Mar 18–Mar 19, 2024


A series of special seminars by five designers hosted by MIT Media Lab's program in Media Arts & Sciences, in collaboration with MIT MAD.

Feb 28 / Behnaz Farahi

Room E14-633 Lecture Hall

Critical Transformations

This presentation addresses the notion of ‘critical transformations’ and explores how emerging technologies can be used to address social, cultural, and political issues. By demonstrating a series of interdisciplinary projects, the attempt is to show ways in which materials of the environment can be imbued with intelligence and life-like behavior in order to interface with human emotion. The goal is to address the possibility of an empathetic relationship between human beings and their environment in order to augment human intelligence, awareness, sensory experience and influence social interactions. The aim is to address provocative research questions through design and critical making, fueled by the latest advances in the world of neuroscience, cognitive philosophy, computational design, affect, artificial intelligence and feminism. From wearables to architecture, these projects demonstrate an application of techniques, such as EEG brain imaging, facial and gaze tracking, robotic fabrication as well as novel actuator systems, such as smart materials and pneumatics systems.

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March 7 / Kelli Anderson

Un-Black Boxing

When we push to assess resistance, squint to gauge contrast, or stand back to let the emotional impact of a color wash over us, we are strengthening the most sophisticated human hardware, honed over thousands of years of evolution, to interrogate our world. As humans, we can get deeper into complexity when our hands and our minds are able to work in tandem — when we use our full, embodied intelligence. When our senses are engaged, we retain a steadfast tether to both material reality and humanist values, as well as an immediate check on things that don't make sense.

In spite of this human superpower, when we design, we tend to think a lot about what the thing does... and not nearly enough about what it does to us. For these reasons, I want to propose a re-shifting of focus — a vision for design rooted in un- “black boxing” in order to engage the full human.

E15 Wiesner Building Bartos Theater

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March 11 / Tiffany Cheng

E14-633 Lecture Hall

Bio-Inspired and Bio-Based Material Programming

What if our buildings and products could be manufactured and operated the way biological systems grow and adapt? As an alternative to conventional construction and manufacturing, I present a bioinspired approach to making through material programming and 4D-printing, with case studies ranging in scale from self-adjusting wearables for the body to weather-responsive shading in buildings.

I will introduce the computational fabrication tools that enable self-shaping biobased hygromorphic systems to be produced using off-the-shelf hobbyist 3D-printers as well as industrial robot platforms. In developing these tools, the key challenge is managing interactions across scales — from the properties of cellulosic materials and how they affect printed mesoscale structures to their functions in response to their environment.

By collaborating with the natural sciences, we systematically extract working principles from biological role models and, in some cases, use our technologies to answer questions about the biological role models in turn. Through integrative technologies and interdisciplinary solutions, we can leverage biobased materials and bioinspired design principles to create a built environment that is transformative and resilient, functioning as efficiently and sustainably as natural systems.

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March 14 / Dario Calmese

E15 Wiesner Building Bartos Theater

Design is How it Works

How do we imagine more liberative futures for clarity and confidence? The kind of future where lived experience is an antidote to the complex systems and current challenges that keep us up at night after keeping us busy during the day? Design, though sometimes guilty of creating some of the problems we now wrestle with, helps us to define, shape, and even predict how we can interact with each other, and the many quotidian and complicated aspects of the everyday. Design can be playful, can be political, can be transformative; what it always is, is an invitation to individually and collectively shape the world around us.

This presentation draws on my work with the Institute of Black Imagination, moving from photography to archival preservation of dynamic Black lives to envisioning new forms of creative collective interventions in the urban commons, to turn an investigative lens onto the often-invisible ways design shows up in our everyday lives and defines us. How we might approach design in fresh ways and redefine the design landscape to more richly understand our connection to the everyday is an urgent task as we find ourselves on the brink of a climate crisis, increased social polarization, capital inequities, and an attack on our stabilizing institutions.

Can design and technology be leveraged as tools of transformation that restores humanity and agency, while simultaneously bringing diversity of thought that unlocks new worlds and possibilities through innovation? I dare to think so and invite us to fundamentally transform the way we view the field of design, which means reckoning with a truer way to see ourselves.

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March 18 / David Kong

E14-633 Lecture Hall

Biotic Design

We are at a critical moment in human history, where we face growing societal alienation and polarization, an increasingly inhospitable planet, and rapid biodiversity loss. Yet, another world is possible. How do we design for flourishing?

In this talk, I propose a new vision for designing with the living world—Biotic Design. When designing with the living world, from biomolecules and cells to organisms and ecosystems, Biotic Design considers 3 dimensions—technical, social, and relational. First, technical: what are the tools, technologies, materials, and methods utilized for design? Second, social: who are the communities and movements that define the social context of design? Who has agency and is empowered, and who is marginalized? Third, relational: what are the underlying values and relationships with the living world embodied within the design process? Is there a master-slave relationship? Is there mutualism or reciprocity?

I believe each of these dimensions demands deep examination and reflection when designing with the living world. I will share examples from my work corresponding to each, from open-source devices for assembling genetic circuits, to methods for designing creative bio-communities and movements, to living artifacts that might nurture A mutualistic relationship with nature. Biotic Design offers a path forward, helping designers catalyze transformative technical, social, and relational change for flourishing beings, societies, and ecosystems.

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Our events are enriched by your presence and we are committed to making them accessible.

Please email us at [email protected] to request accommodations.


February 28 March 7 March 11 March 14 March 18

Various locations — Refer to event description