I'm an interdisciplinary designer working at the intersection of society, technology and the built environment.

The Boston Bench Buddy

Helping residents of Boston age in place, with a simple SMS chat service that locates nearby public restrooms and benches.

Improve the accessibility of public space for older adults in Boston.

The Boston Bench Buddy, a prototype SMS service that uses geospatial datasets and APIs to provide text and map directions to nearby public restrooms and benches — key amenities that make walking easier for older adults, and everyone else.
Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics
Summer Fellowship
Summer 2017

This work is enabling an upcoming Age-Friendly Boston Bench expansion program and a digital wayfinding system for public restrooms on boston.gov and 311.


Here's a caption.

In a summer fellowship at the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, I explored ways to improve access to public space for older adults. In partnership with both the Elderly Commission and the Third Spaces Lab, I went out to talk to older adults to better understand the experience of aging in Boston.

These conversation revealed that while many older adults drove or used public transit, they enjoyed walking for exercise and independence — and that the availability of seating directly influenced where they could walk. 

The Boston Bench Buddy attempts to help residents find a place to sit. Utilizing an SMS interface for compatibility across mobile devices, the service provides directions to a bench or public restroom closest to a user-provided location. The service was developed as a working prototype.

My work also supported efforts to increase the number of benches in Boston, by outlining processes for procurement, planning and installation. I also mapped existing benches, identifying areas of need.


Taking a walk / walking to talk

As a summer fellow at the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), I was asked to explore accessibility for older adults. In a city with 90,000 persons 60 years old or older, and with older adults projected to account for 20% of the total population by 2030, accessibility and aging in place are key topics. Most importantly, accessibility for older adults is actually accessibility for everyone — improvements help all of us, both today and in our futures.

To get a sense of what it’s like to be an older adult in Boston, I visited Boston Centers for Youth and Family (BCYF) Seniors Centers like Grove Hall — home to incredibly dedicated staff and wonderful programming for older adults — in addition to parks and public third spaces around the city. Conversations with older adults revealed them to be diverse, independent and motivated. Older adults want to be able to stay in Boston, and they want to be able to continue to enjoy all the city has to offer.

I found that it is the simple things that matter most. As an older adult, being able to walk to a place like Grove Hall, a local bus stop, or a nearby main street depends on good sidewalks, safe intersections and places to sit. But walking around the city gave me the sense that not all streets in Boston have benches, and those that do don’t necessarily have enough.

Checking the data

To confirm my assumptions, I started to map out benches — thanks to a GIS dataset prepared a few years ago — against Boston’s Main Street Districts, neighborhoods and distribution of the population of older adults. The data revealed that some areas of the city, like Allston and Mattapan had few to no benches in supposedly “walkable” areas!

A plan, a map, a guide

How might we make benches more accessible for seniors? After a sprint of ideas and brainstorming, I settled on a few directions.

Working with Boston Public Works and the Streets Cabinet, I researched bench funding, procurement and installation; I started to diagram out the challenges and process for getting a standard bench in Boston. I produced detailed maps of benches in key neighborhoods, creating support for advocacy and planning efforts. I also prototyped possible community engagement guides, outlining how future residents of Boston might go about requesting benches in their favorite places

Text a bench (and restroom)

Hoping also to work in the near-term, I also developed the Boston Bench Buddy. The SMS service uses simple SMS chat interfaces to allow any user to find the nearest bench (or public restroom) to a provided location. The service provides text instructions, a link to a web map and the option to name the bench — a feature designed to make the whole system more fun to use.

A short user test at a BCYF community meeting showed that seniors enjoyed naming benches, although the group was split on texting: about half were already familiar with the process, while another half were unfamiliar and found the service confusing.

Future use of the Boston Bench Buddy might involve including it in Boston Public Library computer and smartphone training classes, as well as expanding the service to cover the many languages spoken in Boston.

Still curious? Check out some of my other work:


Making a New City Image ... or, an Eye for AI

Understanding our machine-mediated perception of cities with computer vision cartography.

The view from above does not match the view from the ground. Maps and plans are useful tools, but they overlook important details; the individual perspective is now mediated by machines and technologies.

Multifaceted research into historical methods of mapping and seeing cities, coupled with a new system of computer vision and deep learning on street-level imagery to produce new cartographies based on human perception.

Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) + School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS)
Master in Design Engineering thesis
Robert Pietrusko and Krzysztof Gajos, advisors

Awarded the ESRI Development Center Student of the Year Award in March 2018.
Published in the GSD’s Platform 11: Setting the Table.

Making a New City Image explores the machine-mediated perception of urban form: new ways of seeing, understanding and experiencing cities in the information age.

Spanning the disciplines of urbanism and computer science, this project fosters a productive dialogue between the two. What might we learn about the city using computer vision, deep learning and data science? How might the history, theory and practice of urbanism — which has long viewed the city as a subject of measurement — inform modern applications of computation to cities? Most importantly, can we ensure that both disciplines understand the city as it is perceived by people?
This thesis also formalizes a practice of computer vision cartography. First, it has revisited Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City: applying machine learning models to archival photographs and maps of Boston (new-city-image.io), and classifying from them Lynch’s elements of the city image. This process has also been adapted to the present day. I have created instruments for the procedural capture of street-level imagery, and the identification of types of urban environments crowdsourced from human input (bit.ly/new-city-image).

Together, these methods produce a mode of analysis that balances a comprehensive perspective at the scale of the city with a focus on the texture, color and details of urban life.

Challenging the plan perspective

The project seeks to resolve two different view of cities: the view from above and the view from the ground.

Exploring machine-mediated vision

The project also investigates the role of technology in shaping human perception of urban form.

Process 1: Inputs

How can urban theory and history inform the data inputs for computational models of cities?

By training a convolutional neural net to classify the elements of the city image from geocoded and labeled images from the Kevin Lynch archive (accessed via Flickr API), we can combine historical and theoretical perspective with new digital approaches.

Images from the Kevin Lynch archive were geocoded and labeled using a re-projection (created in GIS) of his original city image diagram. The resulting geocoded images can be viewed online.

A web interface was developed to allow for manual geocoding of images by comparison to Google Street View. The existing image captions were first parsed by the Google Places search API, to provide approximate locations.

The results were also visualized via projection mapping onto a milled topographic surface, with height cooresponding to building density (a first approximation of a perceptual geography in Boston).

Process 2: Instrument

How can new digital methods extend the knowledge of urbanism and design practice?

By building a device to capture 360-degree imagery, associated to a GPS tag, we can build our own dataset to represent the city of Boston today.

The device in exploded axonometric. Design of the device combined digital CAD methods with 3D printing; different materials were selected for components based on desired mechanical properties.

The resulting collected dataset, captured over a week and about 100 miles. Associated map tiles were also downloaded from Mapbox, to create a concatanated input array.

Process 3: Interface

How can digital methods capture human perspective, to inform both urbanism and computation?

By developing an interface for crowdsourced labeling, we can collect human perception at scale. These labels can be used to inform machine learning models, and can voluntarily be attributed to their contributors.

The first task of the crowdsourced interface asked persons to view a previously collected image, aAnd guess its location. This provides a scalar value of distance from the correct location, which can be averaged over many trials to build a sense of which views of the street are more “locatable.”

The second task of the crowdsourced interface asked persons label images according to the element of the city image, from Kevin Lynch. Participants who completed the survey could also optionally submit a memory of their own.

Still curious? Check out some of my other work:


HouseZero AR

Creating an interface for seeing building performance in augmented reality, to enable better research into the future of high-performance sustainability.

Visualize the building performance of HouseZero, the new headquarters of the Harvard CGBC, for researchers and visitors. 

Using Unity and the Microsoft Hololens, create a voice- and gesture-controlled interactive system that allows a user to see and explore external sensor data and CFD simulation model results.
Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities
Yuan Gao, Jiho Song and Spyros Ampanavos, team members

HouseZero opened in April 2018.
Project presented at the KGSD’s Dual Reality: Between Physical and Digital AR/VR Fair at Harvard GSD.


An augmented reality building performance visualization interface, developed for the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities.

The project prepares for HouseZero, CGBC's new headquarters, a retrofit of a small residential building. The interface leverages new hardware and software for augmented reality to create a more immersive and intuitive mode of data visualization. The interface has two goals: help visitors understand the building's innovations toward improved natural ventilation, natural daylighting and net-zero energy consumption, and assist CGBC researchers in monitoring how those innovations perform both historically and in realtime.

The interactive visualization displays near real-time CFD models, simulated to reflect current environmental conditions, as well as information about building sensors and systems. In addition, building performance data is overlaid a user's actual view of the building interior — providing intuitive and immersive understanding of the building.

The project is built in Unity for the Hololens, with dynamic visualization of prototyped data from an Arduino and remote web server. Code available on GitHub. I served as technical project manager and interaction designer for the project: helping to coordinate a team of designers, developers and data scientists at CGBC and the GSD.

Digital methods still begin with visual sketches. I created early wireframes of the AR experience, outlining desired goals for the interface.

The AR interface used Hololens headsets and prototyped sensors.

The AR interface serves as the front-end to a set of servers and databases, tied to the building systems in HouseZero itself.

Headset-recorded videos of the interface in the new CGBC headquarters. Various interactive features can be seen, from mixed-reality displays to full augmented-reality overlays.

Still curious? Check out some of my other work:


Alley Pond Center

Creating a community teaching tool and promoting environmental sustainability with public architecture for NYC.

Design a high-performance educational building on a limited budget and site, for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Alley Pond Environmental Center accommodates a range of educational programs, highlights surrounding nature and promotes sustainable construction and operation.
Leroy Street Studio

Received a 2014 Award for Excellence in Design, by the NYC Public Design Commission.


The Alley Pond Environmental Center makes architecture a teaching tool. Part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s design excellence program, the project brief called for a 10,000 SF educational facility with formal teaching, office and support spaces for the Alley Pond organization in Douglaston, NY and its 50,000 annual visitors from local schools.

The design responds to a complex site. The north brick wall shields the classrooms from a busy highways, while the south glass facade opens up the classrooms to the Alley Pond Park. The building itself incorporates rainwater harvesting, ground-source HVAC and daylighting systems — with elements of these systems exposed to allow occupants to understand their function and purpose.

I participated in the project from concept design to construction documents. I helped to create massing schemes, determine program requirements with clients and stakeholders, produce presentations for city agencies, design envelope details, assist in value engineering, coordinate with consultants, and manage the LEED certification process. Working with the non-profit Hester Street, I also helped plan community programs and tools. The project won a 2014 NYC Public Design Commission Award.


A beautiful wild

The project site was within Alley Pond Park in Douglaston, NYC — the second-largest public park in Queens, containing 600 acres of ecologically diverse wetland. The existing Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC) serves as both trailhead and educational facility, introducing visitors to an unusual urban wild.

A constrained site and client

APEC serves an incredible 40,000 schoolchildren per year, allowing NYC public students to take field trips to learn about and explore the wetlands. The organization also maintains a large animal room with fish, reptiles and mammals — including two 90-pound African spurred tortoises! The 40-year-old building housing the organization, however, is beyond capacity: staff members are running out of storage space, large groups of schoolchildren can barely fit into classrooms, and the building itself is physically showing its age.

As part of the NYC Department of Park and Recreation’s Design Excellence program, Leroy Street Studio was asked to help design a new 10,000 SF building for APEC.

Fitting form to function

How might we design a building that served APEC, NYC DPR — while balancing requirements for sustainability and cost?

Working as team with APEC and NYC DPR, we carried out a series of site visits, surveys and meetings to understand the client’s needs and the constraints of the site. I help sketch, prototype and iterate through a variety of initial plan, massing and roof schemes. No concept was perfect, but the best concepts would expand APEC’s capabilities, respect strict wetland environmental protections, allow for carefully phased demolition and construciton, conserve a limited budget, and optimzie for natural light, rainwater harvesting and passive ventilation.

As you might imagine, this took a few tries!

Sweating the details

The chosen building design was a bent bar, with two sides: a brick wall facing the highway to the north, and a glass curtain wall opening up to the park to the south. The building would be covered by a nangled metal roof — a simple solution that not only created a distinctive architectural element, but also a means of capturing the most rainwater (for greywater reuse and landscape irrigation) and providing both solar exposure in the winter and shading in the summer. 

As the building proceeded from schematic design to design development, I help design the interior spaces — including carrying out an exhaustive closet and storage assessment to make sure every cubic foot of storage in the old building would be preserved, if not expanded, in the new building — as well as resolve exterior details. Months were spent with material suppliers and fabricators before we settled on a textured, glazed green brick for the north wall: a visual icon for APEC that would speak to its mission.  

Making it work + making it count

Serving as the architects of the project also required coordinating a large consultant team: civil, environmental, geotechnical, structural and MEP engineers as well as lighting designers and sustainability consultants. I helped make sure the building could accommodate a number of high-performing systems, including a ground-source heat pump, rainwater harvesting and natural daylighting system. This meant constantly adjusting plans, elevations and sections to make sure everything fit and would work, while respecting our designs for a high-performance building envelope.

I also led the LEED certification process, helping to document sustainable features. As of the design submission, the project was on target for a LEED Gold rating — beyond the LEED Silver required by NYC local law.

The building’s systems also became an opportunity for community engagement and programming. Working with the non-profit Hester Street, I helped envision teaching tools and other material that would leverage the sustainablity features of the new building to teach visitors about broader environmental issues.

Delivering design

After years of work, the building  could be finalized in a series of construction and contract documents. I helped design, resolve and draw many architectural components of the project: the building envelope, partitions, rooms, exterior and interior details, as well as millwork and finishes. Design changes occurred up until the last minute as our team of consultants went through the same process.

The final construction set was pretty comprehensive — and pretty large.

Still curious? Check out some of my other work:


Food Systems

A book to turn diverse research and design work on food into useful knowledge.

Capture the diverse outputs of the inaugural MDE Collaborative Design Engineering Studio.

Food Systems, a self-started publication that describes the process, research and design outcomes of different projects on food systems: regional food hubs, community kitchens, digital assistants and agricultural benchmarks.
Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) + School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS)
Brian Ho and Michael Razpuzzi, editors-in-chief
Ngoc Doan, Chien-min Lu and Karen Su, design team
Zeerak Ahmed and Neeti Nayak, editing team

Published in December 2017.


Food Systems is the first publication from the MDE Collaborative Design Engineering Studio, documenting a year of research and design for food systems. As an editor-in-chief, I helped create a proposal, secure funding and get administrative approval for the book. I also provided creative direction as well as managed the design, production and editing of the book.

Read the book here!

Still curious? Check out some of my other work:


︎    Get in touch: email, Github, LinkedIn.