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Building the Future: A Distinguished Lecture Series for Academics and Professionals

This virtual lecture series provides a forum to discuss each strategic theme and build a broad community that includes industry professionals, researchers, educators, and students. We aim to break down traditional barriers between the lab and the field, and accelerate research into practice.

Through presentations from leading experts and panel discussions that bring new insights, this series explores a range of perspectives on the five strategic directions. To be notified of future lectures in the series, sign up for our email list at the bottom of the page.

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Human Habitat Experience | Senseable Cities with Carlo Ratti

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February 26, 2021

An architect and engineer by training, Professor Carlo Ratti teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he directs the Senseable City Lab, and is a founding partner of the international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati. He graduated from the Politecnico di Torino and the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, and later earned his MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. A leading voice in the debate on new technologies’ impact on urban life and design, Carlo has co-authored over 500 publications, including “The City of Tomorrow” (Yale University Press, with Matthew Claudel), and holds several technical patents.

Senseable Cities: The way we live, work, and play is very different today than it was just a few decades ago, thanks in large part to a network of connectivity that now encompasses most people on the planet. In a similar way, today we are at the beginning of a new technological revolution: the Internet is entering the physical space – the traditional domain of architecture and design – becoming an “Internet of Things” or IoT. As such, it is opening the door to a variety of applications that – in a similar way to what happened with the first wave of the Internet – can encompass many domains: from energy to mobility, from production to citizen participation. The contribution from Prof. Carlo Ratti will address these issues from a critical point of view through projects by the Senseable City Laboratory, a research initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the design office Carlo Ratti Associati.


  • Kenichi Soga, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Geoffrey Thün, Professor of Architecture and Senior Associate Dean for Research and Creative Practice, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Sponsored by
AEC logo

Taubman logo

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Shaping Resource Flows | Buildings: A Climate Solution with Bruce King

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March 12, 2021

Bruce King is the author of “The New Carbon Architecture,” and has been a structural engineer for 40 years, designing buildings of every size and type all over the world. He is also author of the ASTM standard for earthen construction, the Marin County Low-Carbon Concrete code, and the books “Buildings of Earth and Straw,” “Making Better Concrete,” and “Design of Straw Bale Buildings.” Mr. King is also the Founder and Director of the Ecological Building Network (EBNet), a non-profit information resource that sponsors the BuildWell Source, an online library of low-carbon and carbon storing materials.

Buildings: A Climate Solution tells the emerging story of architecture that heals the climate by storing more carbon than ever emitted: Building to cool the planet. Around the world, the theory and the practice of making “carbon smart” buildings is being developed by a rapidly expanding network of experts and innovators. Here we will explore the time value of carbon, low-carbon concrete and the new family of low-carbon building codes, and plant-based, carbon-storing materials, mapping an ambitious but practical pathway toward a built environment that has net zero operating emissions but also acts as a massive carbon sponge.


  • Lucca Henrion, Research Fellow, Global CO2 Initiative, University of Michigan
  • Lionel Lemay, Executive Vice President/Division Head, Structures and Sustainability, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA)
  • Missy Stults, Sustainability and Innovations Manager, City of Ann Arbor

Sponsored by 
A2 Zero logo

American Concrete Institute logo

Center for Low Carbon Built Environment logo

Global CO2 Initiative logo

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Autonomy | Harnessing Digital Technologies to Build a More Water-Secure and Sustainable Future with Albert Cho

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April 2, 2021

While water challenges are intensifying around the world, from climate change to urbanization and beyond, powerful new digital technologies are driving step-change – helping cities protect and optimize water management, build resilience and advance sustainability and equity. Hear examples of how modern cities are using data and automation that transform their water systems, while fueling their economy and creating social value for their residents and for future generations.

Albert Cho is Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy and Digital Officer at Xylem. In this role, he is responsible for driving Xylem’s efforts to digitize water infrastructure, as well as the continued development of business strategies to achieve Xylem’s vision and create social and economic value. Before joining Xylem, Al worked as Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary at the State Department, where he was a White House Fellow and served on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff. He has also been an executive at Cisco Systems, worked at McKinsey & Company, and served at the United Nations on a global plan for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Al serves on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Water Alliance and the Canadian Water Network, and the Programme Committee for Singapore International Water Week. He is also an Honorary Research Associate of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.


  • Barry Liner, Chief Technical Officer, Water Environment Federation
  • Ting Lu, Business Practice Leader – Digital Solutions, Clean Water Services

Sponsored by

CWS logo

WEF logo

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Smart Infrastructure Finance | Harnessing the Digital Revolution to Build the Water Sector of the Future with Newsha K. Ajami

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April 16, 2021

The water sector is at a crossroad. Facing the challenges of ageing infrastructure and a growing population, the sector has to replace and rebuild its existing network, which had enabled our nation’s social and economic growth during the past century. In the meantime, climate change and its impacts on the water cycle have demonstrated the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of our current infrastructure network and its inability to handle extreme and intensified climatic patterns such as floods, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires. The need to revisit and reimagine our current infrastructure model is clear, but the path not as much.

The sector can continue to invest in its current infrastructure model or alternatively embrace decentralized, distributed, and nature-based water solutions. These new infrastructure options hold the promise to increase system flexibility and resilience under climate change while taking the pressure off our existing aging infrastructure networks. However, implementation of these solutions still suffers from the rigidity and complexity of our current water use systems, and the fragmented and in some cases outdated governance structures and business model that overlay them.

There is a need to build a diverse financing portfolio and novel governance tools that harness our evolving digital economy and could support the sector’s shifting paradigm as it transitions from a centralized model to a 21st century hybrid model, encompassing both centralized and decentralized solutions. In this seminar, Ajami will discuss some of these challenges and provide some thoughts on how the sector can take advantage of this once in a century opportunity and aim to transform itself while embracing new solutions and business models.

Newsha K. Ajami directs the Urban Water Policy Program at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. A leading expert in sustainable water resource management, water policy, and the water-energy-food nexus, she studies the human and policy dimensions of urban water and hydrologic systems. Dr. Ajami served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board for two terms and is currently a mayoral appointee to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. She has published many highly cited peer-reviewed articles, and contributed opinion pieces to the New York Times and the Sacramento Bee. Dr. Ajami received her Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from the UC, Irvine, an M.S. in hydrology and water resources from the University of Arizona.


  • Jon Allan, Academic and Research Program Officer Sr., School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
  • Eric Letsinger, CEO, Quantified Ventures
  • Sanjiv Sinha, Senior Vice President, Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. (ECT)

Sponsored by

ECT logo

Quantified Ventures logo

SEAS logo

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Adaptation | Engineering Disaster-Resilient Systems in an Uncertain Future with Jack Baker

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April 30, 2021

There are several radical changes underway in the design of the built environment to resist disasters. First, the traditional practice of designing only for occupant safety is being questioned. Societal stakeholders are increasingly also demanding that our facilities and infrastructure recover rapidly and for reasonable costs. Achieving these demands requires a deeper understanding of the recovery process, and of the interaction between the built environment and human systems. Second, climate change, rapid urbanization, and other drivers mean that our past experience with disasters is no longer a direct guide for what we will experience in the future. Achieving future performance targets thus requires new predictive techniques and tools to design for performance objectives. In this seminar, Dr. Baker will discuss these changes, and describe some research underway to advance our ability to create a disaster-resilient built environment.

Jack Baker’s work focuses on the development and use of probabilistic and statistical tools for managing risk due to extreme loads on the built environment. He studies risk to spatially distributed systems, characterization of earthquake ground motions, and probabilistic risk assessments for a number of types of structures. Professor Baker joined Stanford in 2006 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), where he was a visiting researcher in the Department of Structural Engineering. He has degrees in Structural Engineering (Stanford, M.S. 2002, Ph.D. 2005), Statistics (Stanford, M.S. 2004) and Mathematics/Physics (Whitman College, B.A. 2000). His awards include the Shah Family Innovation Prize from the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, the Early Achievement Research Award from the International Association for Structural Safety and Reliability, the Walter L. Huber Prize from ASCE, the Helmut Krawinkler Award from the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California, and the Eugene L. Grant Award for excellence in teaching from Stanford.


  • Sherif El-Tawil, Antoine E. Naaman Collegiate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan
  • Chris Poland, Consulting Engineer

Sponsored by

EERI logo     EMI logo

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