Known Unknowns: Dead Ends Aren't Dead


Known Unknowns: Dead Ends Aren't Dead


Bianca Lin, Joshua Park, & Wilson Fung
California College of the Arts


Janette Kim
California College of the Arts



This unorthodox project stood out for its progressive policy proposal, which embraces the spirit of the competition. The students embraced the notion of time, which is important to environmental efforts escalating the project beyond the ten measures. The graphic design of the submissions is beautiful and memorable. By retrofitting existing houses and inserting new typologies, this project proposes long-term economic stability and solutions to sea level rise.


“Small lots will support resilience because they allow many people to attend directly to their needs by designing, building and maintaining their own environment.” – Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn

This project transforms cul de sacs in East Palo Alto into a network of interconnected structures that promote collaboration among residents and build resilience against sea level rise.

East Palo Alto is vulnerable not only to sea level rise pressures—even today, the city is frequently flooded by groundwater, storm water and the San Francisquito Creek—but also to risks we call ‘infrastructural disjunction’ and ‘selective sacrifice.’ EPA has been sliced apart by infrastructure such as roads and levees, leaving both newcomers and locals disconnected from natural and cultural resources. Though there are many ways to flood-proof houses, income inequities make such approach impossible and thus sacrifice the well-being of the city’s most vulnerable.

Instead, we want to recognize what EPA residents have established throughout the city’s strong history of activism. Our project builds on Stewart Brand’s ‘shearing layers’ concept, which suggests that change can take place incrementally by retrofitting buildings layer by layer. We propose to retrofit existing houses and add in three new architectural typologies: a ‘nucleus’ that houses residential and commercial spaces in freestanding buildings, a ‘chromosone’ that houses shared public functions in smaller pavilions, and a ‘membrane’ that serves as a flexible surface, or scaffold, to link buildings to each other and provide seismic stability across them. These create elevated spaces that can serve as an emergency response center during a flood, or house expanding family-owned businesses, such as an afterschool program or a rental apartment, that can support long-term economic stability.