Boston LightWells: Crowdsourcing Groundwater Levels

Michelle Laboy

Northeastern University

Assistant Professor
NU Seal

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

at 5:00 pm

142 ISEC

With a large portion of Boston being built on filled land, a majority of the iconic and historic buildings in the city are supported by structural wood pilings. These piles could last for centuries if they remain completely submerged in groundwater. When groundwater levels decrease and fluctuate, the pilings rot, which make the foundation severely vulnerable and dangerous. Monitoring groundwater levels is challenging and is typically a long manual process… until now… new bluetooth-enabled groundwater well caps use LED lights, a microcontroller and a pressure sensor to read the groundwater levels. Using the free mobile app, the public can crowdsource the data and push it to the cloud database for storage. Collecting the real-time data provides information that could indicate a problem in groundwater levels, which would normally go unnoticed, allowing intervention to prevent potential damage.


Michelle Laboy is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Northeastern University, with an affiliate appointment with the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. As a designer with degrees in architecture, engineering and urban planning, she is interested in interdisciplinary design approaches that create productive connections between architecture and the urban landscape. Her research and teaching examines how ecological thinking influences architectural theory and practice to drive its aesthetic and performance agendas; and how the grounding of buildings on sites enables adaptation to changing environments.
She has Master degrees in Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Michigan and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico. Previously, Michelle worked as a licensed engineer and architectural designer in San Juan, Detroit, Chicago, and Barcelona. Her wide range of professional experience includes transportation, urban design, high-rise envelopes, and building design where over the years she has worked on many award-winning projects in the Northeast and West coasts.
Michelle co-founded FieLDworkshop, a research-based design practice in Boston, to explore how smaller scale design contributes to conditions of urban resilience and sustainability at larger scales. Her primary focus is the design of spaces that engage us with the natural environment, through public installations and building systems that improve, actively engage and heighten our experience of sustainable urban ecosystems. Additionally, her current work, titled Future-Use Architecture: Design for Persistent Change, received the 2017 Latrobe Prize of the AIA College of Fellows and her Project LightWell was recently featured in News@Northeastern.