Sentient City Charrette



An open call for architects, engineers, urban designers, and related design professionals to participate in a one-week design charrette

Design problem announced: October 14, 2009
Pin-up and crit: October 21, 2009

Registration information below.

The Architectural League’s current exhibition, Toward the Sentient City, curated by Mark Shepard and on view at the Urban Center through November 7, critically explores the evolving relationship between ubiquitous computing, architecture, and urban space.

Over the past several decades, computer scientists and engineers have been researching and implementing ways of embedding computational intelligence into the built environment. Looking beyond the paradigm of personal computing, which placed the computer in the foreground of our attention–most familiarly in the shape of the desktop computer–ubiquitous computing posits a world where computers have disappeared into the background, embedded into the floors, walls, streets, and physical world around us. Enabled by tiny, inexpensive microprocessors and low-power wireless networks, information processing has become ambient, imbuing buildings and cities with the capacity to sense, record, process, transmit, and respond to information taking place within and around them. The implications for the built environment are enormous and inevitable.

The Sentient City Charrette invites architects, engineers, urban designers, and related design professionals to speculate on the form and functionality of this “sentient” city evolving around us. Participants will have one week to propose solutions to the design challenge, after which there will be a pin-up and crit on the evening of October 21 (more information below). The charrette is open to all (although pre-registration is required) and is intended as a purely speculative and collegial exercise.

The Challenge
First proposed in 1929, the Second Avenue Subway system will stretch along Manhattan’s East Side from Harlem to the Financial District, alleviating extreme overcrowding on the 4/5/6 lines and making the East Side generally more accessible by public transit.

How can the Second Avenue Subway integrate digital intelligence to make the system more efficient, more environmentally sensitive, and more comfortable for riders and workers? How will embedded computational processing reinvent the function and/or form of entries, stairs, elevators, booths, turnstiles, newsstands, and the system itself? How will a “smart” subway station–one that has the capacity to track nearly infinite kinds of data, that responds to and interacts with riders, that is networked into the infrastructure of the city–look different than other stations currently in operation in New York City?

The problem is open-ended and participants are invited to consider any and all parts of the Second Avenue Subway as sites for potential action. The League is particularly interested in speculations on how these various technologies might influence architectural form, as well as how architects and related designers can reimagine to what ends and in what form ubiquitous technologies might be better integrated into the built environment.

Register to continue reading the brief (see below).

To get the full design brief, you must pre-register. Registration for League members, free; non-members, $10. League members may register by emailing; non-members can register here. Once you’ve registered, a pdf of the design brief will be emailed to you.

Pin-up and Crit
A pin-up and crit of the submissions will take place on Wednesday, October 21, at 7:00 p.m. More information will be sent to registered participants.

Email questions to Gregory Wessner, Digital Programs and Exhibitions Director, at

Toward the Sentient City was made possible with support from the J. Clawson Mills Fund of the Architectural League and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.  Additional support was provided by the University at Buffalo.

Toward the Sentient City is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.