Sunblock Project
Reducing urban heat islands
Illustration of sun over a tree
The SunBlock Project was a designed transition aimed at reducing heat islands in urban neighborhoods. In a workshop design challenge, we worked to design a presentation on what a solution that spanned the course of decades would look like.
3 days
May 2023
Transition Design
Rebecca C
Liam S
Wynne T
Large cities often face issues of “heat islands,” which are urban areas with significantly higher air temperatures than the surrounding neighborhoods. This is often due to the lack of greenery, leading to less shade and air cooling. These heat islands have often been the result of epistemic injustice and redlining, which lowers the amount of funding and maintenance.
"How can we foster greener neighborhoods by empowering local communities to make an impact?"
Our goal was to work with neighborhoods to build a community around greener practices and establish traditions that would be continued across generations.

For our final deliverable, we aimed to create a presentation that would highlight these ideas.
We began by speaking with a specialist, Dr. Joey Hulbert, to learn more about the issue of heat islands. This allowed us to better understand the problem. The solution was fairly simple - plant more greenery throughout the neighborhood - but it was easier said than done. How could we design this in a way to gain community support while spanning this across decades? What does that solution look like?
Our team meeting with Dr. Joey Hulbert
We initiated the design process by building multiple timelines. We created 100, 30, and 5-year timelines to define our overall and specific goals and methods. We looked at all the stakeholders involved in such a practice, and how they fit into the larger community dynamic.

In the diagram below, we highlight the primary (innermost), secondary (middle), and tertiary (outermost) stakeholders:
Primary, secondary, and tertiary stakeholder diagram.
Through this, we were able to break our transition design into the following phases:
Education and awareness
We began our solution with a campaign to spread information about our goals. These included information sessions, workshops, and community events.
Planning and recruiting
The second phase included working with the community to learn and fit their needs. This included designating planting areas, working with landowners, and establishing policy with local politicians.
The planting of community trees and greenery began here. Both small and large projects would take place, spanning several years.
establishment of tradition
After the initial planting of greenery, neighborhood traditions would be established to keep maintenance and public awareness over time. One example we proposed was a yearly festival in which a community tree's shadows was painted to track growth.
We then created diegetic prototypes to display how our designed artifacts would fit into our proposed world. This included example information pamphlets and a public sign to track progress.
Prototype of sunblock promotional flyers
Prototype of Sunblock Project tree sign
We created a presentation that showcased our design problem and solution. In addition to our diegetic prototypes, we also created interactive prototypes that helped demonstrate our design to viewers.
Sunblock presentation to industry experts
With the limited resources and timescale, we used nearby objects to demonstrate our project and design. Our first prototype helped demonstrate the concept of heat islands. We used this to set up the premise of our problem, serving as an introduction our presentation.

Our second prototype was used to illustrate one of our solutions, which was holding a community event to trace a tree's shadow and track its growth. While we only had access to a small plant, the physical action of tracing and coloring in its shadow helped convey our ideas.
Interactive prototype on heat islands
Interactive prototype of drawing a plant's shadow
Overall, I found the SunBlock project to be an insightful learning experience. While the idea of completing such a project in three days was daunting, I ended up having a lot of fun working with my team on a topic that I was fairly unfamiliar with. The following were the major takeaways that I had from the experience:
Focus on the bigger picture first.
Given the short time frame, we were given a very limited time frame to complete our project. Initially, we found ourselves overwhelmed by the scope of such a massive idea. Trying to design short-term schedules while also looking at the larger picture was too much to handle. However, once we focused on the larger picture and defined our 100-year timeline, we were able to better design our short-term schedules.
Show, not tell.
Perhaps the largest lesson from our design workshop was the idea of showing and not telling. We found that our original presentation, which mainly featured an information poster, was difficult to follow. Thus, we implemented interactive prototypes that showed and demonstrated our problem and solution.
Prototypes bring ideas to life.
This project allowed us to truly see the importance of prototyping. Creating a pamphlet for our project was a small part of our overall design solution, however, it helped build out and bring our idea to life. It allowed us to better demonstrate our initial phase and forced us to think about our specific goals and plans.
Sunblock Project team: Huy, Rebecca, Wynne, and Liam