SA+P COVID-19 research and response

Architects, urbanists, artists, and scientists at SA+P are contributing to the effort to combat Covid-19 and understand its effects on society through new projects and shared expertise. We will add updates as we learn of new research and related initiatives.


Not so fast, urban exodus: Coronavirus could make New York and San Francisco great places to live again

That said, the downtown office isn’t going away. Personal interaction is still needed to insure teamwork and cooperation, create strong corporate cultures and stimulate innovation not only within firms but among them. “The whole rationale for urban density is undermined if people can’t collaborate,” said William Wheaton, a professor of urban economics at MIT and founder of its Center on Real Estate.

Full story via The Washington Post (9/22/20)

Why misinformation about COVID-19’s origins keeps going viral

Back in 2018, [Sinan] Aral and his team at the MIT Media Lab put their novelty hypothesis to the test by analyzing 11 years of data from Twitter, or about 4.5 million tweets. Their calculations showed a surprising correlation: “What we found was that false news traveled farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in every category of information that we studied, sometimes by an order of magnitude,” Aral explains. More is at play than just novelty, as Aral discusses in his new book The Hype Machine. The way people react to emotional stories on social media is intense and predictable. Vitriol fills the replies, and false news then becomes 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the truth.

Full story via National Geographic Magazine (9/19/20)

How to Navigate Covid Travel Restrictions

A few years ago, the developers from Singapore’s MIT Senseable City Lab (a research group focused on design and technology) created Escape, a price-driven flight-search engine. Now the group—recognizing that the equation for many has changed from “Where can I afford to go” to “Where am I allowed to go”—has rolled out their new Covid Controls tool (covidcontrols.co). An interactive map lets you plug in your country of origin to find the countries you can visit, and what (e.g. proof of a negative Covid-19 test) is required to do so. Starting with the United States as your point of origin still makes the map turn disappointingly red, with only 16 countries and territories fully open to visitors from the U.S.

Full story via The Wall Street Journal (9/18/20)


3 Questions: Frank Levy and Arshia Mehta on warehousing and trucking in response to Covid-19

Work of the Future research brief looks at changes in two supply-chain industries in the wake of the pandemic.

Full story via MIT News (9/11/20)


Apple and Google introduce an app-free virus-tracing program they hope will catch on with the public

MIT’s PathCheck Foundation, which made a COVID contact-tracing app that’s in use in Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cyprus, said that it can help US states integrate the Apple/Google technology into their public health networks. “We can get them going within a week,” said Ramesh Raskar, the foundation’s founder and an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab. The biggest challenge, Raskar said, will be getting infected people to voluntarily enroll. Many might be unwilling to risk public exposure, even though the Apple-Google system does not reveal any users’ identities. Raskar noted that accurate contact tracing can save lives, even if only a small percentage of infected people let themselves be tracked.

Full story via The Boston Globe (9/1/20)

Additional coverage via The New York Times (8/30/20)


Want to travel overseas? This website shows where you’re allowed to go during the pandemic

Launched in May, Covid Controls was developed by a team who met while working at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology (SMART), a research center created in 2007 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in partnership with the National Research Foundation of Singapore. “We were a team conducting research at the intersection of big data, design and travel,” said Mohit Shah at the MIT Senseable City Lab, who along with three colleagues launched the website four months after leaving SMART.

Full story via CNBC (8/21/20)


How MIT built its own Covid-19 testing trailer

This summer, experts from across campus, including Architecture technical instructor Jen O’Brien, designed and built MIT’s newest testing facility. The 60-foot trailer now operates as the main test site for asymptomatic members of the MIT community who need to return to campus, enabling testing of up to 1,500 people a day.

Full story via MIT News (8/5/20)


Building A Culture of Health in Central Brooklyn: From Protest to Health Systems Transformation

Can the systemic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic be used to redefine health care in the US? MIT CoLab highlights the Coalition to Save Interfaith as a new model for healthcare in a new, digital case study.

Full story via interfaithcasestudy.org (8/5/20)


Jordan’s Prime Minister Says His Country Contained COVID-19 By ‘Helping The Weakest’

Oma Razzaz MCP ’87 (XI), an MIT and Harvard-educated economist, was appointed by Jordan’s King Abdullah II to head a new government two years ago, following anti-government protests that were sparked by IMF-mandated tax increases seen as bypassing the rich. Although he’d served previously as education minister, Razzaz was seen as a relative outsider.

Full story via NPR (7/23/20)


A London Landlord Rethinks the Office of the Future

Enrico Sanna is doing all he can to protect tenants in his London office buildings from Covid-19. He’s installed hands-free sinks and thermal imaging cameras in the lobbies, and every visitor gets a cloth mask….As it happened, two of Sanna’s old friends from the MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Center for Real Estate had the same idea. David Marks SM ’01 (IV R) and Jason Blank SM ’00 (XI R), MBA ’01 (XV M) had formed Brockton Capital LLP in 2005 and raised 1.45 billion pounds in three funds that invested in commercial property and operating enterprises such as Camden Lock Market, which turned a London tourist destination into an open-air food and crafts bazaar. They believed the WeWork model was a game changer, but they wanted to go upscale.

Full story via Bloomberg (7/22/20)


The Bostonians Giving Us Hope for the Future

In Boston Magazine, Brittany Jasnoff details Maria Belén Power & DUSP alumna Caroline Ellenbird’s (MCP ’14) efforts to organize networks of neighbors to respond & coordinate efforts to aid Chelsea residents through the COVID-19 pandemic & beyond.

Full story via Boston Magazine (7/21/20)

Designing to Survive

As we try to understand the role of architecture post-pandemic, we have to first better understand the ways we inhabit buildings and move through space.

In the spring, as the pandemic spread, Hashim Sarkis published a book, “The World as an Architectural Project,” he had been working on for years, while managing the details of the now postponed 2020 Venice Biennale of Architecture, for which he was the curator. It is a survey of projects by architects who designed (though rarely built) often fantastical structures on a global scale. “As architects, we are condemned to optimism,” Sarkis says in an interview. “Our field is necessarily about proposing and imaging new things, what the world could be through making a part of it better.”

Full story via The Washington Post (7/13/20)


Bringing the benefits of in-person collaboration to the virtual world

The startup Spatial, co-founded by Jinha Lee SM ’11 (MAS), uses an augmented reality platform to make people feel like they’re working side by side.

Full story via the MIT News (7/10/20)


Applying Covid-19’s Hard-Earned Lessons to Climate Change

DUSP’s Dayna Cunningham discusses economic democracy & self-determination at the intersection of climate change as a panel member of The New York Times’ Netting Zero series

Full story via The New York Times (7/9/20)


Remote panel of “oldest old” finds virtual life amid pandemic

Moving online, AgeLab research and outreach program for individuals 85 and older reveals surprising outcomes and extends MIT’s reach.

Full story via MIT News (7/7/20)


How Students Benefit from a School Reopening Plan Designed for Those at the Margins

Design processes typically start with an average population in mind. As a result, “a lot of people who are at margins get left out, or we worry about them ‘catching up’ to the design,” says MIT professor of civic design Ceasar McDowell in a 2014 video by the Interaction Institute for Social Change. McDowell likens that approach to staking a large tent with poles at the center. When a strong wind comes, it will collapse. If, instead, the tent is staked from the outside, it is more likely to withstand the weather. That’s what McDowell calls “design for the margins.” He gives another example, this time involving humans: sidewalk curb cuts. Originally created to help disabled World War II veterans navigate urban areas with wheelchairs, curb cuts became a legal requirement under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Full story via KQED-FM (7/6/20)


‘Compassion for our residents is not optional’: Major Boston landlord extends eviction ban through 2020

Those types of subsidized units, studies have shown, have relatively high rates of eviction, largely because — by definition — their residents tend to be lower-income. A recent study by tenant advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana and researchers at MIT found that 70 percent of eviction filings in Boston from 2014 to 2016 were from subsidized affordable housing. A city study last year found that the median rent owed by a subsidized tenant facing eviction was just over $1,700, compared with more than $4,000 in market-rate units.

Full story via The Boston Globe (7/6/20) and CBS News (7/6/20)

DUSP’s Justin Steil and Lisa Owens talk racial disparities in Boston Evictions via Boston Public radio (7/7/20)


In this file photo, the Framing Gallery in Grosse Pointe, Mich., is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. PAUL SANCYA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

When returning to work doesn’t make sense

In an op-ed, Professor Amy Glasmeier, graduate student Zach Avre, and Thomas Goff ’10 argue for extending unemployment benefits and raising the federal minimum wage: “The quickest way to make all Americans sleep easier at night — and be willing to go back to work and help the economy recover — is by providing a living wage to get by in the era of Covid-19.”

Full story via The Boston Globe (7/6/20)

A Pandemic Lockdown Just For Older People? No!

n other words, isolate older Americans and “the economy hits the skids,” warns Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, author of “The Longevity Economy: Inside the World’s Fastest Growing, Most Misunderstood Market and a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.”

Full story via Forbes (7/4/20)


Boston Minority Communities Hit Hardest By Evictions, Report Says

“The results are very troubling,” said Justin Steil, an associate professor of law and urban planning at MIT who authored the report with MIT researcher David Robinson.

Full story via WBUR (6/28/20) and The Boston Globe (6/28/20) and the Associated Press (6/28/20), Bloomberg News (7/1/20)


The World Debate, The Engineers: Re-engineering the Future

MIT Professor Carlo Ratti is a featured panelist discussing the ways engineers have been called upon to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Full story via The BBC (6/27/20)


Experimental peptide targets Covid-19

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab and Center for Bits and Atoms have designed a peptide that may prevent the virus from reproducing itself within infected cells.

Full story via MIT News (6/22/20)


There’s No Cure for Covid-19 Loneliness, but Robots Can Help

Robots are not a perfect substitute for human interaction, but according to MIT Media Lab robotics ethicist Kate Darling, it can potentially relieve distress at a time when that’s needed most. “Since we can’t have human interaction right now,” Darling says, “it’s certainly a lot better than nothing.”

Full story via Wired (6/22/20)


Winning by a nose: the dogs being trained to detect signs of Covid-19

In the battle against the virus, we have an unlikely ally. Already used to detect drugs and weapons, such as work led by the Media Lab’s Andreas Mershin, dogs are now being trained to sniff out when humans have the virus.

Full story via The Guardian (6/21/20)


Canadian Mask E-Commerce Bien Aller Found Opportunity Amid A Business Freeze

Jordan Own, a student in MIT’s Master’s in Real Estate Development and City Planning program, came home to Montreal after universities across the country cancelled in-person classes in March. His brother’s real-estate business was slow, and their co-founder Sean had been laid off. All three were itching for something to do. On a run with Jordan, Sean pitched the idea of making re-usable masks. He had identified a trend of concern about the novel coronavirus and he wanted to provide to help people cope with the pandemic. On that run, Sean suggested that they team up and Jordan agreed instantly. They had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate for years but had never found the right project.

Full story via Forbes (6/14/20)


Ripple Effect: What Will College Be Like in the Fall?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to what college campus life will be like this Fall: From fully re-opening with no masks on one end — to going completely online on the other — and everything in between. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lecturer in Urban Design, Mary Anne Ocampo, covers some of the various strategies, scenarios, and challenges facing higher education in light of the global pandemic.

Full story via WGBH News (6/12/20)


Building a More Resilient, Data-Driven Economy

In his review of Building the New Economy, co-edited by the Media Lab’s Sandy Pentland, Irving Wladawsky-Berger notes, “In a resilient economy, power and decision-making should be distributed among a diverse set of stakeholders rather than concentrated in a few hands.”

Full story via The Wall Street Journal (6/12/20)


Our Virtual World and Covid-19

CRE’s Real Estate Innovation Lab’s Alina Nazmeeva and Andrea Chegut discuss (un)Real Estate, a research effort to understand social interaction and economic activity online in light of the increase in internet usage during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Full story via Medium (6/12/20)


3 Questions: Balakrishnan Rajagopal on recognizing homelessness as a human rights violation

DUSP’s associate professor of law and development will address housing challenges in a new appointment as special rapporteur for UN Human Rights Council.

Full story via MIT News (6/11/20)


Reusable, N95 alternative face mask developed by a collaborative team hits production

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, an interdisciplinary team co-led by Biomechatronics postdoc Matt Carney created an N95 alternative mask, which is entering large scale production phases in the US, Portugal, Colombia, and Brazil.

Full story via Medium (6/11/20)


Unmasking Tourism in Venice: How tourism dynamics unfold within the built environment

DUSP’s Civic Data Design Lab publish findings on the spatial dynamics of mass-tourism in Venice, Italy. Arguing that it is time to spatialize and rethink tourism in our historic centers for a post-Covid19 world

Full story via Civic Data Design Lab (6/20)


I could really use a robot companion right about now

I wanted to understand the strange relationship I had developed with Woebot — strange here, anyway, because in some other parts of the world, people have a more expansive sense of how you can connect with robots. I started interviewing researchers and AI-focused corporations and visited Cynthia Breazeal, head of the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab. Breazeal studies and develops social robots, the kind that are designed to interact with humans and each other. When we met in her office at the MIT Media Lab before social distancing, we were joined by Jibo, a social robot she developed that was marketed as a personal assistant up until last spring (it is now targeted at education and health care businesses).

Full story via The Boston Globe (5/31/20)


Here’s how retirement communities are adapting to a post-Covid 19 world

“This pandemic fundamentally changes the business model,” said Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Age Lab. “Amenities will remain at the top of list for consumers, but will now share that spot with ‘Is it safe?’” he said.

Full story via CNBC (5/31/20)


The Coronavirus Quieted City Noise. Listen to What’s Left.

“It’s almost like the countryside melody coming into the city,” said Carlo Ratti, the director of the Senseable City Lab at M.I.T., who described similar birdsong around Boston, a welcome sound to him. During the pandemic, researchers in the M.I.T. lab have recorded walks through city parks in Singapore, New York and San Francisco, mimicking YouTube recordings of the same paths taken before the pandemic. In Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, they’ve found, the ambient noise of the city — cars driving by, construction work — has declined, replaced by birdsong.

Full story via The New York Times (5/22/20)


As Cities Re-Open, These Visionary Architects Will Help Improve Supply Chains And Disease Prevention

“Architecture’s engagement with the global does not simply seek to transform existing conditions, but also to know them,” explain authors Hashim Sarkis, Roi Salgueiro Barrio, and Gabriel Kozlowski of a new book, The World as an Architectural Project. “Architecture is often instrumentalized for fixing or organizing a specific aspect of the totalities rather than a way to understand and question them.” 

Full story via Forbes (5/22/20)


Amy Glasmeier is helping shape the dialogue across sectors

“As Employers Cut Coronavirus Hazard Pay, What About A Living Wage?” Full story via Forbes (5/20/20)

“The coronavirus crisis will bust up and reshape higher education — for better or for worse” Full story via The Boston Globe (5/22/20)


Covid-19 Special Report: Recent drops in market liquidity may foreshadow major price drops in US commercial real estate markets

The MIT/CRE Price Dynamics Platform released a COVID-19 Special Report, which quantifies the impact the pandemic has had on the investment property market in the US.

Full paper via Price Dynamics Platform (5/20/20)


Architecture in the Time of Coronavirus with Dr. Nasser Rabbat

On May 20, the podcast ArchitectureTalk featured Dr. Nasser Rabbat, Aga Khan professor of Islamic Architecture at MIT. As part of its ongoing miniseries “Architecture in the Time of Coronavirus,” Rabbat looks beyond the individual and beyond North America towards the Middle East and the aggravated complexities that have arisen in these challenging times.

Podcast available via ArchitectureTalk (5/20/20)


Six from MIT, including CRE’s Siqi Zheng, awarded research funding to address Covid-19

Multi-institutional MassCPR initiative announces more than $16.5 million to support 62 Boston-area projects.

Full story via MIT News (5/19/20)


Tales from Virtuality — Research under quarantine at the MIT Media Lab

“We are living in an exceptional time that has stressed our personal, professional, cultural, and economic systems. But it has also provided us a different view of where humanity is heading, highlighting even more perils, yet also unveiling fresh promises and new opportunities.” MIT Media Lab Professor Joe Paradiso shares his experience of running the Responsive Environments group, teaching classes, and finally (nearly) finishing his home music synthesizer studio in the Covid-19 era.

Full post via Medium.com (5/19/20)


Aiding COVID-19 Response Across Africa

DUSP MCP candidate Samra Lakew and DUSP alumna Fitse Gelaye (MCP ‘18) are leading elements of the volunteer effort to enhance Ethiopia’s capacity to respond to the COVID-19 crisis through the Ethiopia COVID-19 Response Team (ECRT).

The ECRT started with a single tweet calling upon the Ethiopian diaspora tech community. From that call to action, the ECRT has evolved into a multidisciplinary team of 1,700 volunteers working globally to collaborate in the effort to reduce morbidity and mortality, using a combination of digital tools and traditional responses.

Full story via the DUSP website (5/15/20)


The Spaces That Make Cities Fairer and More Resilient

In an op-ed, Nicholas de Monchaux, the incoming head of architecture at MIT, argues that our shared economy depends on the equal and accessible public space created by city streets. De Monchaux explains how our current catastrophe can help recapture the essential American idea that safe, generous, and accessible common space is fundamental to public life.

Full story via The New York Times (5/12/20)


The coronavirus has Americans driving like it’s 1999

Yonah Freemark, an urban studies PhD candidate at MIT, reports that the steepest declines came in three New England states of Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, which posted roughly 25% declines. The smallest drops of 10% or less were in largely rural states such as Wyoming, Oklahoma, Montana, and Maine. This trend aligns roughly with Google’s state-by-state mobility reporting using mobile phone data.

Full story via Quartz (5/12/20)


What Your Toilet Can Tell Us About the Coronavirus

A Massachusetts startup called BioBot has been gathering wastewater (as in toilet flushes) from around the country and analyzing it for the coronavirus. Its results are among the most conclusive to date that the pathogen is much more widespread than previously thought.

Full story via Bloomberg Businessweek (5/7/20)

Update via the Associated Press (5/20/20)

Update via Bloomberg Businessweek (6/1/20)

Further coverage via The Wall Street Journal (7/15/20)

More info and press coverage at biobot.io


The pandemic shows why we need to treat housing as a right

DUSP professor Balakrishan Rajagopal explains in a Washington Post op-ed

Full story via The Washington Post (5/7/20)


CURA: An expert team led by Carlo Ratti from DUSP’s Senseable City Lab creates ICUs

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, an international task force of designers, engineers, medical professionals, and military experts have joined forces to work on CURA, an open-source project aimed at capacity building in Intensive-Care Units (ICU). CURA, whose name stands for Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments (and also “cure” in Latin), uses repurposed shipping containers to create plug-in biocontainment pods that can be quickly deployed in cities around the world, promptly responding to the shortage of ICU space in hospitals and the spread of the disease.

More info at the Carlo Ratti Associati website and at curapods.org

Coverage: World Economic Forum (4/30/20), Business Insider (4/29/20), Fast Company (3/27/20)


Developing the Maskº with the Ministry of Supply

Ministry of Supply worked with Skylar Tibbits at the MIT Self-Assembly Lab to create design iterations for their 3D Print-Knit Mask. The Maskº has been developed with healthcare professionals for comfort over long-term use and utilizes a replaceable single-use filtration membrane for maximum efficacy.

Full story via the Ministry of Supply blog (4/24/20)


The hurry-up engineering feat relied on human networks; two in particular stand out. The original design came from a classroom project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a decade ago. Since the coronavirus outbreak, M.I.T. professors and students have worked to upgrade the design in collaboration with outside groups. And several key contributors to the project are M.I.T. alumni, including Marcel Botha SM ’06 (IV M).

Full story via The New York Times (4/20/20)

How to Co-MASK: SA+P faculty, students, and alumni co-create masks for the Covid-19 crisis

ACT’s Azra Akšamija initiated a global project to create fabric masks that promote hope, humanity, and hygiene practices in time of crisis. Launched through the creative network of SA+P, hundreds of volunteers are now collaborating across borders, aiming to raise awareness about the risks of Covid-19 infection and the need for physical distancing and self-isolation, while advocating solidarity with the most vulnerable in our global community.

More information at the Co-MASK website

To read an interview with Azra Akšamija visit the UNESCO website (4/16/20)


3 Questions: Catherine D’Ignazio on visualizing Covid-19 data

“Data scientists and visualization designers need to take their civic role very seriously in a pandemic,” says the MIT assistant professor.

Full story via MIT News (4/13/20)


Spatial analytics for social distancing

An open-source tool developed by a team from the 2019 MITdesignX cohort to let business owners evaluate their physical spaces to ensure safe reopening plans in a post-quarantine future.

More information at spatiometrics.com


Researchers from across the Media Lab are tapping into their creativity and expertise to find ways to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From sensors and wearable technologies to app development to creative learning and engagement, the Lab is working across disciplines, connecting with institutes and communities to develop tools and solutions at the intersection of humanity and technology.

For information about specific projects visit the Media Lab’s Covid-19 research response website (ongoing)


The city will survive coronavirus

Despite the unprecedented isolation and daily uncertainty of urban life, MIT professor Larry Vale and Cornell professor Thomas Campanella to make the case for the resilience and distinctly human experience of city living. Their essay builds upon pillars in their jointly edited book, ‘The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster.”

Full article via the Oxford University Press (4/8/20)


The Geography of Covid-19 Growth in the US: Counties and Metropolitan Areas

CRE professor William Wheaton and research scientist Anne Kinsella Thompson release paper, entitled “The Geography of Covid-19 Growth in the US: Counties and Metropolitan Areas.”

To access the paper visit SSRN.com (4/7/20)


In a time of physical distancing, connecting socially across generations is more important than ever

In a time of so much uncertainty and change, the mutually beneficial activities that foster connections between the old and young cannot stop now. They are more important than ever. MIT’s AgeLab offers ways to maintain conversations between younger and older adults, including through a program called OMEGA (Opportunities for Multigenerational Exchange, Growth, and Action), an initiative designed to foster multigenerational connections between high school students and older adults.

Full story via MIT News (3/31/20)


MIT-affiliated companies take on Covid-19: Media Lab, MITdesignX projects among those featured

As the world grapples with the public health crises and myriad disruptions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, many efforts to address its impact are underway. Several of those initiatives are being led by companies that were founded by MIT alumni, professors, students, and researchers.

These companies’ efforts are as wide-ranging and complex as the challenges brought on by Covid-19. They leverage expertise in biological engineering, mobile technology, data analytics, community engagement, and other fields MIT has long focused on.

Full story via MIT News (3/26/20)


COVID-19 and Healthy Neighborhoods Study Communities

DUSP Professor Mariana Arcaya, investigators, and partners of the Healthy Neighborhoods Study published an open letter on March 23, 2020. In it, they provide data and recommendations from communities in the study to guide decision-makers and communities as they work together to respond to the threat and impact of COVID-19 in ways that equitably and effectively meet the needs of vulnerable populations and places.

Full story via Conservation Law Foundation (3/23/20)