MAS.552 Modeling Zero-Carbon Cities (Kendall Square as a case study), Fall Term 2021

Gabriela Bila

Kent Larson, Professor of the Practice
Luis Alberto Alonso Pastor, Research Scientist
Units (3-0-9)
Wednesdays, 2-5pm
Silverman Room, 6th Floor, MIT Media Lab, E14 SS-648
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*First class Wednesday 09/08, 2 pm Silverman Room, 6th Floor, MIT Media Lab, E14-648


Kent Larson
Luis Alonso

Course description:

This workshop will be a rapid-fire, high-level exploration of how to model urban interventions that could enable low-carbon (ultimately zero-carbon) cities, using the MIT-Kendall Square district as a case study.  We will focus on two questions:
• What would be required for MIT-Kendall Square to achieve zero-carbon in 20 years?
• Can social performance be simultaneously increased to create a model entrepreneurship community?


With cities generating more than 70% of current global CO2 emissions, and with 90% of future population growth occurring in urban areas, it is a societal imperative that cities rapidly transition to a low-carbon future.  


To explore key challenges and opportunities related to:
• Current Performance: calculating the environmental and social performance of the district, with an emphasis on CO2 emissions of people who live and work in the district.
• Urban Interventions: modeling the impact of interventions that may dramatically reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
• Renewable Energy: modeling the deployment of non-fossil fuel energy sources from solar to future fusion  
• Urban Performance: estimating the resulting impact of proposed solutions on the environmental and social performance of the district.


Typically, each 3-hour session will begin with a 30 to 45-minute lecture plus Q&A.  Students will then be given a 2-hour in-class assignment, with results documented on the class website and/or GitHub.  To launch the course, we will critique Masdar City, designed by Foster and Partners in 2007-2008, which was to be the world’s first zero-carbon city for life beyond oil, with Anthony Mallows, Architect and former Executive Director of Masdar City.  

Final Project:

Students will select a "module" to develop that could later be integrated into an urban simulation platform such as CityScope.


Students will gain hands-on experience with the collection and analysis of data, basic python scripts, and simulation tools.  Students will have an opportunity to evaluate the potential of a range of current and emerging urban interventions in order to establish priorities for bottom-up action by cities and their communities.


This class seeks highly motivated students with a background in data analytics, engineering, architecture, urban planning, public policy, business, and entrepreneurship. Programming experience is useful but not required (small-team assignments may pair, for example, a designer with a programmer).

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