Northeastern University / courtesy of the American Institute of Architects
Common Senses Latrobe2022 Press 2 Chelsea Hero

Northeastern University proposal to improve design with sensor networks wins 2022 Latrobe Prize

June 7, 2022
The $100,000 biennial award from the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows will fund a study of how “smarter green infrastructure can support a more accessible, equitable, and inclusive design process.”

An interdisciplinary team proposing the use of sensor networks to inform and improve community design strategies and outcomes has won the 2022 Latrobe Prize from the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. The biennial award comes with a $100,000 grant to support a two-year research project that leads to “significant advances in the architecture profession.”

In their winning proposal “CommonSENSES (Standard for ENacting Sensor networks for an Equitable Society),” four faculty members at Northeastern University, in Boston, describe installing sensor networks on a project site before and after development to collect data that will help inform architects and the neighboring communities on “hyperlocal variations in environmental quality,” according to the AIA press release.

For example, while architects may research the regional climate of a site, they typically do not have the tools to study how conditions—airflow, temperature, pollution levels—may change on a street corner, park, or plaza after a large-scale object, such as a building, comes into existence nearby. The sensor networks “would give architects data to leverage green infrastructure methods to minimize a new building’s impact on the local environment—or to mitigate existing environmental challenges like air pollution or flooding,” according to a May 20 Northeastern news article.

Working in collaboration with the city of Chelsea, Mass., and local nonprofit organizations, the research team hopes to use insights gathered about neighborhood climate, resilience, health, and equity to promote “planetary and human health across the building, landscape, and city scale,” according to the AIA press release.

The deliverables include a CommonSENSES Architectural Playbook, film, and adaption of the interactive, digital whiteboard platform to “empower current and future architects, planners, and educators to advance the role of design in urban equity,” the press release notes.

Spanning multifaceted aspects of the building industry, the Latrobe Prize recipients comprise architect, planner, and engineer Michelle Laboy, an assistant professor at Northeastern University’s School of Architecture; environmental engineer and scientist Amy Mueller, an assistant professor of engineering and the principal investigator at the university’s Environmental Sensors Lab; Boston Area Research initiative director Dan O’Brien, an associate professor of public policy and urban affairs and criminology and criminal justice; and Moira Zellner, a professor of public policy and urban affairs and the director of participatory modeling and data science at the university’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

“The project is a demonstration of what is possible,” O’Brien said in the Northeastern article. “It could demonstrate the potential impact for an approach that integrates sensor technology with participatory workshops and community conversations to achieve local climate resilience.”

The 2022 award is the 11th Latrobe Prize to be given by the AIA College of Fellows, which consists of AIA members who are elected and elevated to fellowship by a jury of their peers. The award is named after architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, a British-American architect whose work in the early 19th century includes the U.S. Capitol and several significant projects in Washington and Philadelphia.

Michelle Laboy was also a co-recipient of the 2017 AIA College of Fellow Latrobe Prize for a research proposal studying the adaptive reuse of existing structures.

About the Author

Wanda Lau | Editorial Director

Wanda Lau is the editorial director of Smart Buildings Technology, LEDs Magazine, and Architectural SSL. She is an award-winning editor, writer, and podcaster whose work appears in several publications, including Architectural Lighting and Architect, where she was most recently the executive editor. In 2021, she was named one of Folio: and AdMonsters' Top Women in Media, in the DEI Champions category. Along with working a decade in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, she holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Michigan State University, an S.M. in building technology from MIT, and an M.A. in journalism from Syracuse University.

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