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Assessing the City Lecture ONLINE!

We hosted Anthony Vanky of MIT’s Senseable City Lab last Thursday (9/3/14) to talk about some of his current projects and how data can be creatively used to benefit the built environment around us. Check out the lecture (in full) above!

Back to School: Town School for Boys New Building Opens for 2014–2015 Academic Year!

Streamlined and Improved Building Enhances Student Learning

Official Press Release

Headmaster Brewster Ely cuts the ribbon in front of Town School's new building, September 4, 2014.

Headmaster Brewster Ely cuts the ribbon in front of Town School’s new building, September 4, 2014.

San Francisco, California. September 4, 2014—
The Town School for Boys opened for school today in its new and expanded Jackson Street campus. The fast-tracked 15-month project, which was completed over two summers and one academic school year, is the latest and largest portion of a multi-year modernization of the school’s facilities to support 21st century education goals. The result is a campus that is 85% new or renovated, and is itself a teaching tool. The building combines space for collaborative, creative endeavors as well as traditional learning methods. Highlights include a 21,000 square foot STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Center featuring two large science labs, media lab, flex lab and a math center. Other highlights include a new Fine Arts studio, a Literary Arts Center, including a library at the core of the building, and resized and reconfigured classrooms throughout. The construction also created a below-grade 9,000 square foot space for a Performing Arts Center and multipurpose room to be completed at a future date.

“At the intersection of imagination and education, MKThink has created a stunning learning center. From the soaring, open atrium bringing sunlight into glass-faced classrooms and the school’s welcoming front entry to the ‘cloud-ceiling’ hallways leading to contemporary classrooms, the school was transformed a century in a year,” said Brewster Ely, Headmaster since 1989, Town School for Boys.

(L ro R) Headmaster Ely greets a student on his first day; the new staircase encourages interaction and is a central feature of the new atrium; excited students look on as the day begins.

(L ro R) Headmaster Ely greets a student on his first day; the new staircase encourages interaction and is a central feature of the new atrium; excited students look on as the day begins.

The school retained San Francisco’s award-winning, innovative ideas company MKThink to strategize, execute and build the project. The project addressed a history of local modifications and additions that constricted the school’s overall mission of educating boys for the 21st century. MKThink is known for its dynamic educational practice, including design of the highly touted Stanford; as well as for their eco-systems approach, which carefully considers how culture, environment, and architecture influence utility. MKThink’s extensive engagement with the Town School faculty and administrators during the planning process created a dynamic interplay of form and function.

“The guiding principle for the design was to create a building that is a teaching tool for these excellent teachers and provide an inspirational and supportive educational place for the students,” said Mark Miller, CEO of MKThink. “We were blessed to work with stellar school leadership and teachers so our design job was easy. We endeavored to create flow and functionality so the school environment could become an integrated whole. Our job was to be able to celebrate learning through the design of the new classrooms, library, labs and collaboration spaces in a clean, clear manner for the school’s student, parent and educator community. Fortunately we also had an exceptional builder in Herrero Builders, Inc., who rose to the challenge. ”

Faced with challenges including efforts to minimize disruption to students, MKThink worked with Herrero Builders to complete this projected 18 month phase within a 15 month framework in order to realize the school’s transformative vision in time for the opening of school.

Students and parents made their way through the atrium to their classrooms. The atrium is notable because it links two formerly disconnected buildings into one cohesive whole.

Students and parents made their way through the atrium to their classrooms. The atrium is notable because it links two formerly disconnected buildings into one cohesive whole.

Added Miller, “The Town School project has had one of the most aggressive schedules we have ever taken on. We needed to condense an 18 to 24 month project into 15 months with a portion of the school occupied during 9 of those months. In addition, it has been one of the most structurally challenging projects we have ever completed. It required us to keep our eye on the completion date every day to be able to open the school on time.”

In addition, digging a 290,000 cubic foot hole for the new underground Performing Arts Center and multipurpose space in the middle of a dense, and expensive, urban environment is a remarkable achievement.

“MKThink took the time to understand and analyze our current situation, listening carefully to our goals and requirements for the project,” said Chair of the Town School Board of Trustees, David Shimmon. “Architect and CEO of MKThink, Mark Miller, proposed creative solutions and turned those concepts into a building that meets our objectives of educating boys in the 21st century. The creative genius of MK Think is easily identified when you walk through the front door.”

Read more about the project here, or watch a short documentary on the process on our homepage, here.

Members of the MKThink project team stand in front of the newly opened building.

Members of the MKThink project team stand in front of the newly opened building.

About Town School:
Founded in 1939, Town School for Boys is an independent, all-boys’ K-8 school. Town School strives to foster in students a love of learning which will serve them throughout their lives. The school is known for academic excellence as well as for a commitment to training teachers in Town’s New Teacher Institute. Teaching methods balance the traditional with student-centered and collaborative approaches utilizing inquiry, project-based learning and teaching for understanding.

About MKThink:
MKThink is the ideas company for the built environment. Operating at the intersection of architecture, culture, and environment, the design firm has worked extensively with the Oakland Unified School District, Stanford University, the State of Hawaii Department of Education, and other leading practitioners of education around the Bay Area and across the country.

MKThink Featured on Re/code

Allan DonnellyWilly Mann









MKThink Senior Strategist Allan Donnelly (L) and Strategist Willy Mann (R) were featured in a Re/code article describing the Market Street Prototyping Festival charrette that took place at Autodesk last week. Re/code is the brainchild of Kara Swisher, tech columnist at the Wall Street Journal.

Asked about the role sensors play in ascertaining the success of an urban space, Donnelly was quoted, “here, sensors are part of a larger purpose to understand how successful our public spaces are.” Read the full article here:

Mozilla Corporation Headquarters

Mountain View, CA 2013 – 2014

Project Scope

MKThink has designed a 54,000 square foot office that serves as Mozilla’s new headquarters in Mountain View, California.

“Coded” with the same passion, open-source, and collaboration methodologies that Mozilla uses to create its software products, the new space embodies the company’s culture of openness and transparency. Recognizing the important contributions of Mozilla’s extensive volunteer community while simultaneously enhancing the capabilities of full-time staff to collaborate effectively became the driving force in planning the new space.

Reworking an existing concrete shell originally built in 1982, the MKThink team engaged more than 200 Mozillians before beginning the design process t decide how to best create a space that everyone would be excited about and could work efficiently within. Online surveys, group and individual interviews conducted in person, all hands presentations to the entire staff, and follow-up email exchanges yielded useful insight that was woven directly into the design.

The two story glass wall at the entrance reflects Mozilla’s cultural philosophy of openness and transparency. The common space is central to the Mozilla community- it provides a space for all-hands meetings, for volunteer engineers to work and interact with full-time Mozillians, and the video wall at left allows offices from around the globe (including Vancouver and London) to log in and connect with the Mozilla HQ. The open stair links the two floor plates for increased face-to-face interaction. The entry space offers a glimpse into the office beyond, with easy access to bike storage and different levels of security access for employees and volunteers.


Watch this video for a more in-depth analysis of the space, where MKThink Principal Steve Kelley talks about our user engagement and design processes.

Every Corner, Every City

Crowdsourced air quality sensors provide opportunity to fill gaps left by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in data resolution and availability
by Sean Dasey


Fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA.

Fire and smoke erupted from an accident at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA, in August 2012.

In 2014, the American Lung Association ranked Fresno, CA as the most polluted of 277 metropolitan areas in America for 24-hour particle pollution. [1] Salinas, CA was ranked the cleanest. Fresno and Salinas are only separated by 100 miles. This underscores the fact that air quality can vary greatly across nearby regions.

Although the current EPA air quality monitoring network captures differences across regions, it is not equipped to capture differences across localities and neighborhoods. For example, the 9-county San Francisco Bay Area, home to 7.5 million residents, has only 39 stations. In fact, this network failed to provide sufficiently detailed neighborhood scale air quality data during the August 6, 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, CA (pictured above), after which 11,000 nearby residents made emergency room visits for respiratory issues. [2] The closest EPA particulates monitor was located 2 miles away from the refinery, and the results took two weeks to analyze.

Historically, the EPA has focused on capturing air quality data on a regional scale by placing several monitoring stations per county, away from major roads or industrial emission sources in order to measure region-wide averages. The current EPA network of stations, however, is not designed to reveal how pollution sources affect the air quality of nearby neighborhoods with any real specificity.

Regional Weather Stations

Map of Bay Area District Air Monitor Sites; the dots on the map indicate where at least one full year of high quality wind speed, wind direction, and temperature data are archived that are suitable for modeling purposes. Source:

One possible solution to this problem would be to crowdsource cheaper sensors to fill in the gaps between sporadically placed EPA stations.

In 2012, an open-source carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide sensor called the Air Quality Egg was successfully crowd funded on Kickstarter, and was named “Best of Kickstarter: 2012”. Although the Egg is not calibrated and therefore doesn’t give accurate readings on an individual basis the way EPA sensors do, it is several orders of magnitude cheaper than a calibrated sensor. This gives citizen scientists the opportunity to deploy them at a much larger scale than the existing EPA station network.

Egg Systems Diagram

The Air Quality Egg began as a Kickstarter-funded sensor that is far less expensive and easier to use than traditional air quality monitors.

Louisville, KY, a historically industrial city that was once described as “smoky and blackened” by a visiting Charles Dickens, is emerging today as a leader in utilizing Eggs to monitor air quality on a neighborhood scale. On April 24, 2014, the nonprofit Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil, led by philanthropist Christy Brown and endorsed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, announced the deployment of 100 Eggs around Louisville. [3] They will be deployed strategically, in neighborhoods downwind of heavily industrial zones.

The Egg is one example of a crowdsourced sensor contributing to an emerging network of sensors providing environmental and health data at the neighborhood scale. In Louisville, the Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil has partnered with the Louisville Asthma Data Innovation Project to correlate Egg data with time and location data from Bluetooth enabled asthma inhalers. As opposed to the traditional method of accumulating respiratory health data from county hospitals to get regional-scale statistics, this new method will lead to more precise location based data to pinpoint specific neighborhoods where air quality and respiratory health are concerns.

Athsma Incidence in Louisville, KY

Hotspots of Athsma incidence in Louisville, KY.

Using RoundhouseOne’s proprietary data management system, 4Daptive, we can analyze correlations between data from the Egg we’ve deployed in Louisville and our larger sensor network, measuring thermal comfort, foot traffic, and outdoor weather conditions. 4Daptive provides the ability to manage data through an organized database, analyze correlations between multiple data sources, and produce user-created charts accompanied by customizable statistical outputs.

Limitations of available data have traditionally forced air quality analyses to be done on a regional scale. The emergence of localized, neighborhood-scale data will provide opportunities for new insight on how air quality affects our daily lives.

Sean Dasey is a Data Analyst at RoundhouseOne, MKThink’s in-house data analytics team. His work focuses on studying the effect of building design on thermal comfort, indoor air quality, and energy use.


[1] American Lung Association. “State of the Air 2014.” April 30, 2014.
[2] Bruggers, James. “Looking for Air Pollution Hot Spots with Micro-Monitors.” The Courier-Journal dopen-source April 27, 2014.
[3] Bulwa, Demian & Kane, Will. “Refinery Smoke Blew Past Air Monitors.” San Francisco Chronicle August 29, 2012.


Air Quality Egg location visualization and information:
Institute for Healthy Air, Water, and Soil, with interesting data on air quality in Kentucky:
State of the Air, by the American Lung Association: