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“Made to Move You” Forums in Boston & Chicago



This fall the American Architectural Foundation convened two civic design leadership forums in partnership with the Otis Elevator Company. The forums focused on two separate but related topics: how to integrate innovative design into new urban experiences and the future of mobility in cities.

The first of these two forums was held on November 7, 2017 at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, and was moderated by AAF Regent Ted Landsmark. The morning session convened a diverse group of architecture, business, industrial engineering, public policy, and urban studies students from Boston Architectural College, Northeastern University, and Wentworth Institute of Technology  who brought a wide range of perspectives and knowledge to the discussion.

After the ice-breaker question “What is the tallest building you’ve ever been inside of?” to get the session started, the conversation quickly moved onto the social aspects of being inside an elevator, the sensory experience of a city, the promises and pitfalls of new technology, and finally, what makes a “space” a “place” ? The students raised the question of whether an elevator is a place or is it a transitional space that is part of public transit?

The graphic illustration visualizes some of the students’ answers

Ideas for how the design of buildings and elevators can be improved were wide-ranging – one student suggested making it a “multi-purpose room” while another wondered how local art could be incorporated into elevators to make them more of a unique and hyper-local experience. The question was raised whether human elevator operators should return or will the elevator of the future be hosted by an AI robot who knows your music, temperature, smell, and lighting preferences.

An engineer from Otis Elevator lends his expertise to the discussion in Boston

The afternoon session convened a group of professionals from the fields of architecture, arts & culture, design, landscape architecture, and public policy to tackle the same topic from their perspectives. Less focused on the experience inside an elevator, this discussion centered on civic innovation around the globe, with the professionals sharing their thoughts on the most innovative urban designs they have seen (including one enthusiastic endorsement of an automated vacuum collection system in Seville, Spain).

The second forum, held on November 15, 2017 at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture  in Chicago, IL, was moderated by AAF Chair John Syvertsen. The morning session convened an intimate group of architecture students from the Illinois Institute of Technology  who tackled the topic of mobility in cities with gusto. One student posited that rivers are “the street of the future,” noting that they are being embraced by cities all over the U.S. as a way to connect neighborhoods that may be underserved by traditional public transit.

John Syvertsen moderating the Chicago forum

Some of Chicago’s best and brightest architects, designers, engineers, urban planners, and civic leaders gathered together in the afternoon to tackle the question “What does the future of mobility technology look like in existing buildings and cities?” The discussion ranged from ways that the function of a building can change over time to ideas about “multi-function infrastructure” like buildings that serve as intermodal transportation hubs and are also designed to “receive goods in a new way.”

It was an invigorating discussion that flowed in many directions, sometimes raising more questions than answers. At the end of the forum it was clear to everyone in the room that this kind of free-flowing dialogue was critical to solving some of their city’s most complex design and planning challenges.

Detail from the graphic illustration of the Chicago forum

All photos courtesy American Architectural Foundation. Graphic illustrations by Ideas Take Shape (Boston) and Urban Wild Studio (Chicago). 

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Posted in: Center for Design & the City, Civic Design Leadership Forum, Civic Leaders + Government, Infrastructure, News, Print, Technology, Transportation

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.