News And Events

RISD-Hyundai Partnership Explores Adaptive Ecologies

RISD-Hyundai Partnership Explores Adaptive Ecologies

A multidisciplinary team builds on research conducted in the spring linking advanced technologies, public environments and personal experience.

checkerboard collage showing multiple people and projects in process

As the summer heats up in Providence, RISD’s ongoing research partnership with Korean industry giant Hyundai Motor Group moves into an intensive new phase. A multidisciplinary team is building on research conducted in four concurrent Adaptive Ecologies studios completed this spring. Headed up by faculty members from RISD’s Architecture, Digital + Media, Illustration, Industrial Design and Textiles departments, the studios explored new relationships between advanced technologies, public environments and personal experience. They also leveraged unique RISD resources, including the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab and Co-Works interdisciplinary research lab.

“We are grateful for Hyundai’s continued commitment to embracing the role of artists and designers in using technology to build connections and shared experiences.”

Interim RISD President Dave Proulx

“We are grateful for Hyundai’s continued commitment to embracing the role of artists and designers in using technology to build connections and shared experiences,” says Interim RISD President Dave Proulx. And Provost Kent Kleinman extols the partnership for allowing current students—both grad and undergrad—to “respond iteratively to urgent, near-future challenges.”


“This collaboration aligns with Hyundai Motor Group’s vision of becoming a future-shaping innovator via open innovation,” adds Youngcho Chi, Hyundai’s president and chief innovation officer. 

Students in the spring studios presented their final projects virtually to a team of Hyundai’s creative leaders in early June. As VP of Open Innovation Technology & Business Teams Minsung Kim noted at the international meeting, “Last year we launched the Future of Mobility pilot program, which introduced concepts of biomimicry, so it is wonderful to build on that success and expand our collaboration under the wider theme of Future City.”

“We researched natural energy systems that are decentralized, adaptive and self-organized.”

Faculty lead Ryan McCaffrey BArch 13

Architecture faculty member Ryan McCaffrey BArch 13 went on to discuss the concepts students grappled with in Technologies, Natures, Societies, the section exploring infrastructures of the built environment he co-led with Industrial Design Professor Soojung Ham 92 ID. “We researched natural energy systems that are decentralized, adaptive and self-organized,” he explains, “and then correlated that research with larger, urban systems.”

circles of light show heat and air movement
Rafael Attias uses Schlieren optics to visualize the invisible, exploring breath, compressed air, steam and heat sources.


Industrial Design majors Avantika Velho 22 ID and Varun Mehta 21 ID, for example, imagined how altruistic alarm calls developed among different animal species might be relevant in combating threats to the human world. And rising seniors Bowen Zhou 22 ID and Danning Liang 22 ID envisioned a decentralized future city based on bacterial microcolonies they studied in the Nature Lab. 

Students in the Envisioning Futures section led by Illustration faculty member Rafael Attias 91 GD used interactive media, sound, animation and spatial concepts to visualize complex information and explore new modes of narrative. Their wildly creative projects ranged from audio explorations relating to human mobility and emotion created (respectively) by Nigeria-based grad student Sabo Kpade MA 21 GAC and Interior Architecture student Jonggun Lee MDes 22 to plans for enhancing agriculture by Kaitlin Juarez 22 IL and a project by Illustration major Hannah Kim 21 IL focused on making electric vehicles generate noise so they’re safer for pedestrians.

tiny particles create patterns on a flat device
Students test their own Schlieren optics device in an attempt to visualize heat sources.


Textiles faculty member Joy Ko shared work by students in her Fabric Connections section inspired by the symbiotic relationships of the natural world. “Cross-species collaborations—like the pollination that monarch butterflies offer milkweed in exchange for protection—are essential to survival,” she says. She showed smart textiles developed by grad students Mooa Seongah Kang MA 22, Miguel Lastra MFA 22 CR and Yuta Yang MFA 22 JM, among others, that were inspired by an array of natural forms.

faculty member and students work together with 3D printer
Manini Banerjee 23 ID, Ollie Rosario MFA 21 DM and Assistant Professor Katia Zolotovsky test an experimental 3D printing setup for extruding biomaterials and gels. Photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH


Students in the Bio-Interactive Surfaces section taught by Assistant Professor Katia Zolotovsky worked on integrating biological sensing capabilities into designed materials and structures. “The class was really about building healthy relationships with our environment and envisioning future materials that can help sustain us,” says Zolotovsky. “Student projects dealt with everything from clean air, clean energy and healthy soil to healthy minds and solar energy.” 

“The class was really about building healthy relationships with our environment and envisioning future materials that can help sustain us.”

Assistant Professor Katia Zolotovsky

Senior Shuyuan Zheng 21 ID prototyped a handheld device that would help the user interpret their own mood. Skylar Perez MArch 23 played off the properties of fungi to generate healthy soil, while Kate Ross MDes 22 took inspiration from the ability of sunflowers to track the sun’s movement. 

The work continues this summer as researchers who have previously participated in the collaboration find inspiration in the Nature Lab and forge new conceptual connections. And as the partnership moves into its third year, leaders at RISD and across the globe at Hyundai are enthusiastic about the ideas generated thus far. “It is exciting to see the results of this innovative curriculum and to build on our partnership with Hyundai supporting interdisciplinary inquiry and exchange,” says Proulx.

Simone Solondz

Related stories

Designing for the Future of Mobility

Students and faculty partner with Hyundai Motor Group to improve the way people move through—and live in—the world.

New Funding for 3D Visualization

A grant from RI’s Science and Technology Advisory Council helps researchers in RISD’s Nature Lab develop a much-needed tool.

Nature Lab Wins NSF Support

Funding from a $280,000 EAGER grant will enable RISD to develop a maker space and K–12 curriculum focused on bio-design and its relationship to real-world problems.