Recap: Urban Innovation Festival

August 3, 2016 | | View Comments

This past weekend, we gathered 100 of the best designers in Boston in hopes to improve the livability of our city. With the unforgiving urban backdrop of multiple construction sites, a major highway, plenty of sirens, and lots of dirt and dust, our Urban Innovation Festival proved how a design can transform public space.

Beginning at 12pm on Friday, July 29th, our ten design teams- Autodesk, Bose, CBT, Essential, Fidelity Labs, Massart, Payette, Shepley Bulfinch, Stantec, and Wentworth- arrived at a particularly humid I-93 underpass, ready to face their design challenge. After a brief overview of the weekend’s festivities, we paired each of our teams with a community superhero— someone familiar with the area, with a particular focus to help change the site for the better. Teams spent their first two hours on site with their community advisors, asking questions, getting to know the space better, and coming up with a plan.





Teams enjoyed coffee from Beantrust, wrote love letters to Boston with The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, and played cornhole while they took short breaks throughout the day.



By 6pm on Friday evening, each of our teams took to the main stage, powered by Scalable Display Technologies, to give their rundown of what the space needed, and the first steps necessary for improvement. After all teams presented, our judgesMicrosoft’s Cathy Wissink, Cantina’s George White, New Urban Mechanics’ Michael Lawrence Evans, Sasaki’s Isabel Zempel, and guest judge, The Greenway’s Laura Jasinski– gave some quick words of wisdom before our teams headed home after their first day of hacking the overpass.



Day 2 was off to a cool start as our teams returned to the overpass at 10 am to get hacking. Loaded with the judges feedback from day 1, our teams continued to further their designs, as the judges made their way through the festival site to check in with each team. As the teams continued their designs, kids played with the Extraordinary Playscapes imagination playground set and built their own design solutions at our lego build table.


The focus of day 2 was to create physical prototypes 0f the designs ideated during the first day of the festival. Teams grabbed cardboard, wood, string, and other materials to bring their ideas to life.




Joining the panel as guest judges on Saturday evening to give a teen perspective were students from the Boston Explorers program. Though they had only seen a bit of the work the teams had been doing, the Boston Explorers gave excellent feedback as the teams presented their prototypes during the second round of presentations. Day 2 of the festival concluded with the teams realizing they were one step closer to realizing their designs, but also that a lot of work still had to be done.


The final day of the Urban Innovation Festival kicked off with a tense energy in the air– who would win this design competition? Teams arrived with their game faces, ready to prove why and how their designs could make a difference. With only two hours to prepare for the final presentations, the design teams went straight to work, perfecting their designs one last time.



The final round of presentations was an inspiring session where the teams were able to showcase how their designs had progressed over the course of the weekend. Fidelity Labs kicked things off with their plans for an urban hiking path. Massart presented on their innovative bench kiosk. Autodesk pitched their column re-design. Bose showed us how lighting and murals can transform the space. Essential presented their adaptive planters. Stantec showed their plans for a walking path imitating the current of the harbor. Shepley Bulfinch gave us their pitch for a walkway filled with illuminated wind chimes. CBT presented a series of sculptures to amplify the urban environment. Wentworth presented their designs for a re-designed walking path. Lastly, Payette showed us their plans for a series of sculptures, complete with a (very fun) working model of a swing.




After the teams gave their final pitches, the judges went to deliberate, and the teams were asked to reflect on their experiences under the highway. After nearly every team gave a quick reflection, the results were in! Shepley Bulfinch won Most Innovative, Wentworth went home with the People’s Choice Award, Essential was the Runner Up, and Fidelity Labs was the overall winner.





Though the festival concluded on Sunday afternoon, this is just the beginning of the Urban Innovation program. Over the next year, Design Museum will be pitching the designs generated through this hack-a-thon, in the ultimate goal to secure funding and implement. We’re also planning on telling the festival story through an indoor exhibition, expected to launch in 2017.


Can’t get enough Urban Innovation?

Check out the tag #DMUrbanInno on Instagram and Twitter to see hourly process photos taken by each team over the course of the festival, and stay tuned for more Urban Innovation updates!