Kent Larson is Director of the City Science research group at the MIT Media Lab. Before joining MIT full-time in 2000, he practiced architecture for 15 years in New York City. His research focuses on developing urban interventions that enable more entrepreneurial, livable, high-performance urban districts. Projects include advanced simulation and augmented reality for urban design, transformable micro-housing for millennials, mobility-on-demand systems that create alternatives to private automobiles, and urban living lab deployments in Hamburg, Helsinki, Andorra, Taipei, Shanghai, Toronto, and Guadalajara. He and the researchers from his MIT lab have twice received the “10-Year Impact Award” from Ubicomp: a “test of time” award for work that, with the benefit of that hindsight, has had the greatest impact. His book, Louis I. Kahn: Unbuilt Masterworks was selected as one of the Ten Best Books in Architecture by the New York Times Review of Books. Larson's TED talk, "Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city," summarized his vision for cities in the future.
Research at MIT
Larson's MIT research has focused on four areas:
Responsive Housing: The Changing Places project is focused on developing strategies to create high-performance, technology-enabled personalized, places of living that respond to a shortage of affordable urban housing and new ways of living and working. In this approach, buildings are disentangled into three independently configured layers: high performance chassis (building structure and utilities), integrated infill that makes use of agile technology and architectural robotics, and responsive façade modules. These concepts are being deployed in the CityHome: a compact, transformable apartment system for urban dwellers that functions as if a much larger space. Larson is a founder of ORI Living, an MIT spinoff company to commercialize architectural robotics.
Urban Modeling and Prediction: The CityScope project combines physical 3D models, augmented reality, and real-time prediction to support experts and non-experts in a new decision-making process to make better cities. CityScope platforms have been deployed in Cambridge, Boston, Hamburg, Andorra, Helsinki, Shanghai, and other cities around the world. The FindingPlaces project made use of a CityScope to bring together the residents of Hamburg, Germany to identify optimal locations to provide housing for a growing number of refugees from the war in Syria. It combined optically tagged color-coded LEGO bricks, touch feed-back and geographical simulation algorithms to create a hands-on experience that allowed users to understand current land features and collectively propose housing sites by placing tangible LEGO bricks at different sites on the physical model. Through this immersive process, project partners from MIT City Science, the Hamburg Mayor’s Office, and HafenCity University Hamburg (HCU) brought the residents’ personal experiences and local knowledge into the government’s decision-making process.
Urban Mobility-on-Demand: Upon the 2010 death of William J. Mitchell, former Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, Larson's group continued work on the MIT CityCar and developed concepts for shared-use light electric vehicles and intelligent fleet management to provide high-levels of service through sensor networks, dynamic incentives, and intelligent charging. Kent Larson's City Science research group is currently developing a shared-use, ultra-lightweight, autonomous, three-wheel electric vehicle, called the Persuasive Electric Vehicle or PEV, to move both people and goods along bike lanes in central cities.
Living Labs: Larson, along with colleagues William J. Mitchell, and Alex (Sandy) Pentland at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are credited with first exploring the concept of a Living Laboratory. They argued that a living lab represents a user-centric research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real life contexts. Nowadays, several living lab descriptions and definitions are available from different sources. Larson and MIT researchers have developed computational tools to understand human behavior in natural environments, including the necessary sensing, interfaces, data collection methods, and visualization capabilities. They have developed prototypical applications that respond to human behavior, with an emphasis on proactive health, energy conservation, and the support of new ways of living and working. This work includes the exploration of data collection and analysis tools to understand the fine-grained attributes of a healthy, high-functioning community or city, and strategies to use this information to inform the design of new communities.
Larson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, Maria Miller Larson.