Becoming an EA Architect: My First Month as an Independent Researcher
I am on the mission of figuring out how to use my education and skills as an architect and urban designer to pursue a high-impact career. For a long time, I did not think there were many intersections between EA and architecture. However, this spring I am trying to prove my past self wrong. Having come to the Bahamas as an FTX EA fellow, I have quit my job in urban design in Oxfordshire to devote all my time and resources to potentially making a major career shift into the EA/longtermist spaces.
This post (my first one on EAF, so bear with me) is about the first month of my exploration. By writing it, I hope to gain insights from the EA community, connect with like-minded people, gather feedback or advice, and perhaps inspire people with similar skillsets to come and join me on my mission.
So far, I have identified 4+ major categories where my skills might be useful and spend different amounts of time pursuing them.
Refuges from biological and nuclear threats
Design of spaces for disease mitigation
Office space design
All else (so far, things like graphic design or Street Votes)
Building refuges to protect from biological and nuclear threats could increase chances that humanity would recover from a global catastrophe (Beckstead 2015). It seems plausible that devoting my time to help kickstart the project of building refuges (or superbunkers, as described by Linch and Ajay in their post) could be valuable. Linch offered me mentorship and resources (as part of the FTX Regranting Program) to explore ways to fit in. Spending last month on initial learning and research, I plan to next work on:
a comprehensive Superbunkers Precedents Report (including examples from existing governmental and private bunkers, submarines, remote research stations and experiments, space explorations, peoples living in seclusion, etc. and comparing things like costs, size and level of protection); and
creating materials (currently imagining 10ish slides very clearly stating and illustrating the main points) for PR and marketing purposes to be used to contact potential suppliers and funders to get a better understanding of what’s feasible/achievable;
to maximise my learning experience while potentially starting to produce outcomes. In the longer term and the most optimistic scenario, I hope that helping to progress work on superbunkers might lead to attracting a potential CEO that could take ownership of the project (as Linch and Ajay described in their post from last month, this will be a crucial milestone for superbunkers).
2. Spaces for disease mitigation
Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as designing buildings for sustainable disease mitigation can play an important role in helping to slow the spread of illnesses and prevent future pandemics (“Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs)” 2020). After the COVID-19 pandemic, there might be a capacity to implement new design solutions to provide the required protection from virus attacks, adding more layers to the defence system of our built environment (Megahed and Ghoneim 2020).
It seems that the design and user experience of such interventions could be an impactful cause to focus on during the upcoming years. My discussions with people in the space so far indicate that designers or architects could aid researchers to implement interventions into the built environment and public spaces in ways that make them more effective. Websites like Building Survey, developed by Arvie Violett to assist different sizes of buildings with different budgets and preferences in choosing the most suitable interventions, show an example of how architects could contribute.
I became curious about concrete job opportunities, projects or people I could join on a mission to help build spaces that will help combat future pandemics and would be grateful for suggestions.
3. Office space design
Most people spend fifty percent of their lives within indoor environments, which greatly influence their mental status, actions, abilities and performance (Sundstrom, Herbert, and Brown 1982). EAs could benefit from workplaces designed to maximise their long-term health, productivity, and physical and psychological well-being.
I am interested in a multidisciplinary approach to office space design. If I pursued this line of work, I would start by teaming up with psychologists and colour psychologists, health and productivity experts, lighting and ventilation experts, and bring in design elements to help mitigate the spread of diseases in the workplace (see point 2.).
I am quite certain there are brilliant people to learn from or team up with and many EAs could benefit from such services. Any suggestions, personal experiences or strong opinions on what an EA office of the future should look like are more than welcome.
As the next step, I am working on creating a database of design recommendations that might serve anyone designing/redesigning an office or co-working space for EAs. Reach out if you want to chat about this.
4. Charter cities
It is conceivable that charter cities have the potential to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty (“An Introduction to Charter Cities” 2021). Being a long-term fan of the work of Alain Bertaud, the author of Order without Design, I became interested in ways urban designers can get involved in helping to make charter cities a reality.
So far, I have connected with Charter Cities Institute (and appreciated their cosy office space design, enhanced by the smell of freshly roasted coffee from a roastery located just below the office), to discuss what role urban designers and architects might play in designing charter cities. Examples that seem relevant are helping to prepare planning frameworks and guidelines (like this one) or becoming an Urban Design/Planning Researcher for one of the relevant orgs.
If there were opportunities for people with my skills, such career might make sense as I already know I am fascinated by the forces behind structuring cities and hold similar views to people working on charter cities. I am on the lookout for people to talk to and more concrete ways to get involved.
5. All else
Recently, I have started to prepare visuals to accompany EA research and helped with presentation visuals, logos and graphic design content. There seems to be interest and opportunities to contribute to help visualise EA ideas to get them across to any desired audience (like, for example, illustrating this article to make my points stand out for people who read it). Things like Longtermist visualisations described in Fin’s article might be highly fulfilling for me to work on while carrying potential importance.
I have also become interested in the idea of Street Votes as described in the ‘Enabling streets to control their own development’ report by Dr Samuel Hughes & Ben Southwood. Street Votes would allow residents of a street to agree on new strict rules for designs to make better use of their plots. This would lead to densification and a great increase in the value of residents’ homes, giving them strong reasons to agree on it (Hughes and Derbyshire, n.d.). Street Votes seem to be getting traction and the support of the UK government (Gardiner 2021) so it might potentially be a good time to join the cause. I have considered spending time preparing visuals of ‘before’ and ‘after’ street examples to use for marketing purposes.
I would be grateful for strong opinions on what to prioritize from the points above or what to add to my list. I am keen to pursue one of the above-mentioned ideas during my master’s starting in September and am trying to move forward with as much relevant input as possible.
I plan to publish two more articles summarizing months 2 and 3 of my explorations while sharing more of the outcomes of my first three months in the EA world.
Thank you for reading about the first month of my journey of becoming an ‘EA architect’,
P.S. Huge thanks to Ozzie Gooen and Kaleem Ahmid for chatting about office space design, to Adam Marblestone for his talk on Far-UVC disinfection and to Arvie Violett for exploring the topic of disease spread mitigation with me. Thanks to Heba Elhanafy, Mark Lutter and Kurtis Lockhart from Charter Cities Institute as well as Angie Jo for chatting about the intersection of charter cities and urban design. Thank you Ben Hoskin and Samuel Hughes for delving into Street Votes with me. Thanks to all the FTX EA Bahamas fellows for inspiring and enlightening chats. And the biggest thanks to Linch for giving me the opportunity and unending support to work on all of this!
Gardiner, Joey. 2021. “Gove Says Government Will Legislate for ‘street Votes.’” Housing Today. November 30, 2021. https://www.housingtoday.co.uk/news/gove-says-government-will-legislate-for-street-votes/5114990.article.
Hughes, Samuel, and Ben Southwood Foreword by Derbyshire. n.d. “Enabling Streets to Control Their Own Development.” https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Strong-Suburbs.pdf.
“Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs).” 2020. April 27, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nonpharmaceutical-interventions/index.html.