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.



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.


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.


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.


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:


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.