Elizabeth views design as leadership in our rapidly changing world. Her work in practice, research, and teaching reflects her perspective that the future of design embraces collective creativity, human-machine collaboration, and scalable systems.
This means that change through design is a team sport, and that creating social and technological processes for design that grow from clear value systems into tangible and replicable outcomes is essential for the creation of a better world. Through the design of artifacts, urbanism, processes, and technologies, Elizabeth’s work joins radical pragmatism with a deep value for the culture of design imagination.
Elizabeth’s work in practice is currently focused through Supernormal, a design studio based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. She founded Supernormal in 2016 to create meaningful and practical change through the intersection of architecture, urbanism, technology, and contemporary culture. The work of Supernormal imagines and stewards a better world through the design of spaces and processes that bring dignity and delight to more people and places.
Supernormal celebrates the beauty of the normal, the mundane, and the basic. It explores the power of design to translate the best parts of humanity into the scalable systems that shape the social and natural spaces of our shared 21st century world. The practice is highly interdisciplinary and collaborative, and it thrives due to the talents and curiosities of the many designers, planners, and technologists who have and continue to work toward a moment in which values-driven design provides leadership for a better world. Elizabeth directs Supernormal as an engaged practice that meets the world exactly as it is, and with a glass that is always half full.
In the academy, Elizabeth rigorously explores the methods, theories, and technological building blocks that hold the potential to shape the relevance of design practice, and to confront the imperatives of our time. Her research aims to uncover the potentials for scalable systems of design by daylighting, operating upon, and designing new socio-technical systems (design that is dependent upon a messy combination of social and technological systems, and collaboration between them). She sees the design futures of architecture, urbanism, and product as the design of continuously changing artifacts that are absorbing, synthesizing, and responding to data.
Her research is always collaborative, and never pure. She understands that building systems for humans and machines to collaborate toward a delightful, just, and sustainable future requires more than individual authorship in our contemporary moment. In her role as principal investigator of the Urban Stack research unit in the Laboratory for Design Technologies at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), Elizabeth’s work is grounded at the architectural scale but disciplinarily agnostic in terms of outcomes and methods. As design research opens from an artisanal and individual pursuit into a collaborative process informed by large amounts of data and artificial intelligence, she and her colleagues and researchers employ methods and techniques from human-computer interaction, social computing, urban planning, and design studies, in addition to those native to the discipline of architecture.
Elizabeth teaches architecture and design engineering in service as Assistant Professor in the Practice of Architecture at the GSD. Elizabeth is deeply devoted to the disciplines of the built environment and thus committed to pursuing their transformation to meet the real challenges of our time. Take a look at descriptions and videos of her original coursework on engaged practice here, and her research seminar on the changing nature of products of design practice here. She co-coordinates a core design engineering studio, a description of which can be found here; she also teaches design theory and practice studio within the Harvard MS/MBA program under a secondary appointment through the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Harvard Business School. Her teaching focuses upon the creation of values-sensitive design methods that balance the rigor and cultural potentials of disciplinary knowledge and technique with the critical need to pursue scalable design impact that is sustainable, equitable, relevant, and delightful.
Elizabeth designs for a future that is messy, impure, and beautiful. She aims to align quantitative and qualitative values to design a nuanced world that reflects and scales the best parts of what it is to be human, together.