Urban Innovation Festival and Outdoor Hackathon

Summertime typically means outdoor activities. Hackathon is not something you usually associate with outdoors. Who wants to spend sunny weekend indoors?

Design Museum Boston, a group of energetic, creative minds who love city, recently hosted an event called Urban Innovation Festival. It was a design competition to revitalize the space underneath of the interstate highway overpass. The competition was in the form of 2.5 days hackathon over the weekend between July 29-31. What’s unique about this event was that it took place outdoor, open space right at the location of the design challenge: i.e., underneath of the I-93 in the city of Boston. This is the area typically considered not inviting. People normally feel uncomfortable walking alone and consider unsafe. The overpass is dividing communities on the both sides. The intention of the event was to change this negative atmosphere through design. Autodesk was one of the sponsor for the event. Several of us from Autodesk Manchester and Boston offices participated.

When I first heard about this being outdoor, I had no clue what it would be like. My first concern was WiFi. I was wondering if we should bring our own hotspot. But it turned out that the basic supply for “living”, such as power and WiFi, had no issue. There were food trucks, snacks and drinks. So it was like typical outdoor festivals. (And I should add – they set up portable toilets as well, which I did not even think about. But it’s important!)

Our team was a group of ten, including two very talented summer interns: Katrina Stropkay and Danny Perry. Katrina works for our new Maker Lab. Danny creates learning contents for Fusion. We hardly knew each other before the event. Each seemed to have different expertise and roles at Autodesk: software engineers from Infraworks and Generative design team, Fusion, Revit, Civil 3D experts, interior designer and employee impact manager with political study background.

The day one started by brainstorming ideas, learning about areas and talking with community advisers. Everybody seemed to have a lot of good ideas. Gradually, however, we started to hit obstacles; having a common consensus among our “impromptu” team was quite a challenge, I must admit. Everybody has their own ideas, but communicating and persuading the team to move things forward to produce actual design and present as a team seemed like a completely different story. One day passed, and another… After the second day presentation, the judges were quite critical about the progress we made. I almost thought we were not going to make it…

On Sunday, we took the feedback that the judges gave previous day. We narrowed down the scope. When Katrina brought back the laser-cut prototype from the shop and we saw a tangible object, suddenly it lit up team’s spirit again. Thanks to Katrina’s creativity and leadership, we managed to successfully present our design. Although we did not win, we were very happy about our accomplishment. We got honorary mention by one of the judges who presented the award, indicating that we were included till the final round of judging discussion. It was a big come back from the previous day!

Throughout the duration of this 2.5 day event, many people stopped by our table. (This was outdoor, community event. Anybody could pop in.) We had chances to show our software and explain what we are doing with the tools. We also shared a model of Boston created using our software with other teams as well. (The credit goes to Gururaj Sridhar from Infraworks team for this.) It was certainly an interesting experience. By the time we are done, I started to think if we can do something similar in future.

Below are some photos from the events. I hope you can get the feel of this summer time event.

Katrina Aaron presenting
Katrina (left) and Aaron presenting our final design. Display is Scalable’s Huddlewall. You can draw directly on it. Check out time lapse of Huddlewall installation for the event.   

Final design of information graphics on columns. Rendered images: day time. 

Final design of information graphics on columns. Rendered images: night time. 

Audience view during the team presentation. 

Urban Inno explaining to judges
The team Autodesk explaining our plans to community advisers.

Infraworks measuring
Understanding the area. We used Infraworks model and tools like measurement to get the idea about scale of models we need to work on. We put the model on A360 and shared with other participants as well. You can also access the model from here: http://a360.co/2abZaJW 

Boston Guru Danny
Guru (person on the left) made walk-through animation using Infrawork 360. Danny (right) was in charge of making the digital model of underpass pillars using Fusion

dog vice cream
A cute doggy stopped by to cheer us up. There was also an ice cream truck along with different types of food trucks. I tasted coffee flavored one. It was really good.   

Urban Inno team2
Team Autodesk. From left: Mikako, Aaron, Michael, Chris, Danny, Katrina and Kellan. (Guru and Bevin missing.)

Aaron Katrina Guru column
Left: Aaron (left), Katrina and Guru with the laser-cut model. Right: close up of model using cardboard. Actual design would be using plywood. 

It was certainly a group effort. It will be too long to name everybody. But I would like to express our special thanks to a few people. First to Katrina Stropkay for her contribution for this event as a main lead designer and the final presenter. And Danny for working on a digital model of the pillars with artistic touch. I would also like to thank you to our community adviser, Jefferson Macklin, the owner of Bar MEZZANA, for patiently giving advice to our team throughout the duration of the event. (I hope he can see the name of his restaurant on the final design render 😉 ). A big, loud and continuous cheer from Liz Pawlak from Design Museum Boston was invaluable to survive 2.5 days.

The Design Museum Boston will be putting on an exhibit featuring all of the designs in the future. For more detail about this event, who were there, what others did, please refer to the following links. Check out winners design. Impressive work.

Our team’s final presentation slides is found here.



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