Skip to content

2022 Rotch Finalist: Nathan Karlsen


Nathan Karlsen is an architectural designer with a constant fascination in the ways in which architecture can better adapt itself to a world which is ever-changing. Karlsen graduated with his Bachelor and Master of Architecture from Wentworth Institute of Technology, where he received two faculty design excellence awards. His thesis titled “[Con]Temporary Urbanism: Performative Architecture”, for which he was awarded the AIA Henry Adams Medal, envisioned a future of the city where dynamically reactive structures could respond to a shifting context while enhancing the spectacle of the urban environment. From this, a continued passion burns for new ways in which ephemeral architecture can leave long term social and cultural impacts.

Preliminary Competition Entry

Prelim 1

The building contextualizes itself within its neighboring residences while also alluding to its differing internal program through abstracted residential forms.

All images courtesy of Nathan Karlsen

[Co]mmoning the Triple

“Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”

- bell hooks

Existing triple-deckers are currently a precedent for separate, introverted living- where stacked, identical floor plans create bands of private units. Crossing of paths is limited to the exterior or the interior stairs, which are often cramped and dark. By rethinking this typology, a new way of living can be imagined where the mindset of the stair is reversed as not merely a means of progressing up or down, but instead a tool and symbol for social progress.

Intermediary spaces throughout the sequence to ones private home become areas for conversations and activism. Art installations, co-work spaces, and additional communal program create a sanctuary for learning, the sharing of stories, and genuine interactions in an effort to create stronger communities, starting at the home.

What would happen if spaces you move through become cores for co-living, where boundaries between private and shared are broken, and the line between institutional and residential are blurred in a effort to common the triple?

Final Competition Entry

Final 1

The words of Bell Hooks mark the entry and set the building’s presence as a civic center of collective identity.

[Co]mmoning the Commons

“Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”

- bell hooks

Existing public spaces have become increasingly important in our current context. Although these spaces are shared collectively, they often do not prioritize communal engagement. By rethinking how people interact and using architecture as a tool for promoting collective identity we can build more caring, responsible, and vibrant communities.

Instead of a top-down urban planning approach, where architects and larger entities make decisions for residents, the people are pushed to the forefront. A corridor of change is imagined across a residential block, where the collective voices of the community can directly influence their surroundings. Throughout this dynamic landscape, architectural forms and the typical ways in which people interact are abstracted in an effort to push boundaries and create space for open dialogue and genuine interactions.

What would happen if architecture focused on the collective, building compassionate, engaged, and loving communities in an effort to truly common the commons?