Architect and product designer James Shen is addressing adaptive cultural challenges through pre-fab building systems in traditional courtyard dwellings in Beijing, among other entrepreneurial efforts.

His award-winning practice is known for engaging in urban issues through designs that straddle architecture and product design. He developed the Courtyard House Plugin as a low-cost alternative for urban regeneration to serve Beijing’s central historic districts, areas that are characterized by slum conditions. The proprietary prefabricated building system quickly and efficiently upgrades dilapidated houses to modern living and energy standards without demolition and relocating people. His People’s Canopies are building-size structures that can be cycled by citizens, paraded through the city, and expanded over entire streets. These pop-up event spaces activate declining urban areas by bringing people together and providing access to public programs and services.

During Shen’s Loeb year, he will examine viable social impact business models for architectural practices that produce self-initiated work. Shen’s firm is Asia’s first B-Corp certified architecture practice, and access to the GSD and Harvard’s social entrepreneurship community will strengthen his position as a leader in social innovation.

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