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The 2020 Skyscraper Collaboratory was a partnership between Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California University’s interdisciplinary design studio (architecture and structural engineering) and the design / structural engineering partners from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) San Francisco, California’s Office, an internationally acclaimed firm that specializes in skyscrapers. The academic design studio was set up to mirror the advanced collaborative practice model of the partner firm, by balancing the nine teams (34 students total) with architecture and engineering students and co taught by a faculty architect and structural engineer. No disciplinary hand offs were ever allowed during the iterative design and technical process.

The site for the project located in downtown San Francisco, California with a height of 800’, and ½ million square feet of housing with the retail in the lower floors.

Sixty percent of the students in the studio were in the third year of the 5-year BARCH program and prior design experience was limited to the design of 1-2 story commercial buildings. The remaining students were 4th year structural engineers (with a handful of graduate students) focused on using this collaboration as their senior project.

Over a twenty-week period, six courses (2 design studios, and 4 technical courses) were synced up and coordinated with the partner firm’s lectures, reviews and workshops conducted for design studio. The sequence of coordinated design and technical content was: structural prototyping / physical model weight testing; 51 precedent dissections; structural system optimization, building energy modeling, performative envelopes, housing design with vertical communities and urban placemaking.

What started as an in person collaborative design studio was upended by the changes of the pandemic and the need to abandon all foundational hand-crafted large scaled physical model studies. The remote collaboration workflow strategies expertise that our partner firm was able to successfully share with design studio, was a key factor to the success of studio.