June 3, 2019

Sasaki Foundation Announces Design Grants Finalists

Sasaki Foundation Announces Design Grants Pitch Night Finalists

The Sasaki Foundation announced today the finalists for its second annual Sasaki Foundation Design Grants program. These seven teams will pitch to a panel of judges on Wednesday, June 5, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Incubator at Sasaki, 64 Pleasant Street, Watertown, MA, an event sponsored by Columbia Construction. The Design Grants are an annual competition to showcase projects that support and drive interdisciplinary innovation and empower our local communities.

Each year, the Sasaki Foundation announces research topics that address current trends and inequities in design. In 2019, the Foundation focused on Proactive Approaches to Climate Adaptation, New Models for Housing, Innovation in Transit & Access, and Creative Community Building.

“We were extremely impressed by the response we received from applicants, our partners, and communities,” says Alexandra Lee, Executive Director. “The Foundation is excited to consider proposals that address some of the most challenging issues facing local communities, including homelessness, frameworks for resilience planning, mobility, and gentrification.”

Applicants proposed projects to win cash awards and office space at the Incubator at Sasaki. In the program’s second year, the Foundation received 18 applications from multi-member teams competing for the opportunity to take advantage of this unique nine-month residency at Sasaki, a global design firm. The projects represented 42 organizations, 11 institutions, 8 Boston communities, 6 Greater Boston cities, and 2 Gateway Cities.

“We have a great team of judges, culled from organizations like Harvard, MIT, Boston Harbor Now, and others, who will evaluate the teams on how equitable, innovative, and impactful their ideas are,” says Mary Anne Ocampo, Chair of the Sasaki Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “Pitch Night is an exciting night and we welcome all to join us in the Incubator at Sasaki.”


The names of the 2019 Design Grant finalists are:

Flexetail – Supporting Local Retailers to Enrich Local Economic Development

Community: Boston Metro

Focus Area: Creative Community Building

In a time where Amazon is killing off local mom and pop shops, retailers must be more agile to compete and support local economic development. But the problem with brick and mortar retail IS the bricks and mortar. Leasing space is expensive, time-consuming, and high-risk. Pushing out local retailers leads to food deserts, a lack of retail diversity, and a loss of character and personal connection for communities. Flexetail is a mobile space for small, local retailers to bring their products directly to consumers in an affordable and creative way. Think food trucks, but for retail.

From Energy Security to Energy Shift, in Boston and Beyond

Community: Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury

Focus Area: Proactive Approaches to Climate Adaptation, Creative Community Building

Applying lessons learned from last fall’s Merrimack Valley Gas Disaster, we will test and develop methods for Boston and other municipalities to effectively inventory and build household electric capacity across diverse housing stock and communities that (1) provides disaster responders with information about which houses are able to switch to electric-based heating/cooking in the event of future potential gas outages associated with deferred maintenance or climate change; and (2) simultaneously lays groundwork to prioritize electric upgrades in municipal housing stock for permanent electrification to meet aggressive climate action plans like Carbon Free Boston.

East Boston Mobility Hubs

Community: East Boston

Focus Area: Innovation in Transit and Access to Mobility Choices

A Mobility Hub is a designated, easily identifiable location where multiple modes of transportation converge, guaranteeing that on a 24/7 basis, people can find at least one (and optimally several) sustainable modes of transportation to get them to their ultimate destination. Mobility Hubs are designed to fit into their specific locations and be contextual while also being easily replicable. These Hubs also serve as a convenient place to find accurate, real-time information about transit schedules and sustainable mobility choices. A Mobility Hub also adds vibrancy, safety, and legibility to the public realm.

Knitting the Alewife: From Vulnerable to Vibrant

Community: Alewife

Focus Area: Proactive Approaches to Climate Adaptation, Creative Community Building

Responding to over four decades of planning efforts by various entities, Knitting the Alewife Project activates a constellation of community actors to collaboratively build resilience into the vulnerable urban system. By leveraging the Sasaki Incubator along with public events, installations, and conversations we’ll create a regional learning community of residents and stakeholder groups, designers, researchers and adjacent towns. Working together to find shared meaning in climate data, we explore and evaluate system-based strategies for the short-, medium- and long term and co-implement a demonstration pop-up project. Our goal is to learn to knit resilience into a vibrant socioecological urban fabric.

Designing Shelters for Dignity

Community: Boston

Focus Area: New Models for Housing

While we believe that everyone has the fundamental right to safe and accessible housing, we acknowledge that this will take a massive cultural shift and that in the meantime many without homes are suffering in dehumanizing and degrading living conditions. Emergency homeless shelters strip those residing in them of dignity and privacy, and send a message to people without homes that they are not valued by society. We believe that with design and the involvement of the community, we can significantly improve the mental-health and well-being of individuals residing in homeless shelters, at very little cost.

Rentify Chinatown

Community: Chinatown

Focus Area: Creative Community Building

Chinatowns across the country are experiencing rapid gentrification and reshaped by the influx of luxury residential developments, institutional expansions, and short-term vacation rental models like Airbnb. Our study focuses on Chinese families under the threat of displacement and eviction in Boston Chinatown by utilizing Airbnb data to map and understand the issue from a top-down perspective. Meanwhile, we plan to engage with these communities through interviews and community meetings. To address a major challenge faced by the city and empowering the communities, our project will provide conducive insights and proofs for advocacy strategies, including policy interventions led by these organizations.

The Institute for Plant-Based Placemaking

Community: Boston

Focus Area: Creative Community Building

While legalized by Massachusetts, there is still no place to consume cannabis in public or outside of residences. These restrictions prevent community building, limit access to entrepreneurship, and perpetuate the stigma of cannabis use. With this Residency, The Institute for Plant-Based Placemaking seeks to research, design, and prototype strategies to address the challenges facing “social consumption” to support artists and activists as they help communities transform public spaces and cultural institutions. The project will culminate with the production of an exhibition to host collective public experiences in The Boston Common and the creation of a website of best practices.


If you would like to attend Pitch Night on June 5th, please RSVP. We hope to see you there!


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