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Princeton University is known for its’ world class eating clubs where students mix and mingle with their peers and classmates.  The club members meet up daily to chat about news, critique politics, and share stories all over great food.  These clubs are inherently very social and involve a circle of people that get together in smaller circles to make eating a bit more social.  (If you feel like you’ve read that before, you probably have – we’re pretty fond of this concept at Zoko).

Princeton also happens to be known for something else:  their world class architecture program.  You might be asking yourself what the two have to do with each other, but the truth is, they are much more related than you would think thanks to a studio taught by Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Ryan Welch.  A few weeks back the team at Zoko learned about the exciting graduate design studio focusing on how web start-ups might begin physically manifesting themselves in the very near future.  The course falls under a larger initiative as part of the White House’s CultureNow program.  Here’s a bit more about it:

CultureNow, which was initiated by the White House and is being administered by [architect] Thom Mayne across about a dozen American architecture schools. While each school is taking its own initiative towards an investigation of contemporary culture across 2nd tier American cities, the work will be compiled into a single document and website.

If you recall back in the day, the Zoko team actually proposed something very similar to this with an entry for the DeKalb Market in Brooklyn, NY.  The competition challenged teams to come up with a use for a shipping-container.  The Zoko proposal suggested the container be used as an office-space and garden during the day and a gathering space for dinners by night.  The scheme ended up taking third place as well as getting some great feedback from designers and foodies everywhere.

The goal of the studio is to consider how websites like Vimeo, Tumblr, Indaba and Zoko that have a large on-line presence might require or benefit from a physical gathering space.  Considering that the name “Zoko” references the Txokos in the Basque region of Spain where a group of people would actually buy a house purely for a location to cook for each other, it’s fair to say our interest was piqued.  Zaera-Polo, who hails from Spain, speaks fondly of the Txokos discussing how they represent the finest cuisine and some of the best eating experiences anywhere in the world with people driving across the state to visit them.

Between now and the end of the semester, the students will research and propose their own vision of what these manifestations might look like.  Ranging from self-curated design salons for Tumblr users to public video-jukbox displays for Vimeo videographers and communal garden/food prep/dining installations for Zoko fanatics, the projects are interesting speculations about on-line communities “in real life.”  Stay tuned to the blog to see what the brilliant students come up with.  In the meantime, here are some images from Jia Chum,  Adrian Heid  and Jane Chua’s early research on Zoko.