Design and design research matter in new ways today. If rapidly changing climates, energy flows, material economies, and migratory populations are the emerging challenges of our time, then the design disciplines offer unique insight on how to navigate these complex, open-ended conditions.

Distinct from research in the sciences or humanities, design research involves highly interactive ways of thinking and learning through hands-on, cross-disciplinary, multimedia practices that directly engage the technical, material, spatial, ecological, political, and economic dimensions of design. Seeking to empower the next generation of designers and urbanists, the MDes program utilizes a set of novel methodologies in a collaborative and immersive environment. Ultimately, MDes challenges conventional ways of learning—through field work, fabrication, collaboration, and dissemination—in a range of labs, seminars, workshops, initiatives, publications, and ongoing projects whose scope and diversity are unmatched.

K. Michael Hays
Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory Director, Master in Design Studies

Sunghwan Lim


Controlling Wind Pressure around Building by Automated Multi-Angle Ventilation Louver for Higher Natural Ventilation Potential

Advised by Professor Ali Malkawi

Natural ventilation (NV) is an effective means of reducing building energy consumption and enhancing indoor air quality (IAQ) by conveying outdoor air into space. Recently, rising concern about climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic has raised interest in utilizing NV. However, the uncertainty of airflow and the complexity of controlling windows that often rely on the occupants prevent achieving higher NV potential. This research proposes an automated multi-angle ventilation louver that can provide a stable airflow into space by controlling the axis position and opening angle, leading to higher NV potential. The performance of the louver was tested on multiple cases of wind conditions and louver configurations by computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations. The data set collected from the CFD simulations showed that the louver generates higher NV potential compared to the opening without the louvers. Based on the data set, this research introduces a simulation tool developed in Rhinoceros and Grasshopper. The tool assists users in exploring the potential of NV in different locations and building configurations. The tool further indicates louver control and coordination on an hourly basis that can achieve maximized NV potential. Overall, this research expands the applicability of NV in both new and existing buildings by introducing an automated multi-angle ventilation louver. The louver can be further developed to apply a real-time control system that could accommodate variations of indoor environments and building surrounding conditions.

Title over graph “NV mean airflow by direction.” A circular graph 360-degree scale compares direction and wind speed for three elements: “NV hour wind as a percentage, Opening” in square meters, and “opening with louvers.” A digital illustration of a window with an adjustable louvered panel appears to the left of the graph.

David Rosenwasser


Building a Digital Gallery

Advised by Jacob Reidel

This project works toward building a technology platform, community, and database for designers and design enthusiasts. The subject matter is furniture, both innovative (new) designer works and iconic (vintage) classics of 20th-century design.

The platform seeks to engage 3D scanning, videography, and high-resolution photography to challenge the current standards for viewing furniture and designed objects online today. Creating an immersive digital gallery experience is a notable objective. To initiate this, a collection of iconic furniture was 3D scanned and hosted digitally, allowing for an intimate experience of the objects’ details and imperfections. 

To build community and trust, the project engages an editorial voice and robust historical dialogue. This includes short essays on important designers and iconic furniture pieces. It also intertwines opinion pieces and critical viewpoints within the online experience. Curation and the subject of authenticity both play crucial roles. Curation requires explicit knowledge of the relationships between varying design pieces in their date of production, material, and design ethos. Showcasing the criteria for authenticity and verifying them builds trust and value for users.

Lastly, the project places considerable emphasis on researching the state of the art in e-commerce, web development, advertising, visualization technologies, online surveying, and 3D scanning hardware. These fields and their complex networks become interdependent for this buildout of a digital platform intended for community use.

The project works alongside the thesis trajectory of Jeremy Bilotti, SMArchS Computation and MS in Computer Science candidate, MIT.

A side view of a metal and leather folding chair

Side view of a wooden table with a top made of a cross-section of tree in its natural irregular round shape, with a single wooden leg slightly off-center attached to a single wooden base at a right angle to leg.
Rendered 3D scan of a Mira Nakashima burl end table via structured light scanner. Produced in collaboration with Jeremy Bilotti at MIT.

View from above of a wooden table with a top made of a cross-section of tree in its natural irregular round shape, with a single wooden leg slightly off-center attached to a single wooden base at a right angle to leg.
Perspective view of 3D-scanned table, showing resolution and clarity of the digital interpretation. Produced in collaboration with Jeremy Bilotti at MIT.

View from below of a wooden table with a top made of a cross-section of tree in its natural irregular round shape, with a single wooden leg slightly off-center attached to a single wooden base at a right angle to leg.
View of Nakashima table underside, showing refinement of textured detail, with slight imperfections in the base alignment. Produced in collaboration with Jeremy Bilotti at MIT.

Three images of a stool side-by-side, the first is white, the second is red, and the third is salmon-colored.
Comparison of untextured 3D scan, texture-mapped 3D scan, and photograph. Emeco Broom chair shown by Philippe Starck. Produced in collaboration with Jeremy Bilotti at MIT.

Two images of the words “broom made from industrial waste.” The top image is photographic quality of the words embossed in a surface material, the bottom image is an abstracted blurry version of the words.
Fidelity of 3D scan for furniture application. It is refined enough to pick up on raised lettering, though rough enough to maintain a reasonable file size. Comparison shown with photograph. Produced in collaboration with Jeremy Bilotti at MIT.

Divya Saraf


Aesthetics of Extraction: Reconfiguring Images of Empire

Advised by Diane Davis and Malkit Shoshan

The so-called Company paintings developed in the Indian Subcontinent over the 18th and 19th centuries under the “patronage” of the East India Company as a result of British attempts to survey, record, and display the practices, people, architecture, flora, and fauna of the region. Even today, these paintings continue to be displayed in major museums and private collections all over the world. Distinctive of these paintings is their “anthropological” aesthetic stylization. That is, these paintings endeavor to portray their subject matter in a “natural” manner in order to persuade viewers that such subject matter is neutral, scientific, and objective. However, both this stylization and the continued curatorial practices and contexts in which these paintings are displayed are highly problematic. The stylization of these paintings was a blatant attempt on the part of British colonizers to efface the authorship and labor of native artists as well as to commodify and fetishize the peoples and practices of the subcontinent. Still more problematic for our own historical moment, though, is the fact that this culture of effacement persists today in the ongoing curation of the paintings. Even now the paintings are typically displayed in museums with no acknowledgement of their original authorship, let alone any historico-cultural contextualization provided by critical postcolonial, decolonial, or subaltern scholarly discourses. By focusing on these “images of empire,” I seek to offer an alternative ground, a “determination otherwise” (from Spivak), of our understanding of these paintings and the specific ways in which museums and archives continue to efface them through a legacy of epistemic violence. Accompanied by a collection of annotated exhibition labels and paintings, I investigate how the creation of empire and the politics of image making were irrevocably entwined.

Color illustration of twenty-one human figures from the Indian subcontinent, male and female, in various modes of dress. Each has a dotted line leading to a red text label reading Unknown.

Katarina Richter-Lunn


Incognito: Sensorial Interpretations of Covert Physiological Signals for Therapeutic Mediation

Advised by Jose Luis García del Castillo López and Nancy Etcoff

There is little novelty in devices that collect physiological signals in our day-to-day activities. Our phones, watches, and jewelry now track everything from our location to our variable heart rate, with more features appearing in these technologies daily. Embracing the open access to these technologies, this thesis seeks to reframe how one can turn covert physiological signals into perceived sensorial experiences to increase one’s awareness of their cognitive state and elicit positive affect. Acting not as a substitute for traditional therapies but as an alternative antidote, these tangible interventions seek to process, analyze, and interpret patterns of electrodermal activity and heart rate variability to recognize signs of high and low emotional arousal and pair them with textural, olfactory, auditory, and visual alterations in our surroundings. I predict that through the repeated association of the actuated stimuli with specific physiological states a certain conditioning can be evoked to subsequently promote an instinctual response to malleable matter. With the result illustrating that the fabric of our environment can not only be empathetic to our subconscious mood but also can foster positive affect through personalized adaptation. By applying methods of traditional behavioral therapy via sensory stimulus, this thesis seeks to demonstrate the correlation between biometric feedback and affective matter to, as a result, condition positive associations between environmental conditions and embodied cognition.

A chart matching human sensory systems with cognitive states and correlated to a list of emotions;  Human systems include Haptic, Auditory, Visual, and Olfactory, Cognitive states listed on the right include: Amuse, Relax, Reflect, and Intrigue. The feelings listed are : Joy, Contentment, Excitement, Amusement, Entrancement, Satisfatio, Relaxation, Srenenity. Desire, Curiosity, Nostalgia, Surprise, Unease, Stress, Anxiety, Awe, Disgust, Hostility, Fear, Sadness.

Name Withheld


Departing Departures: Mapping the Hong Kong International Airport as a Spatial-Political Threshold of the City in the Post-National-Security-Law Era

Advised by Malkit Shoshan

The second return of Hong Kong marks the end of “one country, two systems.” With it comes a displacement of the city’s population, like the brain drain that prompted the Berlin Wall erection. The Hong Kong airport becomes a precarious spatial-geopolitical threshold over which the specter of a second Cold War looms. The Norman Foster architectural and engineering marvel, once a symbol of pride signifying Hong Kong’s free and open society, now devolves into a set of fragile pearly gates that struggles in its promise to provide egress to the world beyond. The thesis probes the air terminal for the underlying sociopolitical, historical, and psychological vectors that converge at this increasingly critical border crossing. Peeling away the physical veneer, it seeks to deconstruct the spatial-perceptual stench for the underlying caries. It probes the realm of the intangible of border-architectural spatial experiences in an age when telaesthesia perpetuates traumas, and traumas foreshadow memories of the future. The tangibles of the monumental are pitted against the intangibles of the feeble. In the manner of an autopsy, the immersive game medium would be experimented as a tool to externalize the departed’s afterlife as well as honor its unfulfilled glamours, shortchanged by arrivals long predicted.

A photograph of several airline boarding passes for international flights to and from Hong Kong. Names and most details are blacked out. A portion of a document titled “Bag identification tag card” appears behind. Reminders to arrive early for immigration processing are shown.

Line drawing of a flow map of objects, with the title, “A Game Journey - transformed from the Airport Departure Hall.”

Image of a large boulevard with a person standing off against multiple tanks, reminiscent of an iconic photo from Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Behind this person is a traveller wearing a backpack.

A traveller wearing a backpack and pulling a rolling suitcase waling in a landscape with jagged piles of items and objects.

A traveller wearing a backpack and pulling a rolling suitcase walks down a city street past a line of riot police facing off against civilians on their knees or standing with arms held out.

A collage of images and drawings showing different baggage items passing through the baggage conveyer belt system, with the words, “Tracing Baggage/Memories.”

Dixi Wu


Between Living, Working, and Socializing

Advised by Elizabeth Whittaker

The significant impact of modern technology on lifestyle shifts is more apparent than ever for millennials and Gen-Zers. New economic sectors began to emerge, more diverse lifestyles became socially acceptable, the number of digital nomads and freelance employees increased in the workforce, and their demands for workspace differs drastically from the traditional cookie-cutter cube office. Such trends have impacted workspace demand permanently even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Back in 2018, numerous studies suggested that the boundary between work life and socializing is blurry.

As large companies such as Twitter, Shopify, Facebook, Square, and Slack issue permanent work from home options, the COVID-19 pandemic poses bigger challenges for landlords, architects, companies, and residents to imagine a new work-scape. It is within everyone’s interest to create a built environment that can keep employees engaged and maintain the level of productivity that a normal office can offer. Now with the reality of a work from home option “genie out of the bottle,” we can project a future where people will have the permanent option to work from home at least one day a week. However, numerous studies indicate a drop in work productivity as work life and socializing are comingled into the same domestic environment.

This reality leaves us thinking: What does it mean to create a new work environment? This thesis explores the quantitative and qualitative factors that impact how we work and poses unique design solutions that recreate the distance between work, life, and socializing by defining the in-between space.

Drawing of exposed side views of an office building and a residential building showing interior layout.

Gabrielle Redding


A Comprehensive Design and Policy Toolkit to Better Serve Survivors of Domestic Violence in New York City: Learning from COVID-19

Advised by Diane Davis

The unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into the limelight what many have unfortunately already known to be true, that times of extreme change, urgency, and tension too often correlate to a rise in domestic violence. This thesis attempts to address this recent amplification of cruelty, and how it has manifested in the largest public housing agency in North America, NYCHA (the New York City Housing Authority), to advocate for an interdisciplinary reform of both policy and design of shelters that use care to encourage nonviolent, inclusive environments and access to healing.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified conditions that already exist within the realm of domestic violence, including but not limited to isolation, economic insecurity, and trauma. Through an exploration of these connections, as well as a critique of the existing conditions of housing and emergency sheltering in New York City that allow domestic violence to thrive, this thesis provides way to address the current crisis while also preventing future instances of violence by centering the shelter as a community. This rethinking, coupled with comprehensive policy-driven solutions aimed at preventing violence and repetitive abuse, can not only reduce the risk of continued harm, but foster an environment where survivors can focus on rebuilding and recovery.

Pink hued collage featuring apartments in axonometric view, comic strips, and clothing.

Di Zeng


Power of Narratives and Narratives of Power: Storytelling of, in, and for Placemaking in “Nantou Ancient City” in Shenzhen, China

Advised by Ann Forsyth

Urban planning and placemaking are in part implemented through storytelling. What are the dominant and demotic or popular narratives of, in, and for placemaking during the regeneration process of urban villages recently and over the past decades in Shenzhen? What are the embedded power relations among their narrators? There are two reasons these questions are important. First, the present and past historical, political, and cultural narratives have become useful tools for dominant narrators to manipulate placemaking, achieving their desired outcomes at high speed and excluding the “undesirable” groups. Second, those creating the demotic or informal stories have constructed an important part of the city’s development but are relatively powerless faced with the dominant ones. This thesis aims to challenge orthodox storytelling, providing a new perspective in examining how “culture” acts as an agent in urban regeneration that draws more attention to bottom-up narratives told by the less empowered group.

            In making this sense, the thesis examines the case of “Nantou Ancient City,” where the conception of “culture” has been introduced into the regeneration strategy of the urban village. It first articulates the historic and demotic narratives ranging from ancient times to the recent past to reveal what made this place’s identity before regeneration, which is essential to understanding present interventions. In the next step, it analyzes how the central political will, nostalgia and patriotic emotions, middle-class values, and a closed benefit coalition are embedded in the rhetoric of planning strategies and actions. Finally, the thesis finds out that the “Nantou Ancient City” is packed by the new branded identity of an internet-famous place for tourism and consumption and the “future heritage” conception, which has served the spatial cleansing of the blue-collar migrants while attracting the rising creative class.

side-by-side view of narrow streets in Shenzhen, China.  Leftmost is crowded with people with a banner, a neon sign, and new building facades and open to the sky.  Right side shows a dark street with few people, bins and bicycles at the edges, and overhanging pipes, cables, and walkways. Storefronts are covered by security gates.
“Front Region” vs “Back Region” in Nantou, 2021

Flow chart diagram showing Narratives in the Context of Placemaking.
Narratives in the Context of Placemaking

Two street maps showing the changes in placement and diversity of cuisine styles between 2018 and 2021.
The Change of Edible Identities after Regeneration

Flow chart exploring links between government, planners, property owners, real estate developers and the effects on environment, rents, and policy.
The Benefit Coalition in the Regeneration

Chart showing three word clouds for three periods between 2015-2021. The most common word in the first word cloud is “Zhongshan Park,” in the second is “City,” and in the third is “History.”
The Change of Keyword Frequency in Weibo Posts that Mentioned “Nantou Ancient City” (2015-2021)

Isabel Oyuela-Bonzani


Exploitive by Design: Warning Signs from the Northwest Amazon

Advised by Susan Snyder and George Thomas

I am studying the impact of imported capital and culture in the 19th and early-20th centuries’ “Rubber Boom” and today’s tourism industry in Iquitos, Peru, which reveal design’s complicity in perpetuating, and contributing to, dire cultural and ecological consequences on the Amazon. Due to structural similarities shared by these industries and cultural path-dependency of the region, a series of parallel “warning signs” of exploitation concerning territorial practices, unsustainable short-term urbanism, and the importation of place through opulent architectural imaginations emerged. In identifying such warnings and excavating their histories, powerful insights can be made into the potentials of how architecture, urban planning, and historic preservation strategies might be used to shift away from exploitive cycles toward alternative directions, not only for Iquitos and the broader Amazonian region but also for other marginalized contexts globally.

A yellow map of historical and artistic monument locations in Iquitos, Peru, overlays a black-and-white photograph of lines of many indigenous people and a few settlers. An aerial photo o the city supplies background in the upper right.
Labels include: Zona Monumental de la Ciudad de Iquitos,and Rio Amazonas