in my mind, besides all the various environmental and urbanistic benefits that I preach in class, is that I can read. It’s so wonderful to me that the length of my commute doesn’t bother me at all. (NOTE: When I used to drive a lot, podcasts would be the next best thing to do while driving. Nowadays I switch fluidly between podcasts and books on my commute; basically if I’m ever walking or standing on a bus, I’m listening to podcasts, and as soon as I sit down for at least a half hour stretch of time, I switch to music and pull out a book.)

Before we begin, a quick curation of the best I read from 2014:

  1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tart*
  2. And the Mountains Echoes by Khaled Hosseini
  3. The Son by Philipp Meyer
  4. The Secret History by Donna Tart
  5. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
  6. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  8. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  9. The Likeness by Tana French
  10. American Rust by Philipp Meyer
* Instantly became and still is my favorite book of all time.

OK here are the top ten books I read in 2015, in reverse order.

10. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

9. Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

8. Cities of Tomorrow by Peter Hall

7. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami

6. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin

5. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

4. Dune by Frank Herbert

3. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

2. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This novel ticked pretty much every single box for me. It evoked the best of Jonathan Safran Foer with its WWII context, fast-paced juggling of different narratives and time periods, and focus on young and old innocent protagonists. It evoked The Goldfinch in its central motif of a valuable possession, hidden away in the secret drawers and hearts of the characters. It tickled the architect-traveler in me with its beautiful imagery of Saint Malo, Zollverein (which I visited in 2014), and the interiors of European, war-torn homes. It tickled the engineer and scientist in me with its electromagnetism motifs, a central meaning of the title. Literature is a beloved character in the story through the Braille pages of Jules Verne. One of the main protagonists is a blind girl and something about her narrative worked very well for me as a reader, as if I was exploring her world with an equal amount of sensory restraint. And finally, the beautiful story complete with poetic justice in every chapter, a masterful crossing of stars, and incredibly moving characters. The title refers to a radio lecture that connects the story together, a physics lesson about the energy waves imbued in coal. But that single motif appears again and again in the book and resolves itself in an incredibly beautiful ending, sharing the timeliness of And the Mountains Echoed, the redemption of Life after Life, and the literary grandeur of The Goldfinch (the best three books I’ve last read). I’m glad I caught this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner before the end of the year, and if this and The Goldfinch are any evidence, next year I will be going systematically through the Pulitzer Prize list and digging up gold in each page.

The full list of books I read in 2015 are listed at the end of this post.

Best movies I watched in 2015

I fell in love with movies in college, and that love was formalized when I attended Sundance for the first time (2012). The experience of being in snowy Park City with thousands of passionate film junkies had an osmosis effect on me. Suddenly I was in circles that embraced deeper discussions on film, in lines full at 5am to get on the waiting list (that year I missed getting into Beasts of the Southern Wild by just a few spots, after 2 hours), and in theaters with director Q&As and a palpable intensity of love. I went to Sundance again the following year, and began to religiously follow the awards circuits to find the independent or critically acclaimed films that didn’t necessarily hit the mainstream (though I also relished the blockbusters, with giants like Pixar and Marvel hitting their stride around that time). In 2014, I experienced the Berlinale, and even went to a little fantasy, sci-fi, and horror film and wine festival in Ljutomer, Slovenia. Nowadays, my visits to Rotten Tomatoes are just a little behind visits to ArchDaily and Pitchfork.

The full list of movies I watched in 2015, in and out of theaters, is at the end of the post. It may seem like an exorbitantly long list, which brings me to a recommendation for one of the best purchases I made in 2015: the Movie Pass. For $35/month, you can watch one movie every 24 hours. Movies are about $12 in the Bay Area, so if you watch 3 in a month you get your money back and start saving. Boanne and I discovered that we had already watched over $200 worth of movies in theaters by mid-year, so it made a lot of sense to us to get one each, thereby giving us near-complete freedom to do a movie date any day (we now both live within walking distance of a theater). I won’t give you the detailed breakdown, but I got my first free movie on August 10, and since then I’ve watched 27 movies in theaters using the Movie Pass. That equates to about $300 worth of movies, and as of December I’ve only paid $140 for the pass. So my recommendation to you: if you find you already watch more than 3 movies a month, or you would like you, get this pass! It will save you money and bring you peace of mind.

A quick curation of my favorite movies from 2014:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Birdman
  3. Whiplash
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  5. Citizenfour
  6. Nightcrawler
  7. Snowpiercer
  8. Foxcatcher
  9. Frank
  10. Locke

The fifteen below are the films that came out this year that I considered the best in pure cinematic, narrative quality. They are films that I truly believe that everybody should go back and watch at home if they were missed in theaters.

15. Mustang

Mustang

14. Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria

13. Carol

Carol

12. What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do In The Shadows

11. Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies

10. Ex Machina

Ex Machina

9. Creed

Creed

8. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

7. Spotlight

Spotlight

6. Wild Tales

Wild Tales

5. Room

Room

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

3. It Follows

It Follows

2. Inside Out

Inside Out

1. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Best music I listened to in 2015

Books, movies, and music. I had an entertaining conversation with friends this year about which two out of those three you would pick if you could only have two. One person offended the others when she had a quick, seemingly painless answer (alas the question was meant to be rhetorical). Music is probably the closest to my heart simply because it’s been part of my life since childhood playing the piano, performing in a rock band (including my band Scratch Four’s performance of a cover of Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue” as “South First Avenue” in the middle school talent show, with all four of us wearing white dress shirts, black ties, and Darth Vader masks. For whatever reason, Dylan’s microphone wasn’t on so we played the entire song without any of our cleverly written lyrics being heard by anyone. Hands down the best and worst performance that ever graced that multipurpose hall stage, only seconded by our cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” as “We Will Miss You” in the final school assembly of 8th grade), and becoming a world class percussionist in my high school’s drumline.

In college I guess you could say that I caught the “indie bug” when I discovered Belle & Sebastian, which is to this day my favorite band of all time (I finally got a chance to meet Stuart Murdoch in person in Berlin when he premiered God Help the Girl, and this year I finally got to see B&S perform, which I recount below). Since the consumption and review of music has been yet another religious activity of mine, and it has also naturally led to a generous attendance of concerts and music festivals in the Bay Area and beyond (best festival by far: Treasure Island Music Festival). They are a bit pricey, but at this point of my life I would rather spend money on experiences than goods.

As for where I find good music — I mainly rely on Pitchfork (I don’t like half of what they like and they don’t like half of what I like, but when the consider something Best New Music, I usually love it) and NPR First Listen. Otherwise I find great music from friends (which is partly why I do these lists!). I used to be on Spotify a lot but recently I’ve just had more than enough music to get through in my own queue.

A quick flashback to my favorite albums of 2014 for reference:

Top 10 Albums of 2014

  1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  2. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe (released 2013)
  3. Asgeir – In the Silence
  4. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
  5. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  6. Beck – Morning Phase
  7. Real Estate – Atlas
  8. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
  9. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
  10. Wye Oak – Shriek

Top 10 Tracks of 2014

  1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  2. Conor Oberst – Common Knowledge
  3. Yo La Tengo – The Point of It
  4. Asgeir – Was There Nothing?
  5. Beck – Heart is a Drum
  6. Sun Kil Moon – Micheline
  7. The 1975 – Girls
  8. Blood Orange – It Is What It Is
  9. Real Estate – Talking Backwards
  10. First Aid Kit – Shattered & Hollow

Here are the fifteen albums released in 2015 that I considered the best. In each description I’ll highlight the best songs from the album, and afterwards I included my list of the top 20 individual tracks so you can see how they are ranked.

15. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

14. Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin

13. Beirut – No No No

12. The Milk Carton Kids – Monterey

11. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

10. Jamie xx – In Colour

9. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

8. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

7. The Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird is Home

6. Grimes – Art Angels

5. Beach House – Depression Cherry

4. Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

3. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

2. Tame Impala – Currents

1. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

Best tracks of 2015

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Should Have Known Better
  2. Beach House – Beyond Love
  3. Belle & Sebastian – Nobody’s Empire
  4. Majical Cloudz – Downtown
  5. CHVRCHES – High Enough to Carry You Over
  6. Tame Impala – Eventually
  7. The Tallest Man on Earth – Beginners
  8. Father John Misty – The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apt.
  9. Panda Bear – Boys Latin
  10. The Milk Carton Kids – Poison Tree
  11. Courtney Barnett – Depreston
  12. Jose Gonzalez – Open Book
  13. Purity Ring – Repetition
  14. Hot Chip – So Much Further to Go
  15. Adele – When We Were Young
  16. Grimes – REALiTi
  17. Jamie xx – Gosh
  18. Joanna Newsom – The Things I Say
  19. Julia Holter – Feel You
  20. Carly Rae Jepsen – Run Away With Me

Best podcasts I listened to in 2015

I first started listening to podcasts in 2014 on long bus or train rides with Dylan through Europe (our audio splitter was the best purchase THAT year), but this year I greatly expanded my regimen and offerings. This American Life and Radiolab are by far the highest quality podcasts I listen to, but the members of Radiotopia, including 99% Invisible, The Allusionist, Song Exploder, and more recently The Memory Palace and Criminal, are very good. Their collective entrepreneurial, indie spirit is contagious, and seriously makes me want to make podcasts myself. I also listen regularly to StoryCorps and The Moth Radio Hour because I enjoy hearing unproduced, genuine stories, and I’ll occasionally listen to WTF if I like who’s being interviewed. I suspect that in the years to come, podcasts will become an even more regular pastime for me, and I’m really excited to see the medium continue to grow.

The following is a ranking of my favorite individual episodes, which I would recommend as great starting points if you’re interested in trying podcasts.

10. This American Life – The Poetry of Propaganda

9. WTF with Marc Maron – President Barack Obama

8. The Memory Palace – Butterflies

7. 99% Invisible – Structural Integrity

6. Love + Radio – The Living Room

5. Moth Radio Hour – Hand Transplant, DNA, and a Backwards Heart

4. Radiolab – CRISPR

3. This American Life – NUMMI 2015

2. 99% Invisible – The Sunshine Hotel

1. Radiolab – Elements

 

Miscellaneous favorites in 2015

Why no television? Honestly I felt that between books, movies, music, podcasts, and television, I could only pick four. I stopped watching television in college (ironically just as Netflix exploded onto the scene in dorms all around the country), just as I stopped playing video games, simply because there were not enough hours in the day. And television is ruthless when it comes to eating away your life. So I abstained and maintain a blissful ignorance to most shows to this day…

… With the exception of Sherlock, which is sparse enough to do in sprints, and Breaking Bad, which I started during my Eurotrip and finished this summer after the grad school hiatus. I know it’s ridiculous for me to say this, but having completed as brilliant of a show as Breaking Bad I don’t think any other television series could ever compare. And so I maintain my blissful ignorance until somebody drags me into another series.

GUILTY CONFESSION: I also binged the Legend of Korra sometime this year and thoroughly enjoyed it, having completed Avatar: The Last Airbender in 2013. (Thanks Dylan.)

GUILTY CONFESSION #2: The Great British Baking Show on Netflix.

I pretty much mentioned all the concerts and music festivals I attended in the music section. Treasure Island Music Festival this year was the best festival I’ve ever been to (seconded by Outside Lands 2012), and the performances I watched and loved were Run the Jewels, FKA Twigs, Jose Gonzalez, Father John Misty, The War on Drugs, Chvrches, and The National. Another delight was seeing Kishi Bashi and a string quartet at the Palace of Fine Arts in SF.

2015-10-18 21.59.36

I also enjoy musicals (have enjoyed them ever since first watching Wicked in high school in LA), and this year I watched The Book of Mormon at the Orpheum, Pirates of Penzance at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, and If/Then at the Orpheum. I’d recommend all but the last.

In 2015 I traveled to the following new places, all project-related trips:

  • Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Juarez, Mexico
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • San Salvador, El Salvador
  • Jakarta, Indonesia,
  • Chengdu, China

Personal Milestones

Now for a brief list of what I produced this year.

First off, 2015 marks the official end of my education (for now) with my Master’s Degree in Structural Engineering and Geomechanics. The one-year master’s program turned out to be much harder than I expected, but achievable alongside my various other projects. I absolutely loved the material, but I wasn’t quite as enthused about the job-centric culture in my classes.

Cloud Arch Studio has been off to a great start in its first full business year. The primary project is something I cannot disclose, but suffice to say it has kept the whole operation afloat. The visible project has been Common Ground for the Market Street Prototyping Festival. Version 1 debuted in April near the Ferry Building and Version 2 debuted in October in Central Market. We’re going to be working on Version 3 through 2016 and it will debut in October back in the Embarcadero district. I’m grateful to the whole team that has helped to make these projects happen, and hope that we have taken a small step to improving San Francisco. I spoke about both projects at a talk which you can watch here.

There’s been a project in the sidelines since 2014, which is the sequel to the Solar Decathlon, a CORE for low-income housing in developing countries. The project has been patiently moving forward but it received a major boost with two research trips in the summer to El Salvador and Indonesia. Not much to share about it right now, but I think it’s in a good position to make significant progress in 2016 and become a major non-profit arm of what I do.

Big milestones for me have been in my transition from a student to a lecturer in the second half of 2015. I was hired as a part-time lecturer at Stanford in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department in June and have been working on the first iteration of a year-long pilot course for Sustainable Urban Systems, which has grown out of the Global Urban Development Program that my colleagues in Slovenia and I developed back in 2012. I’m working with 15 students and a teaching team on urban development challenges in the City of San Jose in partnership with municipal staff and community organizations. It’s definitely been challenging for me to expand my own mind to the urban scale, but it’s been incredibly motivating to be part of something that has the potential to become a real graduate program in a few years (fingers crossed). It’s definitely going to keep me engaged at Stanford for a few more years, and in a way it’s like my education has not only continued, but taken off. I also accepted a part-time teaching position for a new Architecture elective at The Nueva Upper School in San Mateo. I’ve been working with 17 ninth through eleventh graders there who are passionate about architecture — and quite good at it now. It’s been a delight to guide them through challenging projects and prove to everybody observing that architecture can and should be taught in high school, so that they can be that much further along in their skills and principles by the time they reach college. I’m on board to do one more semester at the start of 2016, then we’ll have to see how the high school job fits into my schedule.

2015-10-17 17.56.00

Most importantly, I spent the entirety of 2015 with a girl I love and came out a kinder, stronger, and happier person. Coming from emotionally distraught years, I couldn’t be more blessed.

Full lists

List items are scored out of 5.

Books (in chronological order)

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn — 4
  2. Designing Tall Buildings by Mark Sarkisian — 3.5
  3. The Secret Place by Tana French — 3.5
  4. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami — 4.5
  5. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson — 5/5
  6. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin — 4.5
  7. Dune by Frank Herbert — 5
  8. The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch — 3.5
  9. The Essential William H. Whyte — 4
  10. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander — 4
  11. The Next American Metropolis by Peter Calthorpe — 3
  12. Cities of Tomorrow by Peter Hall — 4.5
  13. Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows — 4
  14. The Death and Life of Great American Cities — 5
  15. Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam — 4.5
  16. City Rules by Emily Talen — 4
  17. Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins — 4
  18. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt — 3.5
  19. The Circle by Dave Eggers — 3.5
  20. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins — 4
  21. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins — 5
  22. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman — 3.5
  23. Cities for People by Jan Gehl — 3
  24. Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky — 3
  25. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr — 5
  26. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo — 4
  27. The Stranger by Albert Camus — 3.5
  28. William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher — 3
  29. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman — 4
  30. William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh by Ian Doescher — 3

Movies (in chronological order)

  1. Mr. Turner — 4
  2. Only Lovers Left Alive — 3.5
  3. Star Wars Episode 1 — 3
  4. Star Wars Episode 2 — 2.5
  5. American Sniper — 4
  6. Selma — 4
  7. Star Wars Episode 3 — 3
  8. Star Wars Episode 4 — 3.5
  9. Star Wars Episode 5–  4
  10. Oscar Animated Shorts — 4
  11. Star Wars Episode 6 — 4
  12. Harry Potter 1 — 3
  13. Harry Potter 2 — 3
  14. Harry Potter 3 — 4
  15. Harry Potter 4 — 4
  16. What We Do in the Shadows — 4.5
  17. While We’re Young — 4
  18. It Follows — 4.5
  19. Harry Potter 5 — 3
  20. Harry Potter 6 — 4
  21. Harry Potter 7 Part 1 — 4
  22. Harry Potter 7 Part 2 — 4.5
  23. Ex Machina — 4.5
  24. Avengers — 3
  25. Avengers 2 — 4
  26. Under the Skin — 3.5
  27. 50 Shades of Grey — 2
  28. Jurassic Park — 4
  29. Clouds of Sils Maria — 4.5
  30. Mad Max: Fury Road — 4.5
  31. Still Alice — 4
  32. Hunger Games Mockingjay 1 — 2
  33. Jurassic Park 2 — 2.5
  34. Wild Tales — 4.5
  35. Jurassic Park 3 — 3
  36. Pitch Perfect 2 — 4
  37. Spy — 4
  38. When Marnie Was There — 4
  39. Jurassic World — 4.5
  40. Inside Out — 5
  41. Food, Inc — 3.5
  42. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl — 3.5
  43. The Overnight — 4
  44. Palo Alto — 3.5
  45. The Stanford Prison Experiment — 4.5
  46. Ant-Man — 4
  47. Dragonball Z Resurrection F — 3
  48. The Gift — 3.5
  49. Mission Impossible Rogue Nation — 4
  50. The End of the Tour — 4.5
  51. Phoenix — 3.5
  52. The Diary of a Teenage Girl — 3.5
  53. Tomorrowland — 3.5
  54. Cake — 4
  55. The Martian — 4
  56. Sicario — 4
  57. 99 Homes — 4
  58. Steve Jobs — 5
  59. Bridge of Spies — 4.5
  60. The Walk — 3.5
  61. Burnt — 3.5
  62. Crimson Peak — 3
  63. Spectre — 4
  64. The Peanuts Movie — 3
  65. Room — 4.5
  66. The Future — 3
  67. Spotlight — 4.5
  68. The Way Way Back — 3.5
  69. Norwegian Wood — 3
  70. Hunger Games Mockingjay 2 — 3
  71. The Night Before — 3.5
  72. Trumbo — 4
  73. The Good Dinosaur — 4.5
  74. Rocky — 3.5
  75. Creed — 4.5
  76. Brooklyn — 4
  77. Krampus — 3
  78. In the Heart of the Sea — 4
  79. Star Wars Episode 7 — 4.5
  80. The Danish Girl — 4
  81. The Big Short — 4
  82. Sisters — 3.5
  83. Macbeth — 3.5
  84. Carol — 4.5
  85. Mustang — 4.5
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Journal

Learn, Teach, Make, Give, Love

Since finishing my Master’s degree at Stanford this past June, I have been hard at work planning the next chapter of my life: my professional career. I knew as early as my undergraduate years that I would not be heading down the corporate path (“The Man” as I watched so burn on the playa), and perhaps as early as my high school years spent reading The Fountainhead in AP Calculus that the only person I ever wanted to work for was myself. That ambition has taken the form of Cloud Arch Studio, a design practice based in California but extending collaborative arms to Europe and beyond. Since forming in 2014 my colleagues around the world and I have worked on diverse projects with the London Festival of Architecture, the San Francisco Planning Commission and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Google, and I’m excited to watch the company grow in 2016.

But I also knew by the end of graduate school that my departure from the academic setting would be in no way absolute. The saying that wisdom is discovering how little you know could not have been more deeply ingrained in me by my humbling experiences leading Stanford’s first-ever entry in the Solar Decathlon. In fact, I learned from my time building Acabee, a kind of Stanford-focused Khan Academy, with my roommate Abi during our sophomore year in FroSoCo that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I took that joyous experience to heart and ended up spending a significant part of my time at Stanford organizing student-initiated courses, TA-ing studios, and developing a project-based learning course in urban development that ultimately became the module I was hired as a part-time lecturer to build as a pilot for a future sustainable urban systems graduate program in the CEE Department.

There’s yet another thread to my professional career that began in earnest after the Solar Decathlon, when I took a gap year to travel for nine months through twenty-three countries in Europe with my best friend Dylan. At the same time, a few colleagues from the Solar Decathlon team and I began realizing that the CORE concept we had developed was more impactful if re-engineered for the developing world. Getting out of the Silicon Valley bubble and seeing poverty with my own eyes was the start of my commitment to social good, and in the last year I have been invited to travel to Santiago, San Salvador, and other developing areas, and have begun to build an international network of collaborators on low-income, energy-efficient housing models for millions of impoverished families.

What excites me the most is the opportunity to develop a hybrid model for my design practice, with a for-profit studio providing high-value solutions to the biggest clients of the first world, and a for-purpose lab turning that money into high-impact solutions for the biggest problems of the third world, hand-in-hand with local communities and leaders. It’s perhaps the stupidest ambition I’ve had to try to build such a non-profit organization within months of getting a for-profit out of the red, but I’ve been known to stumble through on what I foolishly pursue. What would help is to gain the patronage of some of the role model philanthropists I’ve met in the Bay Area for a sort of matching model program on what I myself give to my for-purpose projects.

And so my sort of personal manifesto has taken shape (a moral CV as Dylan and I like to call it), to each day strive for five basic acts: to Learn, to Teach, to Make, to Give, to Love.

In the last few weeks, a new opportunity has arisen which falls right in line with my mission. I am excited to join the The Nueva School​ faculty at the Bay Meadows campus as a part-time architecture instructor for the upcoming academic year. Teaching the founding class at Nueva’s new high school the fundamentals of design and engineering will complement my urban development course at Stanford, as well as refine my own process at Cloud. I am proud of my university, but I have also learned that the most critical modes of thinking and doing are developed long before college. I have also learned that the state of architecture education throughout the country is seriously crippled to prepare students for the challenges which face the built environment in the coming century. Through my time at Nueva, I hope to build the foundation of a new way of teaching design and engineering which will one day shape the way we all learn, teach, give, make, and love.

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