An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Through their Houston-based urban design and architecture firm, UltraBarrio, Amna Ansari SM ’12 and Marcus Martinez SM ’12 are exploring the future of transit and how it could contribute to better future cities. The alums, who are married, met as undergraduates at the University of Houston (where both are now lecturers), and came to MIT together for graduate studies in the Department of Architecture. As partners at UltraBarrio, they have worked with such clients as the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation and on projects that have ranged from converting rooftops to public spaces to exploring Houston’s potential for hosting a hub for commercial spaceflight.

Their firm takes an inventive approach, they say. Rather than planning new buildings from scratch, they look for ways to adapt a city’s current landscape to its inhabitants’ changing behaviors and habits. “Were looking at how certain existing infrastructure can be multipurpose, how they can absorb new differences,” says Ansari.

Martinez says his desire to drive better behaviors through design was inspired by his collaboration with the Media Lab’s Changing Places (now City Science) group, doing interdisciplinary work on projects like a Persuasive Electric Vehicle and other futuristic transit projects.

“The time at MIT really helped us to see how cities evolve economically, politically, culturally,” says Ansari. “This different set of lenses helped us to really dig deep into the issues in the areas that were working within, and it continues to take us into unexpected places.”

Learn more about their work in the video above.