The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2018
Berkeley Prize 2018

Nathan Koren

2000 Essay Prize Winner - First Place

Country of Origin: United States
Country of Study: United States
Current Country: United Kingdom

Degrees: BsD Architecture, Arizona State University - 2001 MBA, University of Oxford - 2008

Statement:

It turns out that I’m less interested in architecture as a social art, and more interested in society as an architectural art. Before architecture school, my thinking was shaped by architects and planners with diverse but compelling narratives for how societies and their environment reciprocally shape each other. Of the many lenses through which this can be seen -- economic, cultural, anthropological, spiritual, etc. -- I found architectural narratives most compelling. Not because they were particularly correct, but because they could be both holistic and actionable. Architecture is neither a niche specialty nor a passive observer of society: Architecture is an expression of will.

The future doesn’t happen by accident. It is created by intent. Studying architecture seemed like a good way to cultivate this sensibility. But practicing architecture offered few ways to put this sensibility into action. Although I was fortunate to find many wonderful collaborators, I chafed against the reality that architects are at the bottom of the food chain, bounded by the whims of developers, planners, and innumerable institutional and infrastructure systems. Pondering this, I reached two conclusions:

-  First: the main determinant of society’s built environment is not architectural fashion, but infrastructure technologies — most especially transport — to which architecture is beholden.

-  Second: the inflection point for such technologies is not the act of invention, but the act of aligning financial, political, and institutional interests.

With two these conclusions in hand, I quit architecture, moved to the UK, got an MBA, and joined a company that develops autonomous vehicles. After half a decade working as their liaison to urban planners and policymakers, I had a third major realization: that aligning all the interests to create true infrastructural change was a fundamentally collaborative activity — that is, a social process — but the tools people used were too isolating and individualistic, inhibiting innovation.

I therefore founded two software companies, both focused on different collaboration problems: “Futurescaper” (www.futurescaper.com), a collaborative foresight system that is now used by the United Nations to map out contentious and subjective issues amongst many people, and Podaris (www.podaris.com), a cloud-collaboration platform for transport planners. My hope is that these technologies will allow a greater number of collaborators to shape their futures and their environments.


Arcosanti, where my passion for socially-engaged architecture was first fomented at age 11.


Stary Most Bridge, whose creation, destruction, and re-creation, attests profound social forces.


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