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MITdesignX symposium



The Acceleration of Technology, Systems and Urban Policy in the Post-Pandemic City

April 26-27, 2021 


We are now in year two of a global disaster: a modern pandemic with no defined end date. Many of the rules and norms of the way things used to be are now being challenged. Incredible disruption has generated seismic shifts in the social and physical realms that will shape the future for decades, if not the century.


The “temporary” inconveniences, emergency measures, delays and postponements of 2020, are becoming a way of life in 2021. And although the pandemic has impacted all sectors of society, its effects on the way we live, work, learn, celebrate, and even breathe will be manifest most strongly in the buildings, vehicles, and public spaces of cities and the human environment.  


Disruption by the pandemic initially caused a state of paralysis in cities. Offices and schools were emptied, subways deserted, entertainment and sports venues shuttered. The economy descended into recession and unemployment skyrocketed. But, very quickly, people responded, as they always do, through adaptation and innovation in a remarkable demonstration of resilience.  Life, the economy, and human progress had to continue, just differently. 


Now it seems everything must be rethought, reimagined, redesigned, or repositioned.  The innovators, designers and visionaries among us already have plans and ideas in the works.  And the pandemic provides the (inopportune) opportunity to fast-forward their development.


Remote working, online classes, telemedicine, and ecommerce were not invented in 2020, but over the year, they have become widely adopted and integrated into society.  Likewise, modular construction, touchless entry, and expedited permitting are not new ideas, but suddenly these technologies and policies are being widely accepted and rapidly implemented. 


In this two-day online symposium at MIT, we hosted conversations with innovators and visionaries, academics, global firms and novel startups who are accelerating new systems and products for design, cities, and the human environment.

Please enjoy the recordings of each panel and speakers below. 

Welcome and Introduction

Gilad Rosenzweig

Executive director, MITdesignX

Hashim Sarkis

Dean, MIT School of Architecture and Planning


Professor Danielle Wood

Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences

Assistant Professor (Joint) of Aeronautics and Astronautics

MIT Media Lab

The Advance of Digitization in Design


How are AI and computation impacting design. 


Are we seeing an industry transformation with the recent development of design tools and methods in tandem with increasing computational power? What will the speed and ingenuity in design bring?

Professor Caitlin Mueller (moderator)

MIT Department of Architecture

David Morczinek

Co-founder, AirWorks


Kyle Bernhardt

Director Building Design Strategy, Autodesk

Joe Pajot

Director, Engineering Data Science Product Management, Altair

Modular Construction / Modular Real Estate

We can now build and utilize space in radically different ways. What are we seeing in terms of industry adoption and client expectation?


How is the move to modular construction addressing fairness and equality in housing and labor, and how is access to homeownership changing?

Steve Weikal (moderator)

Head of Industry Relations, MIT Center for Real Estate

Naomi Porat

Strategic Advisor and Advisory Board Member, Factory_OS

Tamara Knox and Joshua Morrison

Co-founders, Frolic


Antón García-Abril

Co-founder, WoHo / Professor, MIT Department of Architecture

Ordering In​

How is the urban landscape adapting to new forms of commerce, living and entertainment?


As social restrictions continue in some format across the globe, people become even more accustomed to remote shopping, eating, and entertaining. The public square and the agora are replaced by the “link”, the podcast and the automated warehouse.  


While we will soon return to a public life of crowds and interaction, will public space be transformed? For better or worse?  What changes are being made in the design of buildings for large-scale assembly? And how will new supply chain logistics that support changing shopping and dining needs impact the form and function of our cities?


Professor Dennis Frenchman (moderator)

Founder and Chair, MITdesignX

Catherine Pfeiffenberger

Managing Director, Head of Development & Construction, Jamestown

Eric Williams

Founder and Creative Director, The Silver Room, Chicago IL


Andre Brumfield

Cities & Urban Design Leader, Design Director, Principal, Gensler

Gensler copy.jpg

Professor Svafa Grönfeldt

Faculty director, MITdesignX


Professor Molly Wright Steenson

Carnegie Mellon University

Changing the Rules of Engagement

Democratization and accountability in planning and design.


Are the emerging challenges of the pandemic, combined with renewed campaigns for racial and social justice creating a new tipping point for transparency and accountability in planning, design and governance?

Professor Janelle Knox-Hayes (moderator)

MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Mercedes Bidart

Co-founder, Quipu


Karin Brandt

Co-founder, CoUrbanize

William Gilchrist

Director, Planning and Building, City of Oakland, CA

Boarding at All Doors, or None at All​

Fundamental changes in policy and culture that are allowing us to advance design faster than ever.


We can make change without much effort as long as we accept change as inevitable.  Boarding a bus without paying the driver is possible. Removing street parking to make room for bikes and cafes is possible. As is making route changes on demand. Such changes in procedure/design have been relatively easy during the pandemic, but will they endure?

Katie Lorah (moderator)

Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, Transportation Alternatives

Shin-pei Tsay

Global Head of Cities and Transportation Policy, Uber


Justin Coetzee

CEO, GoMetro, Cape Town, South Africa

Olivier Faber

Co-founder, Roofscapes

The Next Pandemic is Now

How do we plan and prepare for the next global catastrophe? Has the pandemic opened the door to wide acceptance of even greater threats to cities such as dwindling fresh water or rising sea levels? Have we learned any lessons? Or is a slow-moving threat still too abstract?


Sigurdur Thorsteinsson (moderator)

Partner, Design Group Italia / S3NSO, Milan, Italy

Professor Paola Rizzoli, Professor of Physical Oceanography

MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Kate Randolph

Sustainability Team Lead, Google

Kelly Main

Executive Director, Buy-In

Closing Thoughts

Gordon Feller

Advisor to startups and grownups; Board member – several non-profits; Board member – several for-profits; fmr: Cisco HQ exec office; fmr: World Bank HQ exec office

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