MIT Media Lab Dubai: Redefining cities

In order to rebuild ancient cities and accommodate rapid population growth, we need to develop truly innovative approaches to urban planning, design, architecture, mobility, farming, and so much more: approaches that will last into the future.

MIT Media Lab      


Joi Ito

Director - MIT Media Lab

Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab. He is chairman of the board of PureTech Health and a board member of Sony Corp., the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The New York Times Co. He is the co-founder and a board member of Digital Garage, an Internet company in Japan. He has created numerous Internet companies, including PSINet Japan, Digital Garage and Infoseek Japan.

He was an early-stage investor in Formlabs, Flickr, Kickstarter, littleBits, Path, Twitter, Wikia and other companies. In 2008, Ito was named by Businessweek as one of the 25 Most Influential People on the Web. In 2011 Foreign Policy Magazine named him one of the 'Top 100 Global Thinkers. Also in 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oxford Internet Institute in recognition of his role as one of the world's leading advocates of Internet freedom. 

In 2011 and 2012, Nikkei Business selected him as one of the 100 most influential people for the future of Japan. In 2013, Ito was awarded a Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, from The New School. In 2014, he was inducted into the SXSW Interactive Festival Hall of Fame and was awarded the Golden Plate Award by the Academy of Achievement. In 2015, Ito was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Tufts University. On June 2, 2016, Ito was appointed as a Professor of the Practice of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT effective July 1, 2016.


Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi

Director’s Fellow - MIT Media Lab

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a United Arab Emirates-based columnist whose articles have appeared in The Financial Times, The Independent, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The New York Times Room for Debate, Foreign Policy, Open Democracy, and The Globe and Mail, as well as other notable publications. Sultan is also a prominent commentator on Arab affairs on Twitter. 

Rising in prominence during the Arab Spring, his tweets became a major news source, rivaling major news networks at the time, until TIME magazine listed him in the 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011. Sultan is an MIT Media Labs Director’s Fellow (2014-2016) and in 2014, Arabian Business placed Sultan in its list of World’s 100 Most Powerful Arabs under the Thinkers category. He continues both to write and tweet about the Arab world both from his home in Sharjah, as well as while giving lectures internationally. 

Sultan is also the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, an independent initiative established to contribute to the intellectual development of the art scene in the Arab region by building a prominent and publicly accessible art collection in the United Arab Emirates. Barjeel Art Foundation’s currently has an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.


Track Leaders      


Noor Eddin Amer

Research Assistant - MIT Media Lab

Noor Eddin Amer is a graduate student and research assistant with the Learning Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. He has an undergraduate computer science and engineering degree with a minor in political science from MIT. 

Noor grew up in Jordan and is passionate about the development of the region. He is interested in educational technology, artificial intelligence and social activism. His current research focuses on technological solutions to the educational challenges that Syrian refugee youth face.


J. Philipp Schmidt

Director of Learning Innovation - MIT Media Lab

J. Philipp Schmidt is Director of Learning Innovation at the Media Lab, where he teaches, conducts research, and develops technologies for learning communities. He is a founder and board member of Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), a non-profit organization that provides access to online higher education through public libraries. 

Philipp served on the founding board of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, co-authored the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, and is an advisor to a number of non-profit and for-profit education projects. He has received Shuttleworth and Ashoka fellowships, and came to MIT as a Media Lab Director's fellow.


Sohan Dsouza

PhD Candidate - MIT Media Lab

Sohan Dsouza is a doctoral student and research assistant with the Scalable Cooperation group at the MIT Media Lab. His educational background consists of an undergraduate information systems degree from a prominent American tech university, followed by an IT-oriented graduate business degree from a top-tier Indian business school's twin-city program in Dubai and Singapore, capped with a graduate information science degree from a British graduate university in Dubai. 

He has prior work experience in research with a pioneering sustainability-oriented university, and previously in the industry with the world's leading multinational HR services firm and the MENA region's leading business/investment web portal. He is interested in social computation, crowdsourcing collaboration, viral behavior and social mobilization. His research work therein has appeared in major publications, including PNAS, Transport and IEEE intelligent Systems, and he has experience building online research platforms and tools that have been covered by prominent media outlets, including New Scientist and Scientific American.


Iyad Rahwan

Associate Professor - MIT Media Lab

Iyad Rahwan is the AT&T Career Development Professor and an Associate Professor of Media Arts & Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where he leads the Scalable Cooperation group. A native of Aleppo, Syria, Rahwan holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Rahwan's work lies at the intersection of the computer and social sciences, with a focus on collective intelligence, large-scale cooperation, and the social aspects of Artificial Intelligence. 

He led the winning team in the US State Department's Tag Challenge, using social media to locate individuals in remote cities within 12 hours using only their mug shots. His work appeared in major academic journals, including Science and PNAS, and was featured in major media outlets, including The Economist, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.


Yan Zhang

Research Assistant - MIT Media Lab

Yan Zhang is currently a graduate student / research assistant in the Changing Places Group at the MIT Media Lab. His current focus includes developing multi-media interactive city model and interface, which enable people understand and participate the urban design intuitively, and mobility simulation in complex urban environment. Yan has a background of architecture design with a special emphasis on computational design for more than 10 years. 

He holds a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design in Columbia University. He worked an architect for two world-leading design firms, Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) and von Gerkan, Marg und Partner (GMP). His architecture practice includes parametric form-finding and all-phase-architectural design of Shanghai Oriental Sports Center. As an architect, he developed a strong sense of design and skills of concept sketching, 3D modeling, physical model fabrication, performance simulation, construction coordination, etc. 

He also worked as a research assistant for Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) on variety of interdisciplinary projects focusing on data visualization, optimization, complex geometry, machine learning, etc.


Dawei Shen

Researcher - MIT Media Lab

Dr. Dawei Shen spent over six years at MIT Media Lab as a researcher, in the Viral Communications group, where he also received his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees. His doctoral work was on the design of virtual currency, markets, and economic policies for organizations, based on which he cofounded a company Beonten upon graduation. Beonten won the runner-up of MIT 100K business plan competition, and was a recipient of NSF I-Corps and SBIR awards. 

In addition to his academic experience, he has spent time working at Bridgewater, Facebook, IBM Research, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Institute for Infocomm Research Singapore. Dr. Shen has extensive experiences in technology innovation, product design, and big data analytics. Dr. Shen co founded a Boston/Shanghai-based company in 2014, Waylens, of which he is currently the CTO. Waylens is building an intelligent data-driven camera for cars that captures a complete driving story and makes driving more fun.



Donald Derek Haddad

Researcher - MIT Media Lab

Donald Derek Haddad is an open-source advocate, a computer scientist and occasionally a blogger. During the day he conducts his research at the Responsive Environments group at the MIT Media Lab led by Prof. Joe Paradiso. The research revolves around immersive cross reality interactions, environmental sensing, robotics and telecommunication. At night he hacks electronic musical instruments.


Poseidon Ho

Poseidon Ho

Researcher - MIT Media Lab

Poseidon Ho has become a software developer and interaction designer after 13 hackathons, and he is currently a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab, working on Mixed Reality, Tangible Interface, and Multimodal Interaction in the Civic Media Group and Changing Places Group.

His professional work experience includes being the Chief Designer of the leading Artificial Intelligence Robot company in China, Turing Robot, and the Research & Development Consultant of the largest zoological membership association in the world, San Diego Zoo Global.


Chrisoula Kaleponis

Chrisoula Kaleponis

Researcher - MIT Media Lab

Chrisoula Kapelonis is currently a first year Masters students at the MIT Media Lab. She is formally trained as an architect, obtaining her Bachelor's in Architecture from the City College of New York, and her Masters in Architecture II from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her work lies in the intersections of design, media and technology and ranges from projects in robotics, wearables, sensing space, architectural design and UX/UI. 

She has worked in past for IDEO and Harvard’s Responsive Environments and Artifacts Lab, where her work in both has dealt with human relationships to space, technology and personal data interfaces. Her research in the Media Lab is currently focusing on micro-living, kinetic spaces and sensing technologies to design personalized spatial experiences.


Genevieve Barrons

Genevieve Barrons

Executive Assistant to the Director - Open Society Foundations

Genevieve Barrons is a Program Specialist for the Higher Education Support Program at the Open Society Foundations. She oversees their work on access to higher education for Syrian refugees. She is based in London.


Gabriel Fields

Gabriel Fields

Undergrad - MIT Media Lab

Gabriel Fields is an undergraduate studying computer science and mechanical engineering at MIT. He has been engaged in research with the Media Lab on using VR for education, most recently developing an interactive electrostatics system for the HTC Vive to aid with physics learning. Gabe is originally from New York City, and is particularly interested in the connections between art and technology.




Ashley Shaffer

Ashley Shaffer

Senior Design Researcher - IDEO

Ashley Shaffer is a Senior Design Researcher, Brand Strategist, and Project Lead at IDEO. With experience across a variety of industries including food & beverage, healthcare, financial services, hospitality, and social impact, Ashley is a big fan of matchmaking brands to people by understanding their hopes, fears, motivations, and influences. She spends much of her time turning observations into insightful stories, and is excited by bringing clarity to the often convoluted design process. 

Throughout her time at IDEO, she’s helped bring a new brand and business to life for MassMutual, has rethought the future of business along with a newspaper and a public radio station, and reimagined the fan experience for the live audience of NBC Television. Prior to IDEO, she spent 5 years in advertising helping brands like New Balance, Jack Daniel’s, and the truth(R) campaign bring their messages to the forefront of culture and consumer behavior.


Nick Dupey

Nick Dupey

Design Director - IDEO

Nick DuPey is a design director at IDEO Boston where he focuses on brand design and communication design. Over his career, Nick has worked across a multitude of industries, including food and beverage, media and entertainment, pharmaceutical, consumer goods, and education. Recently Nick held a two-year engagement working with the Department of Homeland Security to innovate the United States immigration experience. 

He lead the design team in rebranding the digital immigration landscape, creating a world-class digital ecosystem for the United States Government. He is currently is the co-lead at the MIT Media Lab, IDEO & Target’s Food+Future coLAB where he is conducting work around launching new ventures that merge technology and food in effort to create transparency in our food system. Nick specializes in leading design for complex communications, organizational and branding challenges, and always takes a hands-on approach to every design project. 

At each point throughout the design process, Nick provides a perspective that seeks to pull clients out of their comfort zone and work towards a more sustainable and forward-thinking future vision. Nick has earned degrees in both Fine Arts and Graphic Design from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, before moving on to work at the sustainable design firm Tricycle, followed by his own award-winning firm, Young Monster. He has received awards from the Ten Show, Print, Type Directors Club, How, and Communication Arts.




Yazan Halwani

Yazan Halwani

Street Artist

Born in Beirut, Lebanon in the early 90s, Yazan Halwani is a street artist who is notorious for his murals. He studied Computer and Communication Engineering and graduated with a Bachelor in Engineering from the American University of Beirut in 2015. His artwork focuses on exploring cultural identity through public art projects. He is mostly known for his use of Arabic calligraphy in novel forms, such as a pixel for painting portraits of selected people from everyday life and iconic Middle Eastern celebrities such as Fairouz, Mahmoud Darwish and Sabah.

Yazan is also known for his focus on separating the meaning of an Arabic calligraphy artwork from the meaning of the text, insisting that he upholds the most important role of the calligrapher is expressing meaning in the shape of a letter and not in the meaning of the words; which is typically the role of a poet or author. Yazan’s work can be found in Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE, Tunisia, France, Singapore and Germany.

Yazan was initially motivated to paint by the destroyed street from Beirut’s Civil War that ended before his birth and the associated lack of a clear cultural identity in Lebanon and the Arab World. Accordingly, he started to paint on the walls to create a public memory for cultural elements in the midst of sectarian acculturation. He sometimes says that initially his work was a form of city diary to preserve some trace of once vivid events and people that are erased from memory as the city changes.

When challenged around the fact that his current work is far from the original function of graffiti as vandalism, Yazan remarks that his street work purposely opposes the original goal of graffiti; he considers the Civil War led by Lebanon’s current politicians as one of the biggest acts of vandalism. To oppose that, Yazan favours a more constructive approach to street art that centers around understanding the city.

The street artist’s murals are typically made of Arabic letters to form intricate, modern and stylized compositions. Such compositions can push Arabic calligraphy to become pixels for a portrait, which challenges the traditional abstraction at the core of traditional Arabic Calligraphy. Other compositions transform Arabic calligraphy into a tool for musical notation, where the letters sit on musical scores. “I choose my Arabic words based on their shape, movement or composition, not on their meaning. Original Arabic calligraphy has always focused on the meaning but I wanted to challenge the tradition and remove the meaning of the words to solely use the words as pixels of a whole portrait”


Fadi Sarieddine

Fadi Sarieddine

Designer - Fadi Sarieddine Design Studio

Fadi Sarieddine was born in Beirut in October 1971, lived through the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990; in 1990 he joined the American University of Beirut to study Architecture in a country that needed rebuilding. After graduating in 1994 he joined Pierre El Khoury & partners. During this period he also worked with architect/ artist Nadim Karam on the experimental urban project “Hilarious Beirut”.

In 1997 Fadi decided to pursue education again to do his Masters in Architecture Design at the Bartlett School with Peter Cook. In 1998 Fadi returns to Beirut, joins Bernard Khoury & Partners and together they work on the Central and Yabani restaurants. In the same period, he started his first deviation from architecture, when he generated “trafficscape_mobile gardens”, an urban installation which was exhibited in the 2003 Rotterdam Biennale.

In 2004, Fadi moves to Dubai with family to join DSA Architects with whom he designed award winning projects such Xanadu Hotel in Bodrum Turkey and Fattan Office building in Dubai Marina. He started getting active in furniture, which was then culminated by his “Dubai Syndrome” chair/commentary, winning the 2008 Traffic Design Competition, which was exhibited in Salone del Mobile in Milan in 2010, together with “Mow Chair”.


Cameron Sinclair

Cameron Sinclair

Founder - Small Works

Trained as an architect, Cameron Sinclair has worked in every major natural disaster over the two decades. From post-conflict reconstruction in Kosovo, to community-led building in Haiti, Sinclair has been developing and building shelters for communities in 49 countries and has raised over $50M for humanitarian activities. As co-founder and executive director of architecture for humanity, he built schools, health clinics, affordable housing and developed sustainable reconstruction and development projects.

He is a strong advocate of the power of design as a catalyst for social and economic change. Sinclair compiled a number of best selling books, is a visiting professor to a number of universities and holds an honorary doctorate of architecture. Sinclair was a senior fellow of the Design Futures Council, an advisor at USAid and a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. As recipient of many awards, Sinclair won the TED prize, the National Design Award and a runner-up for UK Designer of the Year.

In 2015, he designed, developed and built schools for over 1,000 syrian refugees in Jordan, through a project called Re:Build.


William Janssen

William Janssen

CEO - Desolenator

Wiliam grew up in the Netherlands and studied mechanical engineering in Delft, the Netherlands. He began working in business development and project management for large infrastructure projects in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and India. He has also worked on the Ferrari World project in Abu Dhabi, UAE and has been working full time for Desolenator since December 2014. Desolenator is a solar desalination start-up. William is based in Abu Dhabi.