Mary Polites


Education and Professional Expertise

Mary is a designer and educator who considers computational design and systemic thinking as a means for environmental innovation. Her background is in architecture with a B.Arch from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and an M.Arch in Emergent Technologies from the Architectural Association (UK). She believes that architectural design doesn’t stop at the site boundary and this credo shifted her focus towards urban and landscape design since 2012. She has worked internationally in Europe, Asia, and the USA on large master planning projects, and collaborated with Fortune 500 firms, including Hyatt Hotels, Microsoft, Alibaba, Dalian Wanda Group, and Vanke.

As a project manager, she has contributed to developing projects, many in China, where the concept of environmental design was needed to define a new identity for clients and create new engagements for the public. Such projects ranged from interior work for eco-roofs in shopping malls to extensive park renovations of industrial waterfronts, which integrated with stormwater filtration systems. She has worked with environmental researchers in developing methods that explore how biomimetics can become toolkits for designers. This research and other ways in which designers can innovate from nature were the main themes covered in her 2019 book, The Rise of Biodesign.

In addition to her professional work, she believes that having a presence in academia is necessary for designers to keep developing their skills and critical thinking and, equally important, how to pass that knowledge to the next generations efficiently and creatively. She has taught at Washington State University Pullman campus, at Tongji University at the Design and Innovation College in Shanghai China and is currently teaching at the University of Oregon. She has led international workshops for the Turenscape Academy in Huangshan and multiple workshops on digital ruralism as part of the AA Visiting School program in Shanghai, Xixinan, and Guatemala.

In addition to these roles, her interests are in working more with communities to explore human-centered design approaches. She has, in past workshops, facilitated how social impact can be powered by design thinking and is eager to see its relevance in the Northwest.


Mary’s is a US nomad, having lived for the longest period of her life to New Jersey. She enjoys surf kayaking with her family and running on the boardwalk. She has lived all over the world and loves to travel. She landed in the Northwest due to the desire to get more into nature and less on her laptop. When she is not researching the city via long walks or instructing students on digital methodologies, she can be found running in Forest Park with her husband. She is continuously looking for the hidden social and natural patterns within the city.

“On the road again

I just can’t wait to get on the road again

The life I love is makin’ music with my friends

And I can’t wait to get on the road again…” Willie Nelson