LDT_logo_smWith industry leaders—including Boeing and Clark Construction—and world-class academic researchers joining forces, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s (GSD) Laboratory for Design Technologies is undertaking its first project: “The Future of Air Travel.”

The Laboratory for Design Technologies (LDT) acts as a shared platform for the GSD’s design technology research units and faculty, whose specialties include responsive technologies and sensing, adaptive and smart material systems, robotics and 3D printing, computational design and modeling, urban analytics, and geographic information systems. The GSD is inviting leading companies to join The LDT Industry Advisors Group, which links business and government stakeholders with academic researchers to shape the future of the built environment.


Martin Bechthold DDes ’01

“Today’s world is incredibly interconnected. We need to broaden the focus of designers, we need to understand the deeper societal, economic and ecological challenges when conceiving the future built environment,” said Kumagai Professor of Architectural Technology Martin Bechthold DDes ’01, who heads the Laboratory’s Materials Processes + Systems unit. “LDT is a collaborative platform that integrates academic and industrial vantage points with the goal of developing ideas and prototypes for a better world.”

The Industry Advisors have the opportunity to guide and access broad-based, strategic research, exploring fundamental questions, and new paths at the GSD. With small, autonomous air mobility options appearing on the horizon, the GSD sees opportunities for its design researchers to join with industry to offer technical and policy solutions. Aerospace companies are prototyping passenger air vehicles; at the same time, air drones promise to change shipping infrastructure. The growing need for a more integrated approach regarding flight and urban environments dovetailed with the mission of the LDT, which is to advance understanding of how design technologies can improve the human condition. Industry Advisors on “The Future of Air Travel” include Boeing, Clark Construction, gmpHickok Cole, Massport, and Perkins&Will.

“The research in this project will explore how best to approach safety, timeliness, fuel consumption, and profitability alongside metrics of human experience, such as comfort, anxiety, or confusion,” said Associate Professor in Practice of Architectural Technology Allen Sayegh MDes ’96, who leads the LDT Responsive Environments and Artifacts Lab. “Analyzing these components will allow us to advance design that addresses the fine line between human experience and issues of logistics, safety, and economics.”

“How can we shape the future of flight, while addressing the dilemma of sustainability and the enormous growth prediction of air travel?” Bechthold added. “Air travel has become a key factor in today’s connected world, yet congestion and delays are plaguing passengers globally. Combining the GSD’s strength in design research and computational simulation, we hope to help promote the next generation of aerospace technology by investigating both the human experience as well as the regional mobility interactions on the ground and in the air.”

Researchers and industry experts will undertake two focus areas related to “the Future of Air Travel.” First, they will explore the relationship between air infrastructure and its city and regional hosts, with the goal of creating software that can model the impacts of future aerial technologies on existing and future air travel hubs, as well as the cities and regions around them. The project will build an encyclopedia of aerial mobility that compiles the current “rules” and constraints around aerial planning, including details about vehicle and communication technologies, infrastructure, and policies and regulations. It will also produce design software for future scenarios, which will contribute to multidimensional computer modeling and help estimate impacts on air planning.

The second project will examine the human experience in air travel, including how people navigate airports and planes. Researchers will work to measure airport ambiance, predict behavior in particular environments, and use this knowledge to enable improved design of spaces throughout the entire experience of air travel.

The ultimate goal of this project is to find new methods to quantify experiences and give new toolkits to designers and decision makers in order to create better spaces ~ Allen Sayegh

“The ultimate goal of this project is to find new methods to quantify experiences and give new toolkits to designers and decision makers in order to create better spaces,” said Allen Sayegh.

For Boeing, joining this research initiative was a natural fit. In 2018, the aviation pioneer formed Boeing NeXt, which is an organization leading the safe and responsible introduction of future air vehicles and the new mobility ecosystem that will enable operations in urban, regional, and global markets. Leaders say increasing urbanization, a growing global population, aging infrastructure and the explosion of e-commerce calls for new, sustainable, and accessible modes of transportation. Expanding airspace access for autonomous vehicles has both regulatory and technical challenges, and Boeing sees opportunities for solutions in this partnership with the GSD.

“These societal and technological trends are tangible and measurable, and they are converging to define a new vision for the future of mobility,” said Egan Greenstein, Boeing NeXt senior director. “We are excited for this collaboration that will help bring this vision into focus.”

As a builder for both airports and airlines, Clark Construction Group is excited to support the development of design technologies that will enhance the air travel experience. Clark sees “the Future of Air Travel” project as a way to elevate airport and air travel design practices, which lead to innovations in airport construction. Clark’s decision to partner with the GSD supports the company’s continuing commitment to enhance its aviation center of excellence. The center of excellence connects Clark’s aviation construction professionals across the country to share best practices and lessons learned, with the ultimate goal of better serving their aviation clients.

Clark’s vice chairman, William R. Calhoun, Jr., said this about Clark’s involvement in the GSD program: “Clark is excited to collaborate with the GSD and forward-thinking industry leaders to help develop the most advanced thinking and design technologies in holistic, value-based asset creation solutions. The partnership will enable us to explore the benefits of thinking beyond first cost criteria by encouraging an active dialog that considers life cycle cost, future facility flexibility, alternative economic modeling, increased sustainability and resiliency, and integration of facilities with their communities and local infrastructure. We look forward to bringing the benefits of this visionary program to our aviation clients and partners.”

The future of air travel isn’t a concept that one discipline or one sector can solve alone, which is why the GSD aims to unify industry leaders as they reimagine air travel at both the human and system scale. The LDT’s framework enables creative partnerships that can look to the skies, providing better chances of finding solutions to the complex challenges of air travel and beyond.