Posts tagged with "MIT":

MIT approves new degree combining urban planning and computer science

If you think that urban planning and computer science go hand in hand, MIT’s new degree may just be the subject for you. The MIT faculty just approved the bachelor of science in urban science and planning with computer science at its May 16 meeting, which will be available to all undergraduates starting from the fall 2018 semester. The new major is offered jointly by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. According to a press release, it will combine “urban planning and public policy, design and visualization, data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, pervasive sensor technology, robotics and other aspects of both computer science and city planning.” Other inventive and multi-disciplinary methods include ethics and geospatial analysis. “The new joint major will provide important and unique opportunities for MIT students to engage deeply in developing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be more effective scientists, planners, and policy makers,” says Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “It will incorporate STEM education and research with a humanistic attitude, societal impact, social innovation, and policy change — a novel model for decision making to enable systemic positive change and create a better world. This is really unexplored, fertile new ground for research, education, and practice.” Students will spend time in the urban science synthesis lab, which will be a required component of the degree. Advanced technological tools will become an integral aspect of the exciting learning process.

Autodesk puts R&D first with its BUILD Space in Boston

Meet the incubators and accelerators producing the new guard of design and architecture start-ups. This is part of a series profiling incubators and accelerators from our April 2018 Technology issue.  Located on the first two floors of a concrete-framed former army base in South Boston, Autodesk’s BUILD Space (BUILD stands for building, innovation, learning, and design), which opened in 2016, has become one of the software company’s best tools for keeping up with architecture’s hyper-speed technology changes. The cavernous 34,000-square-foot facility, whose adaptive reuse was carried out by Boston and New York-based SGA, contains two chief components: First, it houses every piece of digital manufacturing equipment under the sun, from CNC routers and multi-axis robots to microelectronics, metal fabrication tools, and a giant crane; second, it hosts over 70 organizations and 500 people, including architecture and design firms, start-ups, and universities, who use the facilities, supported by Autodesk’s software engineers. In return, Autodesk gets to make important new contacts and learn how to position its software for the coming years. “By investigating these technologies with these teams, it gives us a view of what may be coming, and what we need to start thinking about,” said Rick Rundell, Autodesk’s senior director, who has carefully curated the community with his colleagues. “I could hire a team of 30 researchers to use this equipment,” said Rundell. “Instead, I have 500 researchers that I’ve been able to curate. They’re doing their own work, but it keeps us in touch in a way that would be much harder otherwise.” The word has gotten out, encouraging the company, with SGA, to grow the space by another floor. “We get five or six calls a week,” noted Rundell, who has hosted researchers from the Middle East, all over Europe, and the far corners of the U.S. “We only review the most promising.” To prepare the space for all this activity, SGA implemented some R&D of its own, employing carbon fiber supports to help brace the building after it made large cuts through the thick concrete floors, and using the facility’s crane to haul in extra-large items. The firm needed to install new electrical and HVAC on top of what the building already had in order to support the teams’ extraordinary infrastructure needs. Autodesk, whose Boston software team works on the building’s sixth floor (also designed by SGA), has opened a handful of similar innovation facilities, each catered to a different aspect of digital design and manufacturing. The San Francisco office, which hosts Autodesk researchers as well as independent ones, focuses on micro-factory models, the Toronto office looks at artificial intelligence and generative design, and the Birmingham, England, office centers on advanced manufacturing. “We know this is happening, but we’re seeking to learn more,” said Rundell.

Some of the residents include


The architecture firm investigated new framing systems for mass timber.

Bechtel Corporation

The engineering company explored inflatable shading devices.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT students have created self-deploying fabric canopies that can be dropped via aircraft.

Construction Robotics

This construction manufacturer is developing a system for robotically constructing masonry walls.

Solar panels get a much-needed design makeover

Let’s face it: no one has ever characterized a solar panel as being particularly attractive. In fact, they’re eyesores. While the environmental and business cases for photovoltaics are relatively easy to make, their aesthetic dimension has long been a losing proposition. “In states like California, solar is half the price of the local utility, even without subsidies,” explained Ido Salama, co-founder of Sistine Solar. “At the same time, it feels like all solar products look the same: they come in either black or blue, and, while solar panels work great, many people would describe them as ugly. At the very least, they look out of place on a roof,” he added. Rather than attempting to convince people to appreciate solar for what it is, Salama and company set out to build a solar panel that appeals to their sense of aesthetics instead. To that end, Sistine Solar introduced its SolarSkin technology—described on the company’s website as “solar with curb appeal”—in 2013 when its developers won the renewables track of the MIT Clean Energy Prize. Since launching SolarSkin, the company recently introduced its online Design Studio platform to allow anyone to design, customize, and price a solar installation.

How it works

Developed by MIT engineers, SolarSkin is a thin film specially coated with ultra-durable graphics and integrated onto high-efficiency solar panels. The technology employs selective light filtration to simultaneously display an image and transmit sunlight to the underlying solar cells with minimal loss in efficiency. The product is available in any number of colors and patterns, is compatible with every major panel manufacturer, and is available for both new and existing roofs. The end result is essentially a kind of camouflage for the typically drab photovoltaic panel. Sistine Solar’s new SolarSkin Design Studio is an online tool that allows architects, designers, and homeowners alike to design and order a customized solar system from a desktop computer or mobile phone. With a $99 refundable deposit, end users will receive a preliminary system design using LIDAR mapping, a detailed panel layout, guaranteed production figures, a realistic rendering, (where suitable image is available), and guaranteed delivery within 90 days. The Design Studio is intended to get customers more excited about solar, according to Salama. “Homeowners appreciate the transparency, customizability, and especially the ability to match their solar panels to their roof,” he said. “Architects and designers love it because for the first time, they have a product that allows them to showcase solar in a way never before possible—integrated, congruent, harmonious." In spite of the improvement to aesthetics, however, solar technology still faces a number of challenges in terms of market transformation. “Soft costs is one barrier,” he said. “Solar is so complex because every municipality has different rules when it comes to permitting solar.” Noting that it may take one to three days to physically install and wire up a solar system, Salama points out that it can take up to three months to get a permit. “If soft costs could be reduced—like streamlining the permitting process—we would see a radical transformation in adoption,” he suggested. Of course, affordable storage is an ongoing issue with solar technology. “When solar and storage become more economical than buying from the local utility, we will see a huge shift towards distributed generation and plenty of homeowners cutting the cord,” Salama predicted. Now that solar panels are eligible for a makeover, however, there’s one less hurdle to overcome—making the future of solar technology a little more attractive.  

Architect Neri Oxman is hanging out with Brad Pitt, and the internet is going wild

The rumor mill is buzzing around the purportedly budding relationship between Boston-based architect and artist Neri Oxman and actor Brad Pitt. According to Page SixOxman met Pitt when he was referred to her for guidance on an architectural project. Since then, the two have developed what the publication called a "professional friendship." Celebrity gossip mag US Weekly took it a step further, claiming the two have been secretly rendezvousing for months, with Brad even tagging along on Oxman’s professional trips across the globe. The Israeli-American Oxman, a professor at MIT and founder of design group Mediated Matter, is known for her forward-thinking approach to architecture and design that fuses natural, biological forms with the growing capabilities of digital fabrication. Oxman has produced acclaimed pieces such as “The Silk Pavilion,” a CNC-fabricated scaffold coiled with silk thread produced by 6,500 silkworms, and “Gemeni” a solid wood chaise crafted to resemble a cocoon, adorned with cells of varying colors and rigidity. Her ventures into 3-D printed wearables also include a design for Björk's Vulnicura tour, a movable mask that mimicked the musician's own bone and tissue based on scans. Oxman’s work is exhibited widely, including at MoMaSan Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, and the Centre Pompidou. This is not Pitt’s first flirtation with the world of architecture. The Hollywood star met and befriended Frank Gehry in 2001, leading to an internship focused on computer-aided design at the international architect’s Los Angeles office. Since then, Pitt has gone on to found Make it Right, a non-profit focused on delivering environmentally-friendly housing to post-Katrina Louisiana. During this venture, Gehry designed a duplex in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, his only residential project in the state of Louisiana. While Pitt has dabbled in architecture and design, he has nothing on Oxman’s impressive record of academic and design accolades, including the 2016 MIT Collier Medal, the Textiles Spaces 2015 Award, and the 2014 Vilcek Prize. Whatever the truth about their relationship is, Oxman is probably too good for Pitt.

How should we really rank architecture schools?

What are we to make of a recent survey that claims MIT, the Bartlett, and Delft University of Technology are the best architecture schools in the world?  This ranking, created by British-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) also names Stanford, New York University, and University of California, Santa Barbara, as its top schools for architecture and these institutions don’t even have standalone schools of architecture. This assessment has received a great deal of attention on social media, particularly from those associated with the top schools. But what are we to make of a listing that does not even mention SCI-Arc or the Architectural Association in London? It also lists the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales ahead of Cornell University, and Kyoto University just ahead of Princeton and the University of Michigan. I have nothing against the schools that came out on top, nor am I trying to be chauvinistic by emphasizing U.S. universities, but one has to wonder about a list that puts King Saud University in Saudi Arabia ahead of Rice University in Houston. But what criteria did the QS use in establishing the ranking? First, this firm, which calls itself a “higher education marketing company” and one of the “three most influential university rankings in the world,” looked only at universities. This means that while QS surveyed “2,122 institutions across the globe, offering courses in architecture or the built environment,” schools like Pratt Institute, Rhode Island School of Design, Cooper Union, or the Royal College of Art in London were not even considered for evaluation. QS asserts that its evaluation is based on four factors: academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per paper, and what it calls “H-Index citations.” An H-Index citation is a metric that attempts to “measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar.” It’s hard to learn more about the QS architecture ranking, and it seems rather sloppy and unscientific, but the firm also rates universities worldwide, and these rankings seem to line up fairly closely with its architecture list. Its top universities in the world are, in order, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University College London, Imperial College London, University of Chicago, and the ETH Zurich. Interestingly, Yale University came in sixteenth in the QS world ranking of universities, but its architecture school ranked a lowly 100th in the world behind the University of Kebangsaan in Malaysia, Texas A&M University, and Monash University in Australia. This QS ranking seems tone deaf to the real qualities that make a great architecture school, even while admitting the value and importance of PhD-level scholarship and research. Architecture is a craft as much as a liberal art, and therefore requires its teaching institutions to transmit a particular set of real-world skills that have to be mastered by students. For this reason, a great lab with CNC milling and robotic machines is important to contemporary design education. The students’ ability to work with their hands, render a plan, and be able to create a working section is as important as learning the history and theory of the discipline. In addition, the realities of the marketplace mean that students need the mentoring of professional working architects who make up the bulk of most design schools. The students who come out of great design schools need the refined focus of building culture, and this has been true since the École des Beaux-Arts and its workshop intern practice that is unique to the field. Furthermore, today’s architecture graduates don’t always find employment in traditional architecture offices—let alone go on to pursue PhDs as the QS ranking would suggest. In the words of cultural critic Brian Holmes, “designers, architects, and other actors in the creative fields must be multidisciplinary, open to collaboration, and motivated to find and initiate these often-amorphous work arrangements.” You can only get these in a full-blown school of architecture, and this need not be a university. There are many problems with the QS evaluation that undermines its usefulness, but one, in particular, is its disregard for educational differences between undergraduate and graduate programs—not to mention overlooking the educational content in two- and four-year degree and non-degree programs. The DesignIntelligence ranking of schools in the United States may also have shortcomings, but at least it gets the finer points of undergrad and graduate education and considers them. It identifies Cornell as the best undergraduate program in the country and the Harvard Graduate School of Design as the best graduate program, and that assessment seems more in line with real-world architecture in 2018. Finally, it may make sense to consider architecture education in a national context, rather than a worldwide one, since the licensing protocols and building requirements are so different from nation to nation.  Sorry, MIT, but this QS ranking is so myopically concerned with academic citations as to be nearly worthless as a guide for what comprises quality architecture education in all its 21st-century variety and subtlety.

Highlights from ACADIA’s 36th conference at MIT

From November 2 through the 4, 2017, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) convened the 36th ACADIA conference in the Fumihiko Maki–designed MIT Media Lab. For three days, nearly 350 people from over 30 countries drank untold gallons of coffee and shared their ideas through an array of research and paper presentations. Leading up to the conference itself was three days of intensive workshops hosted at Autodesk BUILD Space in Boston's Seaport District. ACADIA is a unique organization advancing the computational horizons in architecture. Founded in 1981 by pioneers in the field of design computation, including Bill Mitchell, Chuck Eastman, and Chris Yessios, ACADIA has hosted over 30 conferences across North America and has grown into a wide network of academics and professionals. Welcoming the ACADIANs was Hashim Sarkis, MIT’s dean of the School of Architecture + Planning. He highlighted three "turns" driving new practices in architecture. First, said Sarkis, was the "turn of scalar problems: how technology has smoothed shifts of scale from the nanoscale to the planetary." Second, the turn of values: the open sourcing of production to design processes that empower end-users and will radically change the role of the designer. Design should be a mode of inquiry that now works hand-in-hand with fabrication, said Sarkis. Lastly, he spoke of a turn toward contingency. The traditional view of a designer is that in order to be in control, we need to exclude non-relevant elements. As computational power continues to grow, more contingency enters the process as elements that were once excluded can be brought into the fold, opening design to more variety and possibility than before. MIT Host Committee Co-Chair’s Takahiko Nakamura and Skylar Tibbets welcomed the audience and kicked off the first of 13 paper-based sessions. The sessions ranged from BIM use to Automation, Visualization to Machine Learning. A major sponsorship from Autodesk allowed the ACADIA Board of Directors to award $10,000 in student travel scholarships to paper and project presenters. Breaking up the barrage of research presentations were carefully chosen keynotes from afar and close to home. MIT’s own Neri Oxman kicked off the first day, and the ACADIA Design achievement award was bestowed on designer Thomas Heatherwick that same night. Heatherwick was singled out for his studio's provocative work worldwide, and he shared insights into his studio’s processes. "The ACADIA Design Excellence Award is recognized internationally as one of the highest honors in the field," said Jason Kelly Johnson, outgoing president of ACADIA. "It represents recognition by colleagues worldwide of extraordinary contributions and impact on the field of architectural computing and design culture." The award was most recently given to Liz Diller and the late Zaha Hadid. The next day began with two awards for educators: The Innovator Award and Educator Award, which was followed by an education panel. The Educator Award went to Heather Roberge, the new Chair of Architecture at UCLA. Roberge walked the audience through a handful of studio curricula and projects, and spoke on the crucial difference between a model and a prototype, the different kinds of skills that students learn, the difference between handcraft vs machinecraft, and demonstrated how to use molds to visualize parametric concepts and form finding. The second day closed out with a presentation from Paris-based Iconem, an organization using advanced photogrammetric techniques for heritage preservation in conflict zones. Wrapping up the conference’s final day, Nervous Systems’ Jesse Louis-Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz described their eclectic design practice, and how the studio uses generative design to create interactive forms. Kathy Velikov, the incoming 2018 president of ACADIA, discussed how ACADIA brings together a community engaged with design challenges and future-facing solutions. Much of the work shown could be brought back to the office or classroom, and either might be applicable today, or open new paths to research or near-future concepts, and tools that will change work across practices. "Next year we are excited that the ACADIA conference will be held in Mexico City," said Velikov in a statement after the conference. "We are partnering with Mexico City's Ibero-American University to host and organize the event. ACADIA is a North American organization, and while we have had several conferences in Canada, this is the first time we will be in Mexico." "Besides the obvious attraction of the vibrance, history, and design culture of Mexico City, this is a fantastic opportunity to frame conversations around computational design within a different technological and cultural context, and to be able to open conference to new communities of participants," he added. The 2018 ACADIA conference, Re/calibration: on imprecision and infidelity, will attempt to recalibrate the discourse around computational design research, and a new venue in a new country is the perfect place to shake things up. The Call for Papers is live and due May 1, 2018 The full list of award winners is as follows: Design Excellence Award Thomas Heatherwick Founder/Design Director, Ηeatherwick Studio  Digital Practice Award of Excellence Lisa Iwamoto & Craig Scott Founders, IWAMOTTOSCOTT ARCHITECTURE Society Award of Excellence Bob Martens Associate Professor, TU Wien Innovative Research Award of Excellence Wesley McGee Assistant Professor of Architecture, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning/Co-founder, Matter Design Teaching Award of Excellence Heather Roberge Chair, UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Design/Founder, Murmur design Academic Program Award of Excellence Bartlett School of Architecture, B-Pro Program

What if everything you know about the suburbs is wrong?

With 52 essays from 74 authors, Infinite Suburbia’s 732 pages comprehensively analyze the suburbs from the perspectives of architecture, design, landscape, planning, history, demographics, social justice, familial trends, policy, energy, mobility, health, environment, economics, and applied and future technologies. Organized by theme in an index that best resembles a spider’s web, the book is meant to be read in a nonlinear fashion, reminiscent of a choose-your-own-adventure novel. The editors of The Architect's Newspaper (AN) spoke with the book’s editors, Alan M. Berger and Joel Kotkin, about the future of the suburbs. Many of their analyses and provocations upend our notions of what the suburbs are and what they will become. The Architect’s Newspaper: What is suburbia and how do you define it for this book? Joel Kotkin and Alan Berger: Suburbia is generally a lower-density area outside the city core. In our approach, we look for such things as predominance of single-family housing, dependence on automobiles (particularly for non-work trips), age of housing stock, and distance from central core. This is about 80 percent of U.S. metro areas; some cities, like Phoenix and San Antonio, are predominately suburban even within their city boundaries. Within the book we have no fewer than five leading authors who define suburbia using different quantitative methods that are arguably more accurate than the U.S. Census at capturing the activities defining suburbia. What are some of the myths that surround the architecture and design community’s perception of the suburbs? Berger: Globally, the vast majority of people are moving to cities not to inhabit their centers, but to suburbanize their peripheries. I’m sure we can all agree that there are many suburban (and urban) models that are wasteful, unsustainable, and inequitable. However, despite having deep historical roots in conceiving suburban environments, the planning and design professions overwhelmingly vilify suburbia and seem disinterested in significantly improving it. Robert Bruegmann’s essay in the book reminds us that those who consider themselves the intellectual elite have a long history of anti-suburban crusades, and they have always been proven wrong. Our book, Infinite Suburbia, is built for an alternative discourse that can open paths to improvement and design agency, rather than condemning suburbia altogether. Our goal? To construct a balanced, alternative discourse to architecture and urban planning orthodoxy of “density fixes all,” and in doing so ask: “Can suburbia become a more sustainable model for rethinking the entire urban enterprise, as a vital fabric of “complete urbanization?” What were some of the most surprising or counterintuitive things you found about the suburbs when compiling these essays? Berger: One of the consistent themes in the book, and what gets me most excited as a landscape scholar, is the virtue of low density and the ecological potential of the suburban landscape. Environmentally, suburbs will save cities from themselves. Sarah Jack Hinners’s research in the book really surprised me. It suggests that suburban ecosystems, in general, are more heterogeneous and dynamic over space and time than natural ecosystems. Suburbs, she says, are the loci of novelty and innovation from an ecological and evolutionary perspective because they are a relatively new type of landscape and their ecology is not fixed or static. Kotkin: Two trends that may seem counterintuitive to urbanists have been the rapid pattern of diversification in suburbs, which now hold most of the nation’s immigrants and minorities, as well as the fact that suburbs are more egalitarian and less divided by class than core cities. What did you learn from studying some of the suburbs that aren’t the classic idyllic American suburb as we might see in the media? Berger: Not surprisingly, the American Housing Survey found that more than 64 percent of all occupied American homes are single-family structures. But in other countries, suburban contexts are anything but low density, such as along the peri-urban edges of Indian cities and those spread across China and Southeast Asia. Globally, not all suburbs look alike or follow the “post Anglo Saxon, North American model.” One fact remains, however, which is that in many parts of the world upward mobility is linked to suburban living. How do you see suburbia changing in the next few decades? Kotkin: Suburbs will change in many ways. First, they will continue to spread in those regions that have not employed strict growth controls. Denser development seems inevitable—such as The Domain [development] in north Austin—although [the suburbs] will remain largely surrounded by the single family and townhouses most people prefer. Although they already are, they will become more attractive to Millennials, who will demand fewer golf courses and conventional malls, and more hiking/biking trials and open, common landscapes. Suburbs will become more independent from the traditional city centers except for some amenities and central government services. Berger: Autonomous driving will dramatically change how we live, particularly in suburbia, where the dominant form of mobility is cars. Once there is widespread adoption of electrified autonomous cars, dramatic sustainability dividends will flourish in the suburbs of the future. This may also take the economic strain off metro mass transit systems, which can focus on service improvements within the core areas rather than stretching outward. Shared autonomous vehicles will become the preferred form of mass transit in areas not serviced by traditional buses or rail. What are the gentrification problems or other issues around the suburbanization of poverty? Kotkin: Gentrification, often subsidized by governments, is driving poorer people from city cores to closer or—in some cases—more distant suburbs. These are usually places that are either far from workplaces or have a less desirable housing stock. Yet suburbanization of poverty needs to be put in context of the massive overall population advantage of suburbs; overall poverty rates in cities remain twice as high as those of suburbs, and the pattern has not changed much in the past decade. What can designers or planners take from the book? Is there a role for traditional planning at this scale, when market forces are so strong? Berger: Readers should convincingly take away the enormous opportunity ahead in designing more sustainable and equitable suburbs and the importance of suburban fabric to the entire urban enterprise. This is systemically evident from social, economic, environmental, and design perspectives. Of course, there is great agency awaiting designers and planners in the new suburbia. We created them in the first place, so we have a responsibility to evolve the forms and forces toward more sustainable futures. Alan M. Berger is Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design and co-director of the Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism at MIT. Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Both are co-editors of Infinite Suburbia (Princeton Architectural Press).

How green is your city? MIT’s new online map will tell you

Researchers at the MIT Senseable City Lab have developed a new way of measuring how “green” a city is using Google Street View. The project, called Treepedia, presents an index of cities by measuring their “Green Canopy,” the aboveground portion of trees and vegetation you can see as you walk around. The maps reflect the data collected by the team and the city’s corresponding Green View Index (GVI), the measurement of the percentage of canopy coverage in a certain area according to human perception. By using Google Street View instead of satellite imagery, the team measured the cities through the eyes of the everyday pedestrian. The MIT research team worked with the World Economic Forum and its Global Shapers Community initiative to put together Treepedia and they continue to collect information to add cities to their list of indexes available for comparison. By providing quantifiable data about tree coverage, the Treepedia team hopes cities and their citizens will take the initiative to advocate for more trees in their communities. They also hope to add features to the site down the road that will help citizens tag trees in their area and alert their local authorities about areas in need of greater tree coverage. Although the planting of trees may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of urban development, Treepedia reiterates the benefits of tree-lined streets for city living. “As many cities experience warming temperatures, increased storm frequency, and continued air pollution, the well-being of our urban trees has never been more important,” said Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab, in a press release. “We present here an index by which to compare cities against one another, encouraging local authorities and communities to take action to protect and promote the green canopy cover.” You can play around with Treepedia's maps and learn more about tree coverage in your city by visiting their website here.

SOM Foundation announces annual travel fellowship winners

The SOM Foundation has announced the 2016 SOM Foundation Fellowships. Since 1981, the foundation has awarded over 200 graduating undergraduate and graduate students of architecture, design, urban design, and structural engineering with money to fund travel and research in the year after graduation. This year’s winners include MIT M.Arch graduate Jongwan Kwon, Columbia University M.Arch graduate Lindsey Wikstrom, and MIT M.S. in Building Technology graduate Nathan Collin Brown. The SOM Foundation also awarded three $5,000 SOM China Prizes to recent graduates in China. The awardees are chosen by independent juries composed of multi-disciplinary professionals and SOM Foundation officers. The mission of the awards is to “nurture future leaders in design by giving them the opportunity to broaden their cultural and aesthetic horizons through travel outside of their countries.” The top award, the SOM Prize, was awarded to Jongwan Kwon for his proposed research topic, “After Efficiency: Logistics Infrastructure from a Regional Perspective.” With the awarded $50,000, Kwon will travel through international ports, airports, canals, and tunnels to study the impact infrastructure projects have on their regional environment. Kwon will interview noted scholars and practitioners throughout his travels to better understand the subject. After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Master of Architecture degree and a Certificate in Urban Design, Kwon was appointed as a Teaching Fellow at the school. Kwon has worked at Kengo Kuma & Associates and Morphosis Architects. The $20,000 SOM Travel Fellowship was awarded to Lindsey Wikstrom, a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning (GSAPP). Wikstrom’s research topic “An Immersive Catalogue of Housing Systems,” will focus on producing a catalogue exploring the how living environments are produced through the “convergence of markets, demand, and social vitality.” The catalogue will be a “comprehensive visual report of the systems, occupants, and typologies.” The SOM Structural Engineering Travel Fellowship was awarded to Nathan Collin Brown. The Structural Engineering Travel Fellowship “aims to foster an appreciation of the aesthetic potential in the structural design of buildings and bridges.” Browns proposal, “Integrating Secondary Goals into Structural Design,” will take him to North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. The SOM Foundation was established in 1979. The fellowships were set up in order to provide support outside of the traditional academic setting. Awardees are expected to use the money to travel internationally to conduct research and “broaden their cultural and aesthetic horizons.”

MIT researcher aims to expand the role of glass in construction

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Architect and educator Cristina Parreño’s ongoing research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is called “Tectonics of Transparency” and it's challenging the “generic-ness” of glass in construction today. The project is being realized through a unique format of prototypes divided into three formal categories: the Wall Series, Tower Series, and Shelter Series. Each type is further broken down into scales: a “model scale” of 8-cubic-feet, and an “installation scale” of inhabitable size. The format allows for experimentation with technique, and for multiple funding sources to support various components of the project. Parreño pinpoints her interest in expanding the role of glass to a 1950s patent on “float glass” by Pilkington, who developed a process for efficiently manufacturing large flat sheets of the material. “Despite its potential, modern technology didn’t fully exploit the multitude of material attributes offered by glazing, which in a flat, planar state can only be used as a non-structural infill,” Parreño told The Architect's Newspaper (AN) in an interview. “When expanded to a greater depth, glass acquires multiple properties that expand its role beyond that of a transparent or translucent infill. If we attend to some of these properties—which are not fully exploited when glass is presented in its planar state—we can begin to foresee another type of depth between the two sides of the material.” Parreño’s prototypes are primarily interested in exploiting the material’s compressive strength, along with producing new tactile and visual effects.
  • Facade Manufacturer Shouguang Jingmei Glass Product Co.,Ltd
  • Architects Cristina Parreño Architecture
  • Facade Installer Cristina Parreño Architecture with Turner Construction Special Projects Division (Tower Series assembly)
  • Facade Consultants Paul Kassabian, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (structural engineer)
  • Location Boston, MA
  • Date of Completion 2014-15
  • System clear sheet glass with UV-cured bonding agent
  • Products Glaverbel glass by Shouguang Jingmei; UV-cured adhesive by Loctite
  • Photos John Horner, Jane Messinger (Courtesy Cristina Parreño Archtiecture)
One of the main challenges of the project has been developing new working techniques to manage the fragility of the panes during fabrication. This fragility provides only small tolerances for assembly that in turn demand a high degree of precision. Parreño’s assemblies involve bonding individual profiles of glass together using a high-performance bonding agent activated by UV light. The compound cures thin and transparent, allowing for maximum visibility between panes. Parreño says this construction system permits the glass to fully express its own visual and structural capacities, but it makes the construction process far more labor intensive. The Tectonics of Transparency prototypes are a material translation of well-known concrete and brick structures to glass, as MVRDV recently developed for their Amsterdam Chanel store project. Parreño said MVRDV’s project demonstrates similar interests to hers, and that the interest of other architects in challenging the conventional use of glass “thickens the plot for discussions.” Parreño’s Tower Series reinterprets Uruguayan brick water towers built by Eladio Dieste, while her Shelter Series reinterprets Felix Candela’s ruled Mexican concrete surface structures. Beyond explorations into the structural capacity of glass, Parreño also relates to the qualities of light inherent through assembly techniques. She cites REX’s fluted facade as a reinvented curtain wall of curved panels that “catch light in unexpected angles, throwing distorted reflections back at the viewer.” These visual effects are a key influencer of Parreño’s Tectonics of Transparency: “By exploring the ability of glass to modulate light through its enhanced translucency, variable transparency, opacity and the greater or lesser internal reflection of external light.” Parreño says her next steps are to continue to “scale up” the prototypes, experimenting with how glass can move beyond the curtain wall. “The translation of these prototypes and small pavilions to a larger and more architectural scale is something that I am definitely interested in as the next step forward.”

Will the rise of self-driving vehicles signal the death of the traffic light?

The dawn of self driving cars promises to be an exciting new era for transport. However, what exactly lies ahead is still up for debate. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETHZ), and the Italian National Research Council (CNR) have outlined how traffic signals could be rendered obsolete if automated vehicles get their way. The development is known as "slot-based intersections," and if realized, would significantly reduce queuing, delays, and pollution. If evidence from any science fiction movie is anything to go by, it's that humans have very little trust in automated technology. It's easy to picture: panic as your self-driving car appears to be careering into another, only to miss by a a tiny margin, all perfectly predicted by an automated system of course. That may be an exaggeration, but Professor Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and his team have produced a model that shows cars zipping through a four-way intersection both without stopping or slowing down and remaining unscathed. “Traffic intersections are particularly complex spaces, because you have two flows of traffic competing for the same piece of real estate,” he said in a press release regarding the study, published in detail here. “But a slot-based system moves the focus from the traffic level to the vehicle level. Ultimately, it’s a much more efficient system, because vehicles will get to an intersection exactly when there is a slot available to them.” Trust in such a system would have to be high. Communication between cars would have to be flawless and safety measures for failure would also have to be in place. That said, if implemented, the system would speed up journey time and also reduce pollution by cutting down on the time spent idle at traffic signals. Of course, signal-less interchanges already exist, they're called roundabouts. But the possibility for human error (and hence collisions) still exists in the roundabout, along with the need to give way to others.
"Slot-based intersections are similar to slot-based management systems used for air-traffic control," say the team. "Upon approaching an intersection, a vehicle automatically contacts a traffic management system to request access. Each self-driving vehicle is then assigned an individualized time or “slot” to enter the intersection." Speed limits could also change. If a perfect system can plot every movement, why not travel at the fastest, yet safest, possible speed? This is just one of the questions arising as self-driving cars become more and more likely to enter our lives. Would car lanes also be made thinner? Vehicles won't be making mistakes so why not cram as many in as we can and maximize efficiency? In terms of having a central traffic organizing system, getting different car manufacturers to be completely open with each other is another major bridge that would need to be crossed. And as for the more pressing issue of automated vehicles' interaction with humans, MIT's Senseable City Lab responds by saying: "slot-based intersections are flexible and can easily accommodate pedestrian and bicycle crossing with vehicular traffic."

The World’s Largest Real Estate and Development Conference Has A Growing North American Contingent

MIPIM, the world's largest and most important real estate and development conference, attracts nearly 25,000 people to Cannes in the south of France every year. Like the Venice Biennale and the Saloni del Mobile in Milan, there are architects from around the world in attendance. However, there's also a small-but-growing group of influential designers from North America. Dutch architect Ben van Berkel and Berlin-based designer Jürgen Mayer H. both attend because they can meet with dozens of potential clients, both private and civic, in a single four day period. Some architects attend as members of development teams looking for investors; others come on their own to walk through the various pavilions and speak with groups seeking designers. There are pavilions sponsored by scores of moderately-sized cities (Lyon, Brussels, Palermo, etc.) and larger ones (Paris, Mexico City, Lagos etc.), all looking for investors and sometimes architects for their projects. For example, London and Istanbul's pavilions are enormous efforts sponsored by governments and development offices. Their tents feature large wooden models of their city that highlight development sites. A meeting in Cannes with the Turinese architect and engineer Carlo Ratti, Partner of CRA architects and Director of the MIT Senseabile lab, was instructive of why designers attend MIPIM. He took the opportunity to launch and promote a project he calls The Mile, a design for a one-mile high tower and observation decks that he developed with the German engineering firm schlaich Bergermann partners and British digital design studio Atmos. Ratti didn't design the one-mile high project with a residential or commercial business model in mind. Rather, it's a tourist-oriented structure like Paris’ Tour Eiffel or The London Eye. A structure twice as high as the next tallest building in the world, The Mile is conceived a structural, 20-meter-wide shaft “kept in compression and secured through a net of pre-stressed cables.” A series of orbiting capsules will allow visitors to gradually ascend to the top, enjoying the spectacular panorama at different speeds and approaches. These capsules can host meetings, dinners, concerts, or even swimming pools, thereby allowing people to inhabit the sky in unprecedented ways. These spaces will be equipped with open-air Virtual Reality screens that will create unique interactions with visitors' 360-degree view of the landscape. Aloft in the sky and unencumbered by VR headsets, you can see the city as is—or could be. From base to apex, the lightweight structure will offer a natural ecosystem covered by greenery and inhabited by hundreds of animal species. The Mile will be criss-crossed with a delicate latticework of transportation lines. As Ratti said, take New York City’s Central Park, turn it vertically, and then after “rolling it and twirling it,” you get something like this. The Italian architect was able to get this proposal in front of cities looking for iconic structures, developers looking for potential buildings to anchor a project, and journalists. There is no other gathering of parties involved in urban development like it anywhere in the world.