I am an urban designer based in Somerville, Massachusetts. I graduated from Olin College where I studied Sustainable and Social Design Engineering. I am passionate about creating sustainable, livable, and equitable cities. Catch me biking around town on my bight orange fixie.
AARON GREINER | 2020
CultureHouse, an organization I started to increase livability in Boston, activates under-used or vacant spaces and transforms them into community spaces that serve as a communal living room, an indoor public park, and a third space between home and work. After researching and developing the concept, we opened our first CultureHouse pop-up during the month of July 2018 in the Union Square neighborhood of Somerville. Our pop-ups are places to hang out, meet people, create, share skills, and learn. We partner with affordable local businesses to host a free café and regular programming determined by the community such as trivia nights, live music, and ping pong tournaments.
Investment in public life has been shown to increase public health and happiness. By creating social infrastructure, we increase well-being in communities. Local businesses also benefit from CultureHouse. In commercial areas, people typically pass through without stopping or go to their destination and leave. With CultureHouse, they have a reason to stay in the area and therefore will be more likely to spend time in other local businesses. By catalyzing the creation of multi-purpose, year round indoor common spaces, we build off the success of urban design projects, connect people to their communities, and enhance public life in the city.
We opened up our first in July 2018, in Union Square in Somerville, Massachusetts. During this time, CultureHouse served as an indoor public park and communal living room to the neighborhood and hosted many free events from live musical performances, to GIANT cornhole, to art workshops. We also screened all the world cup games and at the final, had over 50 people attend of all difference ages and backgrounds. Our ping pong tables were also a big hit. We held weekly tournaments and had people playing at all hours of the day.
At the end of the month, we analyzed the data we collected over the course of the pop-up and created the CultureHouse Manual. The Manual provides a step-by-step guide to open a space like CultureHouse and goes through the impacts it can create. Based on our data analysis, we believe that we achieved our mission. We found that CultureHouse “increased livability and joy”, “addressed a community need”, and “attracted people and gave a reason to stay” in the area, making it more livable and vibrant. These confirmed our assumptions for the CultureHouse model.
The CultureHouse team has also worked to activate outdoor public space and has completed four one day pop-ups in public plazas around the Boston area. In December 2018, we came back to Union Square to activate the plaza with a winter pop-up. We had a fire pit for roasting s’mores, hot chocolate, and a mini-trampolines to jump on (inspired by the trampolines embedded the sidewalk by the harbor in Copenhagen). Through this activation, we saw many people sit down at the fire and spend time roasting a marshmallow or meeting someone new despite the cold.
To see what we are up to and learn more about CultureHouse, visit our website.
As the Design producer at Design Museum Foundation, I designed, fabricated, and installed exhibits. Ranging in topic from prosthetic design, to playscapes, we popped-up these exhibits around the Boston. By opening in nontraditional spaces, we brought the power of design to a wide audience.
In one of the first projects I worked on at the museum, we created a mini pop-up version of our exhibit Bespoke Bodies at Hubweek. The exhibit, about the design and craft of prosthetic devices, was a big hit at the exhibition and included several interactive displays. Just a few months later, we opened the full exhibit in collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield in the Prudential Center. It was a challenge to fit the content of exhibit into the small space, especially as the building was still partially under construction.
Other projects I worked on at Design Museum Foundation include adapting the Extraordinary Playscapes exhibit to a new format at the Moakley Courthouse. I also created all of the backdrops for the Workplace Innovation Summit, including a 28' stage background with a custom moss wall. Throughout all these installations, I kept consistent branding and design language that helped people orient themselves to the museum, no matter where we popped-up.
I worked closely with the Exhibition Manager to develop a new exhibit; We Design. The exhibit highlighted career stories from designers of diverse backgrounds. The exhibit included interactive displays, artifacts from the designers themselves, and information about their lives and careers.
ping pong balls, fishing wire
This sculpture, made for Design Museum Boston, is part of a larger window activation that highlights the work that the museum does and is easily updatable. The sculpture itself renders the Design Museum Boston logo in over 500 ping pong balls.
During the summer of 2017, I worked at Better Block, an urban design non-profit based in Dallas, Texas that seeks to improve public life for all through changes in the urban landscape. I worked as a designer for the organization, which allowed me to be involved in many projects from the idea phase all the way through implementation. As Better Block is a small team, I was able to participate in many ideation and planning sessions and contribute my own ideas. See my blog post on my summer experience here.
I started out by defining the Better Block brand, and creating style guidelines for the organization. One project that spanned almost the entire summer was a redesign of the Better Block Manual, an informational step-by-step instructions book to creating a Better Block event. I also designed an informational pamphlet, and a ramp that can be cut out of plywood on a CNC router for the Wikiblock library.
One of the services that Better Block offers is designing pop-up urban design projects in cities all across the US and the world. We work with community partners to re-imagine their downtown area and transform it into a space that livable and works for people. Typically, we design short pop-up experiments that give the community a sense of how public life can be improved through transformation of the built world. These events take a downtown area, and for a weekend, transform it using easily accessible methods such as using CNC street furniture, duct tape, and temporary paint.
Working based off the needs and suggestions of the local community, I designed a Better Block for Kenmore, Ohio. This involved looking at the downtown area in its current configuration, and creating a plan that transformed the space using available materials. The event happened in early September 2017, and was a success. The community can now take what they have learned and implement some of the changes on a more permanent level.
In the end of July, I was able to go to Barberton, Ohio with two co-workers to run a Better Block event. The event was a two-day temporary transformation of a downtown street that saw very little use in its current incarnation. Over the course of the four days I was there, I saw the street go from an under-used strip of asphalt to a vibrant public space full of people.
The temporary interventions included a four-corner bump-out in one intersection designed to slow down traffic, CNC-cut plywood street furniture, a beer garden, a dog park, bike symbols on the road, a mid-block crosswalk, a pop-up café, and a farmer’s market. In order to make all of these elements happen, we worked for two and a half days along with the community volunteers. Using temporary paint, we completely changed the street. We added bike stencils to make it safer for bikers. We painted an entirely new crosswalk in the middle of the block to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross. And, in one intersection, we bumped out all four corners using white tape and plungers to create an intersection that was safer for all.
The Barberton Better Block project was featured on CityLab.
During my spring semester of my Junior year, I studied Urban Design at DIS in Copenhagen, Denmark. Over the course of the semester, I studied the principles of urban design through looking at examples – both good and bad – around Copenhagen, and by reading the works of urban designers such as Jan Gehl. The knowledge I gained through my courses and observations captivated me and changed the way I look at the world.
Throughout the semester, I worked on projects that took what I was learning and applied it to make spaces more livable.
As the final project for my Urban Livability class, I redesigned the "O" (the center of the Olin College campus). I started out by doing an analysis of the space using tools such as the 12 quality criteria. I then developed three principles that I wanted to improve to make the O a more livable space. I took observational data at several locations around Copenhagen that followed these principles, and used what I learned to inform my design. The project culminated with a design proposal for a pop-up project and implementation plan for a redesigned O.
In my Urban Design class, I did two projects re-imagining public spaces in Copenhagen. The first project was around Halmtorvet, a currently un-used square near the central station. For the redesign, I focused on connecting the square to the new Metro station on one side, and a large boulevard on the other. Through the use of wood, plants, stone, and wild grasses, I created an natural environment to break up the urban landscape. In addition, I made sure to include elements to make the space work for people of all ages and abilities.
For my second project, I introduced a soundscape installation in Vesterbros Torv, a square in Vesterbro. To start, I mapped the sounds that were existing in the square and observed how people used the space. I then took those findings and used them to create a soundscape experience that enhanced the existing sounds and added new ones. In my project, I placed a series of 10 microphones and bench assemblies around the square. In addition to providing seating, these units amplify the sound around them to make people aware of their local soundscape. When the mic picks up sound, the speaker also plays a similar sound from another square in another part of the world. This serves to connect the residents to Copenhagen to other places in the world and was partially inspired by the refugee crisis in Europe.
During my senior year, I worked with a team community development in Coahoma County, Mississippi. During my time on the team, we worked with community partners to prototype a mobile space called Shifting Rhythms for education enrichment programs, designed to support the youth programming already active in the County. The goal of Shifting Rhythms is to create a mobile education program that brings technology, arts, and entrepreneurship experiences to youth ages 12-18.
To accomplish this, we designed a curriculum that bought youth through several different tracks where they could learn skills through projects-based learning. They have the opportunity to create a diddly bow (a simple guitar), a 3D printed phone speaker, a screen-printed design, and a portfolio website. We also purchased and outfitted a 7x12 foot trailer with all the tools and supplies necessary to run the program.
To test the program, we are ran 12 week pilot in the Spring of 2018. We hired two co-directors from the community that bring the trailer to different after school programs where youth are be exposed to technology, entrepreneurship, and the arts.
Return Design is Tim Ferguson Sauder’s lab at Olin where student designers produce commissioned work for people who help people, including non-profits and art organizations. As one of three student designers in the studio, I have developed my communication skills through various projects. One particular project, though, does stand out.
As part of group of students/faculty/staff at Olin College of Engineering, I exhibited at South by South Lawn in Washington, DC. South by South Lawn (SXSL) was an event hosted on the South Lawn of the White House on October 3, 2016. Inspired by South by Southwest (which President Obama attended the previous spring), SXSL brought together innovators, creators, and organizers working with social justice and environmental issues in an all-day festival showcasing their work.
Read the the full breakdown of the project on our Exposure site.
My involvement at SXSL was a collaboration of with Return Design, the adaptation + ability group, and the Olin Library. One of our professors, Sara Hendren, works in the disability sphere and leads the adaptation + ability group. Sara was invited to present her work with a+a at SXSL, and came to us folks in Return Design for exhibit design and fabrication help.
The making of the booth.
When we arrived at the White House the morning of SXSL, we got right to work finalizing the booth and prepping for the press and attendees. When the SXSL guests arrived, we found ourselves busily engaged in good conversation. Some attendees strolled by, while others were quick to be active in discussion with us. We were excited by how many people we somehow connected to the lab, through personal connections or otherwise.
As part of a placement through the Olin IDIN fund, I worked at Twende in Arusha, Tanzania for two months. Twende is a social innovation center that works to empower local innovators to solve challenges they see in their communities. We work to accomplish this through hands-on workshops and projects. We also provide support for businesses and developing social ventures. You can learn more about Twende here.
I worked primarily in the (2 person) design team. As the director of creativity (self-appointed title), I provided design support for both the Twende center itself, and for the innovators that were working on projects or businesses. Throughout it all, I documented the various work that goes on at Twende through photo and video. In addition, I worked on improving the workshop space, and planning for Nane Nane (a large festival that happens in the beginning of August).
During my internship, I worked to create a visual identity for Twende. I worked with bright colors, bold fonts, playful tools, and dynamic lines to portray the feeling of innovation, excitement, and movement that Twende has. I even created a Snapchat Geofilter that is currently live at Twende.
The Olin Workshop in the Library is a group that is examining the Olin College library, and redesigning spaces and resources to better meet the needs of the school. I started working with OWL in my first year at Olin, and continued my work over the following summer and through my senior year. I have worked on projects such as creating a coffee shop-inspired work bar and a new hidden study nook, along with many others. Through projects like these, we have been able to change the Library from an institutional artifact into a center for culture, creation, and collaboration at Olin.
Learn more about the project here.
One of the projects I worked on in the Library was transforming an unused counter space (above) in the front of the library to a coffee shop-style work bar (below). I used reclaimed shipping pallets to make the wooden paneling, and black vinyl to change the appearance of the cabinets under the counter. This space (called the “Splash Zone”), at the entrance to the Library, allows for quick interactions and stop-overs.
FoodSource is a project for a human-centered design class focused around solving a problem for a specific user group. The course goes through extensive user research and interviewing, ideating, and co-designing, and ends with a design proposal. As part of a team, I worked with local community farmers to find pain-points. Through interviews, site visits, and co-designing sessions, we found that the most important thing to the farmers was advancing the local agriculture movement. Using what we learned, we designed two components of a campaign to promote local agriculture.
Our two ideas, "Pointy Signs" and "Veggie Bombing", work to expose residents to local agriculture, and strengthen the bond between the farmers and their community.
Our "Veggie Bombing" prototype.
Our "Pointy Signs" prototype.
light, cardboard boxes, paper
'Consumption' centers around the relationship between our consumerist society, and the consequences that follow it. Like the cardboard has the unexpected shadow of a person, using resources like they are unlimited has hidden (but very dangerous) effects on the next generation.
light, origami paper, thread
light, camera film, wire
light, plant pots
Selected to be part of the 2014-15 AP Studio Art Exhibit.
light, post-its, wire, artists' tape
light, birthday candles
light, coax cable, velum
The ACRONYM is a pop-up coffee and tea shop that I help run at Olin College. The idea came out of a need for a space on campus for faculty, students, and staff to all interact in a casual setting. Two of my peers, Gaby Clarke, and Mikhaela Ditch, and I started the ACRONYM during the spring semester of our first year in March 2015, transforming a previously-unused space into a vibrant coffee and tea shop. Each week when we are open, we continue to foster community and conversation over pour-over coffee and loose-leaf tea, and we quickly have become a go-to spot on campus for all.
Since we are a pop-up shop, we store all of our equipment in a rolling cabinet. At the end of the opening, we pack up everything and leave the space as we found it.
Kinnect is a kinetic sculpture composed of two weights hanging from cables, with a system of gears and pulleys to move them up and down based on the number of 'carpe' and 'helpme' (on-campus mailing lists) emails sent in real-time. It communicates campus data in a visually exciting and pleasing way to bring awareness to campus dynamic. We hope that Kinnect will serve as a versatile tool for everyone on campus to promote campus awareness on various issues and events. As a part of the team, I helped design and assemble the sculpture, as well as helping to integrate the software and electrical components. Please take a look at our process and learn more on our website.
ATHack is an assistive tech hackathon run by the MIT Assistive Technology Club. My team of five from Olin College won 3rd place for our design. Our task for the hackathon was to design for Megan, a 26-year-old woman with daily refractory epilepsy. She reacts strongly to music, and always carries a specific spoon with her. Since she has no verbal communication, we designed a game where she can stand on a platform and interact with another person by sharing her spoon to make that platform vibrate to music. Megan also loves picture books so we made a picture book about her, as she herself cannot share her story with others.
Above, a copy of the picture book about Megan. Below, a picture of the platform that vibrates to music when Megan shares her spoon with you.
Winner of "Exellence in Sculpture" award in the 2013 Endicott College High School Art Competition.
Miners’ Landscape, is a commentary on the devastation that occurs everyday to the earth when we dig for fossil fuels and minerals. The piece is made up of books full of pictures of nature from four different ecosystems. By tearing up the pages, I hope to show the destruction that continues to happen as a product of our obsession with tearing up the land.
Selected to be part of the ArtRage Gallery "GLOBALissues. CLIMATEmatters. socialCHANGE." exhibition.
Winner of "Exellence in Book Arts" award in the 2014 Endicott College High School Art Competition.
toothpicks, hot glue
wire, electrical tape
During my first year of college, I helped to create a balancing board made only out of cardboard and duct tape. The board was inspired by the playful balancing that baby goats (kids) do to have fun. We came up with a design that was collaborative, innately fun, and inviting to play on. On the final day, fourth graders came in and actually played on our toy (and they loved it!). We had a couple suggested games, or they could make up their own.
For my Design Nature class, we had to create a hopping toy using only a limited number of given materials. Naturally, I made a hopping banana! A latex tube makes the peels want to come together, but in order to delay the launch, there is a trigger mechanism below the stem that lets the banana hop a couple seconds after it is set.
NativeInk is a machine learning-powered personalized learning tool that improves your written English. It was developed as part of a business pitch competition for the Grand Global Challenges Summit in Beijing, China. Our team from Olin College (one of 6 teams from the US) focused on providing a writing aid tool for ELL (English language learners) students. I, along with the team, identified the need for NativeInk and then worked to develop a robust business plan through customer interviews, co-designing, and prototyping.
Please take a look at our pitch here.
The deliver me project is a network of drop points that lets you send and deliver messages in a different and exciting way. The project was created by Olin College of Engineering students Gaby Clarke, Marie-Caroline Finke, myself, Caz Nichols, and Cesar Santana in Spring 2015. The idea was inspired by a combination of Post Office Bay, a community mailbox that I saw during my travels in the Galápagos Islands, and SOMEBODY, a messaging app that Gaby discovered at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
taken in Ein Gedi, Israel
taken in Masada, Israel
taken in Machu Picchu, Peru
taken in Cusco, Peru
taken in Santorini, Greece
taken in Budapest, Hungary
taken in Copenhagen, Denmark
taken in Yosemite, CA
taken in Lake Manyara, Tanzania
taken in Boston, MA
taken in Acapulco, Mexico
taken in Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica
taken in Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica
taken in Buena Vista, Costa Rica
taken in Buena Vista, Costa Rica
taken in Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica
taken in Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica
taken in Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica
taken in Beijing, China
taken in Gloucester, MA
taken on the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France
taken on Long Beach Island, NJ
taken in Paris, France
taken on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
taken in Paris, France
taken in Venice, Italy
taken from the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy
taken in the San Juan National Forest, CO
taken in New Orleans, LA
taken from a plane above NYC, NY
taken from a plane above NYC, NY
Geofilters are location-specific graphic overlays that can be put over Snapchat photos. Users can submit geofilter designs which, upon activation by Snapchat, any user can place over their photo while in the specified location.
These three geofilters that I have designed are for, from left to right, Magnolia (my hometown), Twende (a social innovation center in Arusha, Tanzania that I interned at), and Olin College (my school).
This graphic is a representation of where and how I traveled while studying in Copenhagen in the Spring of 2017. The design is inspired by the Feltron 2009 Annual Report.
This piece, inspired by "The Great Bear" by Simon Patterson, takes the design language from the MBTA (Boston) subway map. But, the lines now form the shape of a face and the stations are named after things, people, and places that are important to me.