Mar 30 · 6 min read

🕵️‍♂️ About

A unique opportunity to bring design + architecture together to rethink and deliver an exceptional “affordable housing” to the community of Pittsburgh.

Duration: 12 weeks

Tool used:

Contributors:
Design: Aisha Dev, Anna Gusman, Lexi, Marisa Lu
Architecture[UDBS]: Cassidy, Jake, Jay, Yoonho


Little Background

Pittsburgh is a school town; however, in the recent past, a bunch of tech companies has moved their research cell to the city. First was Uber to test its self-driving cars, then came Google, shortly followed by Facebook. This tech influx in Pittsburgh has led to consistent gentrification, especially in neighborhoods East Liberty and Highland Park. CMU has witnessed this gradual change and continues to partner with communities to find the most viable alternatives. This project was initiated by CMU, School of Architecture as a partnership with East Liberty Development Inc (ELDI) to conceptualize and develop affordable housing.


🥅 Goals

As exciting as the collaboration was, we had to define the scope of each group clearly. The architecture group was given the responsibility to design units of affordable housing. The design group was assigned the responsibility to envision the experience and present the affordable housing units developed by the Architecture group in the most appropriate way. Our main goals were:

1. Simplify the process of owning a house

2. Empower people to make planned ownership decisions

3. Help construct an understanding of a valuable neighborhood


Recon as a “Service”

Recon is a 6 step service designed to educate communities on Pittsburgh neighborhoods with affordable housing

It’s a wicked problem when articulated as “engage the community in the neighborhood and present plans for affordable housing.” Why would anyone care? Who are we to recommend something to a populace being gentrified? Why would people want to invest in housing when they are being evicted from their neighborhood?

These are all hard questions that probe at issues insecurity, disappointment, anger, and distrust. We had to gain the confidence in the community that we cared.

“How do you we convey care?”

It can’t be layout plans of housing units with a fancy brochure outlining price and loan details. More work had to be done to understand what this community wanted, and much more work had to be done to give them what they needed. We designed Recon as a 6-step service:

User onboarding

We designed a conversational experience as a means to reach a wide audience. TY is a chatbot on Facebook messenger platform. Designed as the main conductor of Recon, TY is a one-stop-shop for assistance, questions, help and round the clock support. In the onboarding stage, TY establishes Outreach, Collects discretionary data on the customer, and sets up appointments for incubator visits.

On-boarding
Data Collection (discretionary and relevant)
Setting up the visit to Incubator

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TY working on establishing the initial connection, informing customers on what the initiative is about.

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TY subsequently asks for some relevant data from the customer. This data is around customer age, income, family size and investment capability. This data helps TY to personalize the chat experience and later visit to the incubator

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After instilling excitement in the customer, TY also facilitates incubator visit where customers get a deep dive in the neighborhood, housing concepts and much more.

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Primer on the neighborhood

Stages 2–5 conduct over at the incubator. The incubator is a curated experience where we invite customers for an immersive, more informative experience. For the first zone at incubator, we figured we needed a narrative around what makes a neighborhood special. Marisa Lu put together this awesome deck using Esri’s story map tool, communicating intangible qualities through easily digestible maps.


Showcasing a unique neighborhood

For Zone 2 of the incubator, we designed a VR environment simulating the entire neighborhood of Larimer, the neighborhood in which we were proposing affordable housing. The goal was to showcase main qualities like access to transportation, amenities, urban landscape, and street development through a Virtual walkthrough. Constructing the VR experience was a challenging one.

(L) Topography extracted from Google Earth Pro (R) Finished neighborhood model on Trimble Sketchup (a week in the making)

After constructing an optimized environment importable in Unity for further development, we worked on interaction design for the Virtual Experience.

“Teleportation” interaction allows a user to quickly navigate through the large neighborhood
At any point; the experience can be Reset
Ray-casting through the hand controller pops up interactive UI with details about neighborhood elements
Further interaction with controllers allows a user to explore various neighborhood features like transportation, amenities, urban and street furniture

Augmented walkthrough of the housing unit

After the VR station, we bring them into Zone 3 aka Augmented Reality zone. Here we demo life scale housing concepts through portable mobile devices. For this step, we prototyped with ARKit to have a compact app experience that can be hosted on a website and can be fired from within TY(the chatbot) on the facebook messenger app.

For the main app interface, we focused on UI elements to provide consistent orientation and interactive capabilities with as much detail about the fixtures and finishes

Tangible Takeaway

AR Zone is the last showcase of the incubator experience. Beyond this point, we offer refreshments and souvenirs like small card brochures, which are also scanning tags for a portable AR app experience. Basically a lighter form of the AR Zone experience. We think such is crucial if they want to study the design at their heart’s content and clarify any doubts that might arise.

Tangible cards design by Marisa Lu
Yup, Marisa thinks it’s cool 🙌😹

Follow Up

Last but not least, TY serves as a constant facilitator and touchpoint between users and us. At any point, they can reach out to us through TY or just ask TY for help. TY got a few tricks up its sleeve too.

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We built the capability of scanning tangible card in TY itself, so that users don’t have to download a separate app but can continue from within messenger app

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TY can also act as a financial consult, advising on techniques to better afford the houses. Such can be a great resource to establish a long term strategy and we believe TY can be a trustworthy partner.

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Recon is special in my opinion because of the socially sensitive topic its trying to address and a special collaboration between Architecture and Design. Shout-out to:

Anna Gusman for awesome branding

Aisha Dev, Marisa Lu, Lexi Yan for the comprehensive tech analysis of mobile AR platforms in the market currently

Soonho Kwon for beautiful environment design and development of the site on Unity

and to Cassidy, Jake, Jay and Yoonho for their contributions with architectural concepts.

Vikas Yadav

Exploring delight in essentials

Vikas Yadav

Written by

Product Designer @Microsoft

Vikas Yadav

Exploring delight in essentials

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