Kiley Fellow Lecture: Paola Sturla, “Designer: the last humanist?”

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Is the designer the last humanist? In the age of data and Artificial Intelligence, this old but perhaps still relevant question is gaining new attention in various academic fields. As a consequence, the debate is intense also on the Harvard GSD trays, where hundreds of students every year become professional designers. In this lecture, the 2018 Kiley Teaching Fellow Paola Sturla reflects on her research topic, Artificial Intelligence in design practice, from the point of view of a design instructor and former practitioner who is training her students into addressing open-ended contemporary issues through the means of design.

This lecture is supported by the Daniel Urban Kiley Fund. 


Paola Sturla is a registered Architetto and Paesaggista in Italy, a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Planning, Design, and Policy at Politecnico di Milano, and the 2018-19 Daniel Urban Kiley teaching fellow at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She holds a Master of Landscape Architecture (Harvard GSD 2011, with distinction), as well as a Master of Architecture (PoliMi 2007).

Her current research aims to critically investigate how AI-based tools and computer simulations could support landscape architecture in the context of infrastructure planning, taking advantage of the user’s experience as a design variable. The research asks if these tools can integrate cognition among the engineering-based design parameters, introducing a relational approach borrowed from interaction design and complexity science.

Before starting her Ph.D., Paola’s interests spanned across academia and practice. She has been a landscape design discipline leader at One-Works S.p.A., where she worked on Qatar Railways’ Doha Metro Red Line North Underground project. This experience enabled her to reflect on the role of landscape design in the framework of an international, large-scale and interdisciplinary socio-technical infrastructure project. Prior to that, she had been collaborating with the Beijing based firm BAM Ballistic Architecture Machine.

At the same time, Paola has been teaching landscape design in the first year Master of Architecture studio at Politecnico di Milano with Cino Zucchi and Matilde Cassani.

Paola is also an alumna of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community (Rome Hub). Together with some fellow Shapers, she started Powering Education ONLUS, a not for profit initiative that developed the award-winning Powering Impact research project sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company, Enel Foundation, and Enel Green Power.

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