DesignFastForward: The Next Pandemic is Now

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Acceleration of Technology, Systems and Urban Policy in the Post-Pandemic City

Watch this and the rest of the two-day symposium at MITdesignX

How do we plan and prepare for the next global catastrophe? Has the pandemic opened the door to wide acceptance of even greater threats to cities such as dwindling fresh water or rising sea levels? Have we learned any lessons? Or is a slow-moving threat still too abstract?

Sigurdur Thorsteinsson (moderator)
Partner, Design Group Italia / S3NSO, Milan, Italy

Professor Paola Rizzoli 
Professor of Physical Oceanography
MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences​

Kate Randolph
Sustainability Team Lead, Google

Kelly Main
Executive Director, Buy-In


We are now in year two of a global disaster: a modern pandemic with no defined end date. Many of the rules and norms of the way things used to be are now being challenged. Incredible disruption has generated seismic shifts in the social and physical realms that will shape the future for decades, if not the century.

The “temporary” inconveniences, emergency measures, delays and postponements of 2020, are becoming a way of life in 2021. And although the pandemic has impacted all sectors of society, its effects on the way we live, work, learn, celebrate, and even breathe will be manifest most strongly in the buildings, vehicles, and public spaces of cities and the human environment.  

Disruption by the pandemic initially caused a state of paralysis in cities. Offices and schools were emptied, subways deserted, entertainment and sports venues shuttered. The economy descended into recession and unemployment skyrocketed. But, very quickly, people responded, as they always do, through adaptation and innovation in a remarkable demonstration of resilience.  Life, the economy, and human progress had to continue, just differently. 

Now it seems everything must be rethought, reimagined, redesigned, or repositioned.  The innovators, designers and visionaries among us already have plans and ideas in the works.  And the pandemic provides the (inopportune) opportunity to fast-forward their development.

Remote working, online classes, telemedicine, and ecommerce were not invented in 2020, but over the year, they have become widely adopted and integrated into society.  Likewise, modular construction, touchless entry, and expedited permitting are not new ideas, but suddenly these technologies and policies are being widely accepted and rapidly implemented. 

In this two-day online symposium at MIT, we hosted conversations with innovators and visionaries, academics, global firms and novel startups who are accelerating new systems and products for design, cities, and the human environment.