MIT’s SENSEable City Lab

After I pass my ARE’s, it is my intension to quit my job and start a collaborative studio with my partner specializing in interactive architecture.   The intention will be to create spaces that enhance and contribute to human experience and interaction.  Some folks have already started living my dream.

SENSEable City Lab

Senseable City Lab, directed by Carlo Ratti, aims to investigate and anticipate how digital technologies are changing the way people live and their implications at the urban scale. Founded  in 2004 through a collaboration between the City Design and Development group at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and MIT Media Lab, their  mission is to creatively intervene and investigate the interface between people, technologies and the city.


On March 1, 2011, MIT’s Senseable City Lab presented their work at TED2011.

Ratti explains how his team makes visualizations and applications by sensing data we create. He pulls from passive data sets — like the calls we make, the garbage we throw away — to create surprising visualizations of city life.  He and his team also create dazzling interactive environments from moving water and flying light, powered by simple gestures caught through sensors.

During the talk, Ratti makes an interesting point that four years ago, we would not be able to look at data in this way.  Mobile devises capable of streaming and connecting to wireless networks in real time were not available to the public at large and certainly not affordable to the masses.  Real time control systems have entered our lives in a relatively short span of time and allowed us to sense urban environments in a way we could not have done five years ago. Cities are now blanketed with wireless networks that sense and actuate allowing us to sense the city today in a way we couldn’t five years ago

SENSEable City Lab

Some recent projects that are worth searching are “The Copenhagen Wheel”[1] which debuted at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, “Trash_Track” [2] shown at the Architectural League of New York and the Seattle Public Library, “New York Talk Exchange” [3] featured in the MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, and Real Time Rome included in the 2006 Venice Biennale of Architecture.

SENSEable City Lab

Their work represents a beautiful collaboration between the fields of urban planning, architecture, design, engineering, computer science and social science.   I have a feeling this group will be an integral component in solving complex urban problems that have been ignored and patched for so many years.  Living in a Philadelphia, I can appreciate their desire to deliver research and applications that empower citizens to improve the urban condition in which they live, work, and play.  So many in this city want to move forward, but don’t have the tools or the ability to do so.

Although I highly disagree with how the government is using individual technology against the general public, I believe this group is doing what I have always imagined mobile technological data should be used for; benefitting the future of human existence.  Although I am sure this type of technology could just as easily end up helping some war effort in the future, jus the like Einstein’s splitting of the Atom aided the US and took down Hiroshima.  If anything, maybe our love of formula one racing will allow my path to cross with Ratti and his team in the near future.

Through the increasing deployment of sensors and hand-held electronics, Senseable City’s has created many ways to the study of the built environment. They get that the way we understand urban environments has been radically transformed by technology.   Hopefully by studying these changes from a critical point of view they will be able to aid in creating and maintaining urban environments that will take the future cities to the next level.