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?
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.
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.
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.