Posts tagged with "MIT":

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SOM and MIT shoot for the Moon with design for lunar village

While NASA is researching 3D-printed habitats for the Moon and Mars, the European Space Agency (ESA) has tapped Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to envision a theoretical lunar city. The Moon Village, which SOM will masterplan, design, and engineer, not only reflects the collaborative nature of the ESA’s mission but also lays out a plan—and base of operations—for space exploration past 2050. As Israel prepares to potentially land the first privately-funded spacecraft on the Moon, the Moon Village would take a decidedly more multinational approach and could be used by future science missions or even space tourists. Set up along the rim of the Shackleton crater on the Moon’s south pole, which receives continuous sunlight for nearly all of the lunar year, the Moon Village would rely on solar power to generate electricity. The possibility of water ice inside the crater itself, which is always shadowed, would provide the colony with another potential resource to tap. “The project presents a completely new challenge for the field of architectural design,” said SOM Design Partner Colin Koop. “The Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air.” How did SOM design around those tight constraints? The village’s modules would all inflate or deflate depending on their programmatic needs. Each structure would be about three-to-four stories tall and contain living quarters, environmental controls, life support systems, and workspaces. Eventually, 3D-printed regolith shells could protect the modules from radiation, fluctuations in temperature (although Shackleton crater has a more consistent temperature than other parts of the Moon), and dust. Modules would be clustered and linked through pressurized tunnels to provide easy transportation between them. A series of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) experiments could help determine how to best use the Moon’s natural resources. Oxygen and possibly rocket fuel could be generated from the nearby ice, and food could be conceivably grown in the environment. The Moon Village has been envisioned as a three-stage development that would eventually create a long-term, sustainable Moon community. The first phase, the master plan revealed on April 9, used near-future technology; but, as Fast Company pointed out, the Moon Village would still be reliant on international cooperation, and that’s far from assured right now.
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OCEANIX and BIG unveil a floating city of the future at the United Nations

The UN has just unveiled a floating city. Or, at least a framework for how floating cities will be built. Throughout the 2010s, a certain set of statistics found their way into every article about urbanism. You know them. They said that a certain percent of people would live in cities by a certain year; “68% of the world's population projected to live in urban areas by 2050,” according to a recent UN statistic. However, it’s barely the 2010s anymore! The new hot stat for the 2020s was used today by the UN to switch gears and justify exploring the possibility of building floating cities:
By 2030, approximately 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities that are exposed to grave economic, social, and environmental pressures. Further, approximately 90 percent of the largest global cities are vulnerable to rising sea levels. Out of the world’s 22 megacities with a population of more than 10 million, 15 are located along the ocean’s coasts.
Serious stuff, all discussed at today’s high-level round table in New York hosted by UN-Habitat, the UN’s coalition on affordable and sustainable housing, along with the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, the Explorers Club, and OCEANIX, a group investing in floating cities on this new marine frontier. Bjarke Ingels of BIG—architects of the "Dryline" around lower Manhattan—unveiled his design for a prototypical floating city today, which would be made out of mass timber and bamboo. This proposal would be “flood proof, earthquake-proof, and tsunami-proof,” according to Marc Collins Chen, co-Founder and CEO of OCEANIX. The renderings show a series of modular hexagonal islands with a productive landscape, where bamboo grown on the “islands” could be used to make glulam beams. BIG envisions the cities as zero-waste, energy-positive and self-sustaining. The necessary food to feed the population would be grown on the islands. BIG has put toether a kit of parts for each part of the man-made ecosystem: a food kit of parts, a waste kit of parts. Each island would be prefabricated onshore and towed to its location in the archipelago. What would living on one of these islands be like? "All of the aspects of human life would be accommodated," according to Ingels. They would dedicate seven islands to public life, including a spiritual center, a cultural center, and a recreation center. "It won't be like Waterworld. Its another form of human habitat that can grow with its success." Oceanix City, as it is called, features mid-rise housing around a shared, green public space where agriculture and recreation co-exist. Underground greenhouses are embedded in the “hull” of the floating city, while in the sky, drones would buzz by with abandon. The systems on each city would be connected, where waste, food, water, and mobility are connected. Because the cities are towable, they can be moved in the event of a weather event.  Land reclamation (creating new land by pouring sand in the ocean) is no longer seen as sustainable, as it uses precious sand resources and causes coastal areas to lose protective wetlands and mangroves. Could floating cities be the way forward for expanding our cities as we deal with the consequences of climate change and sea-level rise?  According to the coalition, “Sustainable Floating Cities offer a clean slate to rethink how we build, live, work, and play…They are about building a thriving community of people who care about the planet and every life form on it.” Doesn't this sound a lot like the Seasteading Institute, the infamous group of libertarian utopianists who want to break away from land and society altogether? For Collins, his floating infrastructure is less ideological, and more about infrastructure technology. These floating cities would be positioned near protected coastal areas, less ocean-faring pirate states and more extensions of areas threatened by rising sea levels. "These cities have to be accessible to everyone. We can't build broad support for this without populist thinking," said Richard Wiese, the president of the Explorers Club. The first prototypes will start small, even though they are thinking big. The 4.5-acre pods will house 300 people, while the goal is to scale the system by repeating the unit until the city can hold 10,000 people. Can floating cities be more sustainable and affordable than building on land? Would they only be for the rich? Would they be self-sufficient? Would they prevent climate gentrification and curb climate migration? Or, as has been the case in the past, will the idea prove too expensive to actually build?
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Driverless shuttles set to take over the Brooklyn Navy Yard later this year

New York City’s (and the state’s) first self-driving shuttles are arriving before the end of the second quarter, but they won’t be making life-or-death decisions on Manhattan’s busy streets. Instead, the Boston-based autonomous driving startup Optimus Ride, which was spun off from MIT, will bring driverless shuttles to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The 300-acre industrial campus is seemingly the perfect place to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) within the five boroughs. The yard is isolated, about a 15-minute walk from the nearest subway station (although a shuttle runs between the two), though a new ferry stop will open at the Yard in May. The enclosed Navy Yard also uses private streets, negating the need for city or state approval, and drastically reduces the congestion—both other vehicles and humans—that these shuttles will expect to face. Thanks to the Yard’s relative isolation, the entire area can be geofenced off or mapped down to the slightest detail ahead of the shuttles’ deployment to prevent them from leaving the bounded area. The technology has been used to great effect elsewhere, namely AV testing grounds where every variable can be controlled; the difficulty in expanding the use of self-driving cars has namely been to real-world unpredictability. According to Optimus Ride, the company's shuttles will offer the Navy Yard’s 9,000 employees a convenient way to get around the campus. The vehicles will loop from the new ferry stop and around to the public-facing Flushing Avenue side. While the company hasn’t released details on the model of shuttle it will be using, the company has previously deployed battery-powered vehicles capable of reaching speeds of up to 25-miles-per-hour elsewhere. It’s unclear what this will mean for the shuttle service that already operates on the Yard’s streets. “If this pilot abides by insurance and other non-traffic laws and remains confined to the Brooklyn Navy Yard—which is private—then it can operate,” a spokesperson for the mayor, Seth Stein, told The Verge. “The mayor has voiced his strong opposition to testing a new technology on our busy streets.” Optimus Ride also announced that it would be bringing its self-driving shuttles to the streets of Paradise Valley Estates, a private 80-acre planned community Fairfield, California. The move means that Optimus Ride will have AVs in four states, but for the time being, it seems that only self-contained, wealthier enclaves will benefit as the technology matures.
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Hashim Sarkis to curate the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale

The board of the Venice Biennale and President Paolo Baratta have chosen Hashim Sarkis as the curator of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale. Sarkis, the dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning since 2015 and the principal of Hashim Sarkis Studios, is no stranger to the Biennale’s workings. In 2016 he served as a member of the festival’s international jury and contributed to the United States’ pavilion in 2014 and Albania’s pavilion in 2010. “The world is putting new challenges in front of architecture,” said Sarkis. “I look forward to working with participating architects from around the world to imagine together how we are going to rise to these challenges. Thank you President Baratta and La Biennale di Venezia team for providing architecture this important platform. I am both honored and humbled.” “We have appointed the Curator of the next Biennale Architettura 2020,” added Baratta, “within the timeframe needed for organizing the Exhibition and in respect of the norms which govern La Biennale. With Hashim Sarkis, La Biennale has provided itself with a Curator who is particularly aware of the topics and criticalities which the various contrasting realities of today's society pose for our living space”. The final dates of the 17th Biennale were also set: the festival will run from May 23, 2020, through November 29, 2020, with pre-opening events on May 21 and 22. The 2018 Biennale, co-curated by Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell and themed Freespace, saw a slew of exciting developments. The Holy See presented ten chapels, a chunk of Robin Hood Gardens made a cameo, and an impromptu protest broke out over the role of women in architecture.
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MIT to consolidate its architecture school in a warehouse revamped by DS+R

MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) is currently scattered all over the school’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus, but not for much longer. The university announced on December 14 that it had tapped New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to convert the historic Metropolitan Storage Warehouse into a central design hub. The idea of renovating the Metropolitan Warehouse, which was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1986, has been kicking around since June of this year. At the time, SA+P dean Hashim Sarkis expressed the desire to consolidate the physical design and research components of the school into one location. The proposed changes would preserve the warehouse’s distinctive red brick facade (likely because of its historical significance). DS+R will be partnering with Boston’s Leers Weinzapfel Associates, no strangers to academic work, to bring 200,000 square feet of classrooms, galleries, workshops, studio spaces, and an auditorium to the former warehouse. A makerspace, accessible to the entire campus, will also be installed under the administration of Project Manus, a group responsible for integrating and updating such spaces at the school. The selection of DS+R began with a long list of potential architects that was put forth by MIT’s Office of Campus Planning (OCP). Representatives from every department of SA+P, Project Manus, and OCP then whittled the list down to four finalists. The remaining studios were invited to give private presentations in October, and feedback on each was taken from SA+P students and faculty, as well as representatives from the city. “A project of this scale and complexity,” said Sarkis, “which demands a design sensibility informed by both art and technology—along with a deep understanding of architecture education as well as the role of public space—is made for a firm like DS+R.” No estimated completion date for the project has been given yet, nor has a budget estimate, though MIT says that the school is in productive talks with alumni about fundraising to pay for it.
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MIT announces $1 billion campus focused on AI advancement

The encroach of self-driving cars, acrobatic terminators, and decades of media hysterics over the destructive potential of artificial intelligence (AI) have brought questions of robot ethics into the public consciousness. Now, MIT has leaped into the fray and will tackle those issues head-on with the announcement of a new school devoted solely to the study of the opportunities and challenges that the advancement of AI will bring. The new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, eponymously named after the Blackstone CEO who gave a $350 million foundational grant to launch the endeavor, will be getting its own new headquarters building on the MIT campus. While a large gift, the final cost of establishing the new school has been estimated at a whopping $1 billion, and MIT has reportedly already raised another $300 million for the initiative and is actively fundraising to close the gap. “As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” wrote MIT president L. Rafael Reif in the announcement. “In keeping with the scope of this challenge, we are reshaping MIT. “The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will constitute both a global center for computing research and education, and an intellectual foundry for powerful new AI tools. Just as important, the College will equip students and researchers in any discipline to use computing and AI to advance their disciplines and vice-versa, as well as to think critically about the human impact of their work.” As Reif told the New York Times, the goal is to “un-silo” previously self-contained academic disciplines and create a center where biologists, physicists, historians, and any other discipline can research the integration of AI and data science into their field. Rather than offering a standard double-major, the new school will instead integrate computer science into the core of every course offered there. The college will also host forums and advance policy recommendations on the developing field of AI ethics. The Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing is set to open in September 2019, and the new building is expected to be complete in 2022. No architect has been announced yet; AN will update this article when more information is available.
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What is New England architecture?

New England might not garner the attention that other places get for contemporary architecture, but the region has a legacy of world-class architecture, including some great works of modernism. Two iconic monuments of modern architecture in America are in New England—Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center at Harvard and Alvar Aalto’s Baker House at MIT—along with seminal late-modern buildings such as Boston City Hall and the Yale Center for British Art. Today, many contemporary design stars have built structures across New England, including Frank Gehry, Rafael Moneo, Norman Foster, Herzog & de Meuron, Michael Hopkins, Renzo Piano, Charles Correa, Fumihiko Maki, and Tadao Ando. The finalists for a competition for a new contemporary art museum on Boston’s waterfront included Switzerland’s Peter Zumthor and Studio Granda from Iceland. The only local firm considered for the museum was the then relatively young Office dA; principals Nader Tehrani and Monica Ponce de León went on to fame as architectural educators beyond Boston. Although not unique to New England, the whole mentality of "if-you-are-good-you-must-be-from-somewhere-else" is found here. As one might expect, Boston is the center of most architectural activity in the region. Yet, despite a heroic postwar age of Brutalism, too much contemporary architecture barely rises above the level of commercial real estate. With the exception of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Institute of Contemporary Art and David Hacin’s District Hall, much of the frantic new downtown construction features the kind of glass boxes that pierce city skylines from Dubai to Shanghai. The city’s embarrassingly named Innovation District (often called the Inundation District due to its propensity for flooding) is scaleless, overbearing, and disconnected from the soul of Boston. OMA’s new scheme for the area—which the architects gratuitously refer to as “a dynamic and vibrant area that is quickly emerging as one of the most exciting neighborhoods and destinations in the country”—is an 18-story glass cube with the dreary moniker of 88 Seaport Boulevard. One might have hoped for more from OMA’s first Boston commission. The block will offer almost half a billion square feet of office space, 60,000 square feet of retail, and a paltry 5,000 square feet for civic and cultural use. Its gimmick is slicing the building into two sections with some terracing and plantings sandwiched in between. OMA disingenuously claims this double-volume exercise “creates diverse typologies for diverse industries,” and furthermore “generates an opportunity to draw in the district’s public domain.” In short, Boston will get an off-the-shelf dystopian nightmare. However, the Engineering Research Center at Brown University by KieranTimberlake is not just another knockoff. Although flush from the controversial but triumphant U.S. Embassy in London, the Philadelphians’ latest New England project is what good contemporary architecture ought to be. The $88-million, 80,000-square-foot laboratory and classroom building is both understated and environmentally responsible. Its 22 pristine labs steer the Ivy League school into uncharted territory in nano research, energy studies, and information technology. The ERC is a triumph, especially given Brown’s decades of struggle to find an appropriate contemporary architectural voice. Recent work on the Providence campus includes an international relations institute by Rafael Viñoly—the design of which was dumbed down to mollify historic preservationists; a tepid Maya Lin sculpture; and an awkwardly sited Diller Scofidio + Renfro art center that was commissioned to show that Brown could do trendy and edgy. These common missteps are best exemplified by the university’s first competition for an athletic center. Although the competition was officially won by SHoP, the donor sponsoring it declared his dislike of modern architecture and demanded the school hire Robert A.M. Stern instead. The cutesy Georgian result is predictably bland. The ERC was ahead of schedule and under budget, and rather than treating Rhode Islanders as rubes, the architects created what Stephen Kieran calls “a nice piece of Providence urbanism.” While the firm’s great strength is diminishing the environmental impact of their buildings, the ERC also contributes a handsome facade to the campus’s traditional buildings. The fiberglass-reinforced concrete fins, the building’s signature element, impose a timeless probity worthy of Schinkel. If KieranTimberlake grows weary of being identified as the designers of the $1-billion embassy that Trump slammed as “lousy and horrible,” imagine how tired Tod Williams and Billie Tsien must be of consistently being tagged with the label “designers of the Obama Library.” Is a client choosing them because of the reflected fame? Will all new works by the New York-based architects be measured against that Chicago shrine? Yet Williams and Tsien have created a number of noteworthy academic works in New England that deserve similar attention, including buildings at Bennington and Dartmouth. Their theater and dance building at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, is almost complete. Here, the very long shadow is not cast by the architects’ own projects, but by Louis Kahn’s library across campus. Kahn’s brick tribute to 19th-century Yankee mills—and the symmetry of Georgian style—is one of the great pieces of architecture in New England. The big block of the drama building by Williams and Tsien wisely does not choose to echo Kahn but is curiously almost a throwback to the early Brutalism of I. M. Pei. It establishes a more rugged character with a marvelous texture composed of gray Roman bricks. A more satisfying Granite State structure by Williams and Tsien is a library, archives, and exhibition complex at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. MacDowell is a century-old artists’ colony where thousands of painters, writers, and musicians, including James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Willa Cather, have sought quiet and isolation in a collection of rustic cabins in the woods. Thornton Wilder wrote his classic play Our Town during his time here. Williams and Tsien’s sensitive addition to the colony’s 1920s library is only 3,000 square feet, cost around $2 million, and is an exquisitely crafted gem. The single-story library is constructed of a nearly black granite. Set in a birch grove created by the leading modern landscape architects in Boston, Reed Hilderbrand, this gathering place for residents appears at one with the rocky soil and forests of Northern New England. A 23-foot-tall outdoor chimney flanking the entrance plaza to the library makes reference to the hearths in all of the MacDowell studios. It also looks like a primitive stele, giving the entire ensemble an aspect that is more primal than modern. Another prominent New York architect, Toshiko Mori, has produced a simple yet elegant warehouse for an art museum in the faded seaport and art destination of Rockland, Maine. Built to house a long-time contemporary art cooperative that had no permanent collection and only inadequate facilities for exhibitions and classes, the saw-toothed clerestories at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) make reference to New England factories while bringing in what the architect calls “that special Maine light.” Like those functional structures, Mori used economical, non-custom materials such as plasterboard and corrugated zinc that wrap the exterior, embracing the lack of funds to her advantage. Despite the nod to Rockland’s working class vibe, Mori created a thoughtfully wrought sophisticated work of art on an unremarkable side street. Mori’s Japanese heritage comes through in her subtle proportions based on a 4-foot grid. The CMCA offers a refreshing contrast to extravagantly costly new museums by superstar architects—the 11,000-square-foot arts center cost only $3.5 million. Mori has crafted a museum based on flexibility rather than attitude. A summer resident of nearby North Haven, she endowed her simple statement with an air of Yankee frugality. But perhaps the most encouraging new project is the $52-million John W. Olver Design Building at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A cooperative venture of three departments in three different colleges—architecture, landscape, and building technology—the autumn-hued, aluminum-wrapped school embodies the dynamic spirit of New England’s first publicly supported architecture program. The 87,000-square-foot studio and administrative space is the work of Boston–based Leers Weinzapfel and landscape designer Stephen Stimson, with contributions from the faculty-cum-clients. Construction Technology chair Alexander Schreyer, for example, a guru of heavy-timber structural systems, helped fashion what is perhaps the largest wood-frame building on the East Coast. The zipper trusses that span the 84-by-56-foot, two-story-high common area demonstrate the inventiveness of wood technology. The glulam trusses arrived on-site precut and were snapped together with pins. In short, the academic contributors got to show off their research and also benefit from it. In a region noted for some of the nation’s oldest and most renowned design schools, the Design Building announces the arrival of the new kid on the block. Its handsome envelope is pierced by asymmetrically placed tall and narrow fenestration as a nod to the doors of the tobacco barns that are the university’s neighbors in Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley. From its roots as a fledgling offering in the art department in the early 1970s, design education at UMass has grown into a powerhouse. As the core of a complex of postwar and contemporary architecture, the Design Building helps to bring Roche Dinkeloo’s Brutalist Fine Arts Center into contact with a business school designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). While BIG’s work is sometimes incredibly innovative, the firm’s UMass project looks as if it might be another example of a second-tier work foisted on a boondocks location. Less flashy than its newer neighbor, Leers Weinzapfel’s Design Building is nonetheless a bold, homegrown achievement. New England’s patrimony is a tapestry of local and outside talent. A significant regional building would not be a postmodern structure in the shape of a lighthouse or a neotraditional re-creation of a Richardson library, but something like the UMass studios. Capturing the spirit of the best of New England design depends little upon reputation and huge expenditure. Rather, there is a direct correlation between realizing a quality work of art and understanding the region’s history of wresting a hard-won life from the granite earth. The challenge for successfully practicing architecture in New England is accepting an uncompromising intellectual toughness that demands respect for the eminently practical as well as the aspirational.
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Responsive fabric and cannibalistic materials: A look at MIT’s experimental projects

Academia has always been a hotbed for innovation, and as part of a new series on under-the-radar projects on university campuses, AN will be taking a look at the smaller projects shaking things up at MIT. Modernized applications of ancient techniques, robotically milled artifacts, and boundary-pushing fabrication methods are producing new materials and structures worth publicizing. Cyclopean Cannibalism For the research and design studio Matter Design, contemporary reinterpretations of ancient construction and crafting techniques are valuable sources of new architectural insight. The studio, a 2013 winner of the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers, found that a Bronze Age stone-stacking technique was a fertile testing ground for exploring new uses of construction waste. Forming walls and structures by fitting boulders and large stones together without working or cutting them first, also known as Cyclopean masonry, is a technique that developed independently all over the world. The limestone boulder walls of the ancient Mycenaean Greeks were supposedly constructed by cyclopes, the only creatures strong enough to move such large rocks. The Inca used this methodology in the 15th century, but unlike the Greeks, they regularly disassembled previously-built walls for new materials, creating cities that were constantly in flux. This recycling of construction materials piqued the interest of Matter Design principals Brandon Clifford and Wes McGee, who wanted to apply the same principles of adaptive, sustainable design to the mountains of architectural debris clogging landfills around the world. The resulting “cookbook” is a prescription for turning cast-off precast concrete into new structures. In The Cannibal’s Cookbook, Matter Design has created a tongue-in-cheek collection of recipes for turning rubble into reusable materials. The limited-run book is one part primer on how to select stones based on their shape, one part practical instruction guide, and one part guide to one-eyed mythological creatures from around the world. Not satisfied with a theoretical tome, Matter Design teamed up with fabrication studio Quarra Stone Company to build Cyclopean Cannibalism, a full-scale mock-up of one of their recipes. The resulting wall, a curvilinear assembly of concrete rubble and stone, was installed at the 2017 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in Seoul, South Korea. Other Masks Cambridge-based WOJR, named after founder and principal William O’Brien Jr., creates work that bridges the gap between architecture, culture, urbanism, and art. In the exhibition Other Masks, the studio explored the intersection between architectural representation and artifacts, where drawings and models cross over into the realm of physical objects capable of being interpreted in different ways. During the Other Masks show, which ran at Balts Projects in Zurich, Switzerland, the WOJR team filtered architectural detailing through the lens of masks. Masks are artifacts with significant cultural value in every society, and transforming the facets, grids, angles, and materials typically found in a facade into “personal” objects was meant to imbue them with the same cultural cachet—and provoke viewers into wondering who crafted them. WOJR designed seven unique masks and a stone bas-relief for the show, enlisting the help of Quarra Stone to fabricate the pieces. Unlike its work for Cyclopean Cannibalism, Quarra Stone used robotic milling combined with traditional techniques to give the sculptural objects a high level of finish. Other Masks sprung from WOJR's unbuilt Mask House, a cabin designed for a client seeking a solitary place to grieve in the woods. Through this lens, WOJR created what they call “a range of artifacts that explore the periphery of architectural representation.” Active Textile The work of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab is regularly publicized, whether it is the lab’s self-assembling chair or a rapid 3-D printing method developed with furniture manufacturer Steelcase that allows for super large prints in record time. The lab’s latest foray into active materials, Active Textile, is the culmination of a three-year partnership between lab founder Skylar Tibbits and Steelcase in programmable materials. Imagine a world where, after buying a pair of pants, a store associate would then heat your clothes until they shrank to the desired fit. Or a high-rise office building where perforations in the shades automatically opened, closed, twisted, or bent to keep the amount of incoming sunlight consistent. In the same way that pine cones open their platelets as humidity swells the wood, the fabric of Active Textile mechanically reacts to light and heat. The team thinly shaved materials with different thermal coefficients—the temperatures at which they expand and contract—using a laser to minimize waste, and laminated the layers to form a responsive fabric. The fabric was stretched between a metal scaffolding. Applied-material designers Designtex digitally printed patterns on both sides; the front was printed to allow the fabric to curl in response to heat, while the back allowed light to shine through. Active Textile is currently on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s The Senses: Design Beyond Vision exhibition through October 28. The Self-Assembly team is researching more commercial uses for the material, such as in self-adjusting furniture or programmable wall coverings.
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MIT identifies landmarked warehouse as potential new home for its School of Architecture and Planning

MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) has scouted a potential new home in the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse, which will expand SA+P’s programs and establish the Institute as a design hub. The proposed move to the landmark building is a push to create a hub for design research and education while allowing the expansion of activities and new public spaces, according to Hashim Sarkis, dean of SA+P. “It’s about really creating a design hub for MIT on the campus, bringing the expanding and increasingly important areas of design from across MIT—art, architecture, and urban planning—together in one place,” Sarkis said in MIT News. “Moving does not address just the school’s aspirations, but MIT’s aspirations.” A feature of the proposed move is a new maker space, providing expanded design and fabrication facilities and allowing Institute researchers to collaborate (physically and virtually) with the MIT Hong Kong Innovation node. Other features include an expansion of classroom and design studio space, an increase in exhibition capacity for arts and design programming, a new center for the arts, new areas for collaboration-based work, and ground-floor retail space. SA+P is becoming more involved with cross-disciplinary collaborations, including a recent announcement of a new undergraduate major that combines a bachelor of science in urban science and planning with computer science. Redeveloping the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse to accommodate SA+P while facilitating interdisciplinary interactions would be “transformational,” according to Sarkis. The renovation of the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse, which was designed by Peabody and Stearns and began construction in 1894, would be necessary before any move is made. It is one of the oldest buildings on MIT’s campus and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, however, and would require approval from the City of Cambridge before any changes are made.
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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.
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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

Perkins+Will

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.

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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.