This project is part of the HPI-MIT Designing for Sustainability Program. It runs from 2023 to 2024, led by principal investigators from both institutes:

Prof. Hiroshi Ishii, Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, Associate Director of the MIT Media Lab, and Head of the Tangible Media Group.

Prof. Bert Arnrich, Head of Digital Health - Connected Healthcare at HPI.

The project is implemented by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from both institutions, including Dr. JB Labrune, Lucy Li and Cristine Chen from the MIT as well as Dr. Julia von Thienen, Luca Hilbrich, Philipp Steigerwald, Tim Strauch, and Cato Zantman at HPI, alongside a number of close collaborators including Holly McKee and Kim-Pascal Borchart at HPI and Alaa Algargoosh at MIT.




The project aims to assist creators in developing more sustainable designs. For this purpose, the project develops Sustainability Labs: interactive rooms that serve as design studios. Currently, prototype labs are being developed at both HPI and MIT. They can be utilized independently at each location, while also providing a bridge between the two institutes, facilitating remote collaboration. These labs serve two primary purposes. Firstly, they provide a dedicated space for creators to design a wide range of solutions, while guiding them towards more sustainable design outcomes, irrespective of the specific design objectives. Secondly, these labs function as research hubs where design teams can be observed, and various interventions can be tested through randomized experiments to optimize sustainability support.

The labs are constructed as creative studio spaces in the tradition of reactive rooms, incorporating two main features:

  1. Automated Sustainability Assessment and Feedback: Computing technologies are employed to examine the design process for sustainability considerations. By recording and analyzing design team conversations, the system provides feedback to creators on how well their design addresses sustainability aspects such as the natural environment, social equality, and the use of innovation for pro-environmental change. This automated feedback aims to highlight strengths and weaknesses in the sustainability performance of design concepts. More information on the technical implementation of the automatic analysis can be found here.
  2. Technology-Mediated Naturescape: The project integrates natural elements into the workspace through technology. This NatureScape immerses creators in simulated natural environments within the studio space. By experiencing nature through sounds and tangible objects reflecting natural parameters like wind, creators are prompted to consider nature more consistently in their creative process. Additionally, the NatureScape serves as a feedback mechanism, responding dynamically to design decisions by simulating natural phenomena such as thunderstorms or silenced bird calls, thereby reinforcing sustainable design choices.

Overall, Sustainability Labs leverage automated feedback and technology-mediated representations of nature as catalysts for sustainable design. By combining these two approaches, the project aims to foster a creative environment where sustainability considerations are integrated into the design process, ultimately leading to more environmentally responsible and innovative solutions.


Functioning prototypes of the Sustainability Labs are being set up and tested across campuses, with one example shown below.



The project aims to enable the integration of non-human entities into the design process, particularly focusing on sustainability-oriented participatory design. The project seeks to address the challenges of incorporating more-than-human stakeholders, such as flora and fauna, into the design process, recognizing their importance in creating sustainable solutions. Through the concept of TeleSymbiosis, which involves connecting with nature at a distance, the project aims to promote mutualistic mindsets (where humans and non-humans mututally benefit from one another), fostering beneficial relationships between designers and nature. In this realm, key objectives of the project include:

  1. Introducing a framework for evaluating the engagement of non-human stakeholders in the design process as a metric for sustainability.
  2. Proposing methods to engage distant non-human stakeholders in creative processes, including automatic feedback, ambient stimulation, and tangible interactions.
  3. Testing and evaluating prototypes of Sustainability Labs, which incorporate these methods, to advance environments for sustainable co-creativity.

Following these approaches, the project aims to broaden the scope of participatory design by incorporating more-than-human perspectives, promoting sustainability-oriented mindsets, and leveraging technology to facilitate meaningful interactions between humans and nature in the design process.



The project takes inspiration from a spectrum of design traditions.  

  1. Participatory Design and More-Than-Human Design (MTHD): Drawing from the principles of participatory design, the project emphasizes involving stakeholders beyond humans, acknowledging the importance of non-human entities in the design process. More-Than-Human Design (MTHD) expands the scope of participatory design to include non-human stakeholders, fostering a holistic approach to design that considers the needs and perspectives of multiple entities involved, up to the system level of considering ecosystems.
  2. Umwelt, Fûdo, and Mesology: These concepts challenge anthropocentric perspectives by highlighting the perceptual worlds of different organisms, emphasizing the interdependence between humans and non-humans, and exploring the socio-cultural aspects that shape human-environment interactions. Integrating these ideas into design methodologies facilitates a deeper understanding of the relationship between humans and the natural world.
  3. Shakkei, Mâ, and Fang: Borrowing from traditional East Asian garden design principles, concepts like shakkei (borrowed scenery), Mâ (empty space), and Fang (creative imitation) inspire the integration of nature into artificial environments. By recreating nature indoors and incorporating elements of natural landscapes into design, the project aims to foster connections with nature over distance, promoting sustainable design practices.
  4. Biophilic Design and Human-Nature Interaction: Biophilic design seeks to create spaces that enhance human well-being by fostering a connection with nature. By mimicking nature indoors across various sensory channels, Sustainability Labs can promote creativity, well-being and well-intending, while enhancing sustainable design outcomes. Human-Nature Interaction (HNI) explores the potential for collaboration between humans and non-human entities, leveraging technology to facilitate meaningful interactions and promote environmental stewardship.

These theoretical frameworks inform the project's approach to sustainable design, emphasizing the importance of inclusivity, ecological mindfulness, and interdisciplinary collaboration. By integrating insights from participatory design, ecological philosophy, traditional design principles, and biophilic design, the project seeks to advance sustainable design practices that benefit both humans and the broader natural world.



The project offers educational opportunities linked to the research topic, inviting guest speakers, and ensuring that their expertise is accessible to the public. Additionally, it delves into concepts and definitions of sustainability, explores both human-based and automatic methods for measuring sustainability in design, and compiles research batteries for the measurement of mindset factors associated with sustainability. The project furthermore develops resources for designers such as process models and methods to facilitate sustainable design.