Challenge: Redesign how communities are engaged by the powers that typically strategize and implement their relief in hazard situations.


How might we…..


How might we engage the community and its needs before disaster even strikes?


How might we create means for better communication between governments and communities during disaster?


How might we help communities become better informed and better prepared before disaster strikes?


How might we create a communication pipeline so communities can be vocal during periods of disaster and recovery?


10-ish Divergent Ideas:


  1. Present the facts: HMW make clear the impacts that disaster have and may have on communities?
  2. Plan ahead: HMW organize communities to be continually participating in disaster preparedness, before, during and after an event?
  3. Existing infrastructure: How might we identify existing community infrastructure that can aid in dealing with disaster scenarios?
  4. Study the bad: HMW reflect on disasters that have already occurred to identify problems that need to be addressed before the next one strikes?
  5. Increase the minimum: HMW educate builders about the benefits of building beyond the code minimum?
  6. Introduce new practices: HMW begin to encourage communities to accept change and adopt new practices that allow them to be better prepared?
  7. Connect with others: HMW engage with other communities/cities/countries to share collective expertise in preparation for the next storm/event?
  8. Talk to me: HMW allow for continuous dialogue, allowing community needs to be transparent before, during, and after disasters?
  9. Human disasters: HMW identify vulnerable communities in order to strengthen them, and limit damage to those communities?”
  10. What do we have: HMW identify the existing resources we have, in order to better understand what we might need?
  11. Test: HMW Engage with communities and governing institutions to test new methods for resilience and preparedness?
  12. Call them out: How might we enable communities to voice their concerns when they feel they are being misrepresented or let down, especially in these disaster related scenarios?



How a Misguided Attempt to Prevent Disaster Created, Instead, a Much Worse Disaster


Everything seemed fine when plans for a new disaster relief program in Puerto Rico were first released, but that’s how these stories always go. The two students masterminding the endeavor came from the renowned institution of MIT, both were being trained as architects, and everyone thought they would be prepared for the task.

The project began with a simple data analysis of tree damage during Hurricane Maria. The island’s foliage had, under the force heavy wind and water, been responsible for much of the damage to homes and property of Puerto Ricans. The rainforests were ravaged by the storms, and the trees posed threats to not only the people of Puerto Rico, but also to its wildlife. The hurricane was able to uproot the forests and leverage the mass of hundred-year-old trees against those living on the island. The trees were marked as a threat, and the MIT students proposed a project that would reduce that threat.

Little did they know, their mitigation strategy, cutting down trees to minimize damage from flying debris, would cause large scale psychological damage to the people of the island. The previous hurricane, like most others, had destroyed most of the islands tree coverage. The image of bare street, debris, was a well known trigger for the survivors. Cutting down what little green that still remained, only worsened the existing psychological condition. The naked streets were a constant reminder of the severity of the islands present situation. The loss of their homes had driven away each any every bird. The island was now naked, and uncomfortably silent.

The mitigation plans had been backed by concrete science. But what was misunderstood, was that this “science” was just one perspective on a larger interconnected system. While trees, and debris in general, could become projectile, and cause damage during hurricane events, they also helped to stabilize the soil, slow down landslides, control flooding, and provide habitats for wildlife. First, there was a drastic reduction of the wildlife population, as animals were forced to compete for shelter in rocks and human-made structures. Tourist began booking vacations to other islands…ones with shade. Complaints of sunburn became common. Local farming became impossible without the shade of the trees, and Puerto Rico became even more reliant on imports. Slowly, with the removal of all of the island’s trees, soil began eroding with each consecutive rainfall, sinking to the bottom of the sea. The island was slowly becoming flatter. Puerto Ricans began moving away, until today, we have no record of anyone still remaining on the island.

Then, just this morning, hurricane Tim had hit as a Category 5! And the island…if you could call what was left an island…was washed away entirely.


Week 6 – Disaster Relief Map

The topic I think I’ve been interested in the most is how we plan and implement post disaster relief efforts. I’ve been curious about how these strategies are at times deployed successfully, and in other scenarios, very poorly executed. With the continual change in our planets climate systems, we are seeing and hearing of natural disasters globally with greater frequency. Dealing with these natural events and their consequences requires planning, communication, and in many cases, a need to provide aid in some form after the event.


The unfortunate side to this is that there is often a series of political loopholes that can impact how much of these efforts are properly executed and successful. There are many entities that function in these disaster scenarios. FEMA, The Red Cross, The National Guards, the U.N. and the World Bank are a few that come to mind. These events are complex and difficult to negotiate. They often involve governments, financial agencies, community leaders, in addition to the victims of these tragic events. What I’d be interested in is in how this process can be studied, to potentially reframe or restructure how relief is implemented, or even how mitigation is implemented before the disaster even hits.

Key Players:





Local Government (Mayors)

State/National Government

Government Support Structures (National guard)

Aid (FEMA, Red Cross)


Non profits



World Bank

Victims: Most impacted

Victims: Less impacted

Week 5 – Design an Event / Core Values

  1. Five Core Values


  • Inclusivity: To make the effort to include all those who may be involved or affected
  • Sensitivity: To operate with empathy, considering the context, and potential impact of a completed work, both in the short and long term
  • Flexibility: To engage with real problems knowing that problems can often be variable and changing, thus requiring an ability to adapt to the particularities of a given issue over time
  • Reaching: To know when we need to reach out to those who may have expertise outside of our own, and to be humble enough to ask for insight for the benefit of the project and those whom we work for
  • Experimental: To allow ourselves to test, and to push convention, never settling for easy solutions, but to allow the design process to push back, and enable the process to be self-reflective and self-critical.


  1. Town Hall + Interactive Workshop


  • One of the topics I’d previously expressed interest in was post disaster relief, and more specifically, how we are able to engage disaster situations successfully. I’m not sure that there is any formalized mechanism (or format) whereby support and relief agencies engage with those who may be in need of aid in post disaster scenarios. What I do imagine is that often times, decisions are made for the communities, without their insight or input. How do we successfully support communities that may be in need, while fostering a positive healing process? How do we enable communities to continue forward with dignity and autonomy? I really appreciate hearing about the breast pump hackathon, in particular how the project learned and adapted after its first event, to create a more inclusive and diversified second hackathon event
  • I want to consider a scenario in which hazard mitigation strategies, as well as post disaster aid strategies are negotiated by both the communities and the experts who help enable relief efforts. I think both the preparation (preventive) and rebuilding phases can be informed by collaborative synergies.
  • Community engaged design is becoming more relevant in architecture projects, especially when projects begin to operate at a larger urban scale. BIG’s project for the ‘Dryline’ a system of public park infrastructure that doubles as a biological buffer against sea level rise, was in part designed with the community through hands-on workshops.
  • I’d also like to reference a project by Chilean architecture firm, ELEMENTAL, who led the redesign of the city of Concepcion, while working closely with the communities, through town halls type discussions and continuous conversation with the community during the design process. In addressing the rebuilding after a devastating tsunami, this collaborative approach, allowed for the redesign and reconstruction to better serve the community. Their team work allowed for the strategic redesign of the city to allow for equal access to public spaces, increasing the overall quantity of parks and squares, while designing in such a way that created better buffers for city against future hazards. This tragedy was able to be used as an opportunity to redesign the city that the inhabitants preferred.
  • I can imagine a system in which a workshop format, coupled with a design review+ critique can allow community members to collaborate with experts and professionals, and facilitate a larger dialogue about how to address both preparedness and post disaster reconstruction. In both art and design education, the critique serves as the mechanism whereby the designer is able to present his work to a jury, and receive constructive feedback about a proposal. Similarly, it could be productive to imagine a scenario in which aid groups explain real life strategies that are then critiqued by a community to be able to develop a more collaborative, thoughtful solution that is specific to the needs of the community, while similarly community members can offer suggestions that can then be critiqued and informed by the specific expertise of outside international aid organizations.
  • A big challenge in many disaster mitigation and post disaster relief is the dissemination of information. With events that bring much more of the community into the planning of the systems at play, it would be much easier to spread knowledge that can help save lives, as lessen the impact of disaster events. This open format dialogue would also help to increase transparency and allow for communities to develop greater trust with government agencies and hazard expert.
  • Some of the goals of the exercise would be to better prepare, and inform communities that are at risk, while also helping outside agencies and experts to operate with greater sensitivity and consideration for the people who may need their help.

Week 3 (Issues: Disaster Relief, Sustainable Design Initiatives, Student Debt)

POST DISASTER RELIEF (how do we do it well?)


I’m currently taking a design studio that’s is working to propose design solutions in Puerto Rico. Our projects will propose designs for high schools, that anticipate their re-use as evacuation shelters in times of natural hazard. We’ve learned that most often, schools are utilized as evacuation shelters, especially in places where construction practices may be executed informally, or less than the established building code. This is because often times, civic buildings, and schools in particularly are the best built structures. It’s easy to understand why this is the case. So far, we’ve had several specialists come and lecture, including representatives from the World Bank, and Urban Planning, and Structures specialist here from MIT. What I’ve quickly learned is the degree to which many external forces influence the design and implementation of post disaster relief efforts, whether its evacuation, housing efforts, or resource distribution. We are currently being loaded with information, priming the studio before we travel to Puerto Rico to learn more about the current situation on the ground. In short, there is a degree of systematic complexity that is beyond the scope of the architect/designer, but that has to nevertheless be negotiated when beginning to consider how design can act as a type of “technology” to help keep things moving forward positively in a post disaster scenario.



I’m starting with code because I’m less inclined to know how it can be implemented, but can imagine it can help with the logistics of the very complex problem. I can see how code can be used to address distribution efforts, as well as a means to quantify need and resource requirements to meet need in a disaster scenario. In my studio we have begun to look at GIS as a tool to better understand the dynamism of topographic territory. I consider this data to work as a type of code, in particular when you begin to address hazard preparedness through simulations of hazard scenarios.



There are many systems in place, that are set into motion to respond to disasters. In the U.S we have FEMA, which responds to hazard scenarios, both in regards to distribution of necessary resources and aid, as well as with financial responses to contribute to rebuilding efforts. I think Puerto Rico, and the recent tragedies that have befallen the island, as well as our governments responses to this specific tragedy, clearly demonstrate a need for change. In law, and in norm. Take the Jones Act for example, “The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. The Jones Act requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported on ships that are built, owned and operated by United States citizens or permanent residents. It is also known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920.” In the case of Puerto Rico, this law has made the transport of necessary supplies that much harder, and this is just this first example I thought of off the top of my head.



Market forces are something I am not as well versed in. But I can see how market forces can relate to material acquisition and distribution. In cases of disaster, food, water, supplies, have to be acquired and distributed, and although I am unclear about the specifics, can imagine how these forces can influence the types of good that are able to be acquired and utilized.


SUSTAINABLE DESIGN (we need to minimize our impact)


The notion of “sustainable” design is a topic that I consider to be of the moment, and wouldn’t be surprised if every architecture school in the country had at least a small portion of its curriculum dedicated to “sustainable” design. I use quotations a bit cynically because often, certain decisions are rendered as visible manifestations of green, or sustainable design, but are nothing more that eye candy. A solar panel put on the roof of a poorly designed building doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sustainable project…



I think code in the case of sustainable design is very much of the same vein as the simulation algorithms/modeling I considered in the post disaster case. Simulations have often quantified potential gains in alternative energy, and allowed for the design of systems that can maximize potential gains as they relate to site, climate etc. In fact, here at MIT in my first semester, I’ve had to take course in which I’ve had to simulate how much energy a single family home can produce with ‘x’ number of solar panels.



I think norms can be particularly interesting for this topic. Especially when considering certain norms that are categorically superficial or visually accessible as a means to exude “greenness.” That’s not to say these are inherently bad, but many of the norms in place today that reward sustainable design, are founded on a checklist system that is often not the ideal.




I’m not an expert on laws/policy related to building specifically, but know there are efforts at government and global scales to reduce carbon emissions, the Paris agreement as an example. I do know that the built environment contributes a large part of global emissions, ball park 30 percent of global emissions from the built environment. As such I think law can play a powerful role in influencing how “sustainable” future design and construction can be.



Market forces are particular influential in the field of design and construction. You need money to build and lots of it. Sadly, the design, and time spent on a “good” design is often limited by these market forces. Project are always trying to save money. For large commercial/developer projects, design (architecture) often consists of 5% or less of total costs. Unless the architect gets a really good deal! Imagine the potential saving over the lifetime of a building (decades!) if a bit more time and money was placed into the thoughtfulness of the design to begin with.




STUDENT DEBT (how do we make it go away?)


I know very little about the ins and outs of this particular issue, but thought of it because it’s something I’ll have to deal with pretty soon. How can we address the growing student debt crisis? I honestly have no idea.



I can see how code could potentially help us better understand our current situation. Maybe an algorithm or a few, could help us to understand the specifics of the crisis (apart from the rise in tuition, which is its own concern.) Maybe there is a way of quantifying the cost of changing majors several times etc.



I think one of the biggest norms may be the thought that “everyone needs to go to college” or that alternative is not as socially accepted. I can also see the push for STEM to be problematic. There may be someone who was supposed to be a great teacher, who goes through school to be an engineer or something else, perhaps for an even longer period of time.



I think affordable education will be heavily reliant on law in the future. Its perhaps unfortunate for it to become such a political issue. Private vs universal education.  Recently in Chile student protest were mobilized to make university education free. The use of student protest as a mechanism for change is much more common in Chile, than here though, maybe that is more of a norm, but it’s very tied to changes in law in most cases.



Perhaps part of the issue is that as it currently stands, educations I too strongly tied to the market. It is very much an investment for many who decide to pursue higher education, and their needs to be a degree of faith that a particular academic path, will align with the demands of the market once you reach the end and join the workforce. I’d be curious to learn more about the relationship between the market and university in country where there is free education vs the relationship here in the US.




Post – Week 2

I think that Lawrence Lessig makes a strong argument for the agency architecture has in establishing social norms, and in its ability to be utilized as an extension of law to bypass an otherwise formal legislative process. The example of Robert Moses utilizing bridge dimensions as a mechanism to inhibit African Americans the access to public beaches, because of their reliance on public transportation, clearly demonstrates the ability for the built environment to be manipulated for the wrong reason. This considered, how then is a designer/architect/urban planner, with no bad intentions, to operate knowingly, given the potential agency for either greater good, or greater harm as a result of an executed contribution to the built environment. As a graduate student in the architecture department, we often have to struggle with these very questions. I want to talk about two different conceptual projects, both executed during a design studio while at MIT. Both also, executed during the “core” sequence, which can be alternatively described as a set of foundational design studios within the Masters curriculum. The projects, proposed designs for a YMCA in the Bronx, and a “sustainable” winery for a drought ridden Valle de Guadalupe of northern Mexico, where the majority of the countries wine (a process that consumes a lot of water) is produced.


I like these projects for this particular discussion, because they both required consideration of existing cultural norms, socio-economic parameters, and in the case of the project in Mexico, consideration for the environmental consequences and potentials of the proposed design. In both these project there are similar issues, issues that I think are inherent in the production of architecture. Namely, that in a semesters time, we are hard pressed to be able to become experts on either Mexican wine culture, or the particularities of the economic and political struggles in the Bronx. We probably aren’t the best positioned to address some of these issues at large. That said, we are best positioned to design, propose, and execute an architecture, yet our architecture is intrinsically linked with all of these other issues.


Our studio courses are additionally constrained by the determinate length of each semester, as well as the pedagogical agenda of the department, as well as the regulations set forth by those bodies that accredit the professional degree program. Yet even in professional practice, architects and urban planners have to negotiate projects that require consideration of issues/problems that far exceed the capabilities of the designer, but also require a constructed thing that can only be executed by this very same person. So as a designer how am I to begin to negotiate a design, and its potential impact. In both of these academic projects, the class was able to draw from outside experts, in addition to undergoing a period of collective research and investigation. We had representatives from the New York YMCA, who gave us inside knowledge on the functions, and needs a neighborhood “Y,” and for the project in Mexico, we met with wine makers, toured facilities, and had lectures by experts on the water shortage crisis. In both cases, much of this was a part of scheduled travel, where we were able to be on site.

For both of these projects, there was no “concrete” consequence, a building was not constructed as a result of the studio project. What it did offer, was alternative design solutions that were later shared with the expert representatives of each project. The New York Y for example, was hoping to collect the body of “design research” as a way of expanding their views of what their future YMCA facilities could be. These projects have taught me a lot about what I don’t know, and on this issue of never ending lack of expertise as it relates to the inevitable context of real life architecture projects. What I have been able to take from this is the following, that we can always collaborate with experts outside of our immediate disciplinary bubble, and in fact, we really need to in order to propose design solutions that are both informed and sensitive to the very context they are being proposed for.

Introductory post

Hi everyone,


I’m a third year master of architecture student. Being at MIT there has been constant discussion in regards to “Tech.” Similar, as someone in the architecture, and more broadly design, disciplines, the social consequences and potentials of our work have always been critical, and a topic of disciplinary discussion. In architecture we are always trying to consider “social space” and quite literally the spaces in which life and social exchanges happen. Architecture, when compared to many other disciplines, say tech or web based platforms, is very slow moving. It’s much harder to change what may be seen as “typical” or “standard” construction processes, and integration of new technologies is often slow. That being the case, there is still a degree of urgency in the need to rethink, innovate, and augment architectural strategies with the fast paced progression of “tech.” Spaces of the future, have at times been questions in both professional and academic settings for architectural production.  I think that architecture is a form of cultural production, and is inherent in the thinking of the physical “social space.” Thus I think it super interesting to consider technologies agency in architecture specifically, and in social space generally. I hope to begin to question both the new and ordinary in regards to tech and its potential consequences.