Residenziale Est in Ivrea, Italy—also known as the Typewriter Building, 1971 by Iginio Cappai & Pietro Mainardis. Ivrea was the headquarters of Olivetti, and the location of the former Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. The building is marred these days with graffiti, sadly, but the interiors are modular and fascinating. Perhaps this is a smart building in a smart town of a different sort of age. Or a contemporary age: the Arduino board was invented here. Via “Moderno Vivo” in L’Architetto.

AI & Culture: Buildings, Cities (and Infrastructures, and Beyond…)

Carnegie Mellon School of Design, Prof. Molly Wright Steenson, Fall 2018 (second mini)

Monsieur Hulot in the 1958 film Mon Oncle. The troubles of a smart kitchen.

Week 1, 10/22 & 10/24: INTRO & SMART HOMES

Monday: Introductions

Who are you, who am I, what are our interests, what is this class?

Wednesday: Smart Homes: A History.

  • Please read: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Smarter Homes: How Technology Will Change Your Home Life, 2018, chapters 1 & 2. [Box]

“The problem of rationalising the housewife’s work is equally important to all classes of the society. Both the middle-class women, who often work without any help [i.e. without servants] in their homes, and also the women of the worker class, who often have to work in other jobs, are overworked to the point that their stress is bound to have serious consequences for public health at large.”

Have we change the notion of what a laboratory is? What about the data that we’re giving up to big tech companies?

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino writes about this film. Note the white woman showing off her house and the African-American woman doing the labor.

Week 2, 10/29 & 10/31: SMART CITIES

Monday: Smart cities [MOVED TO WEDNESDAY 10/31]

We’ll get introduced to the notion of smart cities. (Anthony Townsend is traveling and can’t join us.) Erik, Emek, and Gauri will lead our discussion.

  • Please read: Anthony Townsend, Smart Cities, Introduction & Chapter 1. [Box].
  • What do you think about the rising interest of the tech/business world on cities and city-making?
  • What kind of powers and capabilities do these companies hold? What are their limitations in this context?
  • 21st century city is claimed to become smarter through the integrated technologies.
  • How does it differ from the city of the 20th century?
  • Similar to what de Graaf asks: Are the cities we have built so far dumb?
  • One could speculate that technology is becoming the prevalent domain in city-making with the increasing level of engagement by the tech companies. Parallel to what Sassen asks: What could these companies / technologists learn from the existing cities?
  • What kind of powers and capabilities do architects and urban designers hold? What has been their limitations in city-making?
  • Based on the existing model in the global market, does the “smart city” and “smart tech” businesses create equal opportunity (both for businesses and for public)?


A look at the history of the urban dashboard, with some reading of Foucault (at Harsh’s request) to help us frame the discussion. We’ll read our first article by Dr. Shannon Mattern, professor of Media Studies at the New School in New York, and a prolific writer and researcher on media, cities, and infrastructure.

This is not required viewing, but is Shannon Mattern’s talk at the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis in June 2018. It is the best and most beautiful talk I’ve seen in years, and it has a lot to do with hardware stores.


Two separate classes. On Monday, we’ll discuss films. Please watch Hunger Games and the 1966 release of Fahrenheit 451. (Films made available in class). On Wednesday, we’ll have Prof. Red Whittaker visiting our class, a robotics expert with a fascinating career.

Monday, 11/5: Two dystopian films

Please watch both of these movies on your own before Monday’s class. We’ll discuss them both.

Julie Christie in 1966, in the film version of Ray Bradbury’s book.
What’s the status of the word in Fahrenheit 451? The opening credits already clue us in.
Montag reads the newspaper. No words.
Noam Chomsky’s 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine

Wednesday: A visit from Prof. Red Whittaker, CMU Robotics Institute


Monday, 11/12: Bryan Boyer of Dash Marshall (in house)

Wednesday, 11/14: Google Sidewalk with Molly Sauter (Skype visit)

Molly Sauter
  • Molly Sauter, “City Planning Heaven Sent” [Box]
  • Molly Sauter, “Google’s Guinea-Pig City,” The Atlantic, February 13, 2018.

Week 5: 11/19: WEWORK: WHAT’S UP?

Monday: We’ll take a look at the business and business model of WeWork. Why WeWork? Because of their financial models and the fact that they’re hiring many computationally-oriented architects. We may also be joined by someone from WeWork (virtually).

Week 6: 11/26 & 11/28: AUTOMOTIVE FUTURES

In each of our classes this week, we will be joined by automotive and autonomous vehicle experts. While they’ll be talking about cars, it’s worth noting that 2-wheel infrastructure is the locus of much VC interest. What will your signals entail?

Monday: Michael Robinson (via Skype from Italy).

Michael Robinson is an automotive designer from the US and based in Italy. He was Design Director at Fiat and Lancia, and has also worked with Ford and Volvo. He’s in the Hall of Fame for car design at the Turin National Automobile Museum. Robinson holds a long view of what design means in the future of automotive when people are no longer driving cars themselves.

Wednesday: Chris Urmson, CEO of Aurora (via Skype from California).

Dr. Chris Urmson is CEO of Aurora. He has nearly 20 years of experience in self-driving cars and robotics, and was previously CTO for self-driving cars at Alphabet. He holds a PhD in Robotics from CMU and was a faculty member here, and helped win the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.

Chris Urnson & a 2015 TED Talk

Week 7: 12/3 & 12/5: CONCLUSIONS

There may be other visitors this week, tbd.

Design week project & zine celebration, date TBD (12/10–12/14)

Objectives, policies, grading


  • Explore pop culture representation of AI as a means of challenging myths
  • Expand your understanding about AI, smart cities and architecture, infrastructure, and more
  • Develop critical thinking and writing skills through weekly written responses
  • Explore creative approaches to AI and smart cities to share


Are located online and here:


  • Signals in Medium as reading responses, 200–250 words: 25%
  • Creative final project: 30%
  • Zine project: 20%
  • Participation: 15%
  • Discussion leadership, 1 week: 10%

Signals: 6 over the course of the class: 25%

(Borrowed from Anthony Townsend & NYU and the Institute for the Future with permission):

Leading discussion & conversation: 20%

Each week, a group of discussion leaders are on hand to lead conversation about signals and help guide sessions with our visitors when we have them.

Zine project & publication: 20%

We will all construct a zine composed of your best signals. As a class, you’ll create the layout & cover and determine the order of content.

Creative project: 30%

Taking everything we’ve done and the things that you’re most interested and curious about, you will put together a final creative project. You could write, make a podcast, do a video, code a demo, build a robot, make a game, develop a simulation, bring us into your own uncanny valley… it’s up to you. This project is due the last week of class and we will celebrate your work then.

Participation: 5%

I expect you to complete the readings, bring in homework, take part in discussion in small and large groups, arrive on time, and not miss class. If you’re shy about speaking out in class, that’s okay too, your participation in small groups and being a good listener counts too.

Medium accounts

To start a Medium account, click the Getting Started button in the upper-right hand corner of After you’ve started an account, you can start a new story by clicking your avatar or image of yourself in the upper-right hand corner, then choosing Start a New Story. This will bring you to a blank page where you can immediately start writing. Be sure to include images or video (see above and below).

Academic integrity

The point of this class is to develop and situate your own ideas in a broader discourse — and in order to do that properly, you need to cite your work. No form of academic dishonesty will be tolerated. When you use words, images, videos, or even ideas and thoughts that are not yours and that you do not credit or properly cite, you are guilty of plagiarism. It is better to ask for more time on a deadline than to plagiarize. If you have any questions, ask.

Attendance policy

Absences of any kind are strongly discouraged as your learning and work will be adversely affected by the information and activities you miss. Be punctual, arriving just before the class start time so we can begin sessions promptly, and stay for the duration of each class. If you are five minutes late or leave class early you will be marked as absent. Two absences may cause your final grade to drop a letter. Three absences may earn you a failing grade for the course. Please schedule doctor’s appointments, interviews, etc. for times other than class sessions. In the event that you encounter a health or life issue that requires you to miss class (such as a physician providing you with instructions that necessitate your quarantine) please notify me as soon as possible to provide an idea of the severity of your illness/issue and the length of time needed for recovery. Keep in mind, you are responsible for information you miss through absences or lateness. (Note: If your illness/issue requires recovery time that exceeds the absence policy for a passing grade, a leave of absence may need to be considered. If this becomes the case consultation with university resources on how best to support you may be necessary.)

Take care of yourself

Remember that we — your professors and your classmates alike — want you to succeed and thrive. Stress is real. Emotions are real. Depression is real.



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Molly Wright Steenson

Vice Provost for Faculty, Carnegie Mellon University. Author of Architectural Intelligence (MIT Press 2017). Girlwonder.