“This thing is real,” architect Craig Hodgetts said in an email about the Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s proposal for a high-speed transit system somewhere between a train and a human-scale pneumatique. Hodgetts would know: next year, he’ll direct a studio on the urban implications of the technology for SUPRASTUDIO, UCLA Architecture and Urban Design’s Master of Architecture II program. The partnership between SUPRASTUDIO, part of UCLA’s IDEAS laboratory, and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the startup company formed to make Musk’s concept a reality, is part of a strategy to crowd-source much of the research and development behind the Hyperloop.
For a full year beginning in the summer of 2014, post-professional students admitted to Hodgetts’s studio will research the social and spatial potential of the Hyperloop, in close cooperation with the engineers at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. The physics of the system, Hodgetts said, are relatively straightforward. For him, the more interesting questions have to do with the passenger experience—with normalizing a new type of travel and counteracting the claustrophobic effects of the tightly-configured, windowless cars. Then there is the impact the Hyperloop will have on the cities it connects. In his studio, Hodgetts said, students will “start looking at new urban networks, at different priorities in terms of urban design. These are really exciting ideas from an urban design and architectural point of view.”
Hodgetts, who is a principal at Hodgetts + Fung in Culver City, is no stranger to revolutionary ideas about urban transit. In 1969 he and Lester Walker introduced the Landliner, a straddle-bus that promised to turn sprawling metropolitan regions into continuous “Strip Cities.” Then, in 1978, Hodgetts produced drawings for an unmade movie version of the novel Ecotopia in which the primary form of transport was a network of mag-lev trains. (Like Musk’s Hyperloop, Hodgetts’s Ecotopia trains were propelled forward by pulses of solar-generated electricity.) Today, he’s not afraid to express his enthusiasm for the Hyperloop. After describing the basic principles of the system, he said, “I trust [Musk] totally on that, because we have a Tesla and it’s pretty much anything anybody said about it.”
Hodgetts sees in the Hyperloop an “absolutely profound level of change.” It may do for transit, he said, what social media has done for communication. “The main thing that’s exciting to me is that one of the things that has made the biggest social changes is the relative lack of any friction whatsoever in social media…To have something in the physical world that leans in that direction is what I think is really profound.”