MIT Media Lab

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology officially opened the doors to its MIT Media Lab Complex, the school’s most famous interdisciplinary program.

The new building, designed by architect Fumihiko Maki and his « Maki and Associates » firm, broke ground in 2007.
Influences on the building’s design included the artists Piet Mondrian and George Seurat, as well as the art of Japanese paper lanterns. The white, glass, and aluminum building includes touches of the primary colors red, blue, and yellow, which are often found in Mondrian’s paintings.

 » The model is literally open collaboration between industry and academia. Research here at the Media Lab is highly creative but finds its way into the world via industry. The idea of designing serendipity, this building was designed to promote this type of thinking and capturing in an uncanny way this magic, » said Frank Moss.

The MIT Media Lab Complex design, which MIT had originally requested consist entirely of glass walls, had to be tempered to fit Cambridge energy requirements that restrict the use of glass construction in buildings. To accommodate the codes, Maki and his team integrated translucent aluminum screens over the building’s many glass and solid walls.
The screens over glass create a slightly pixelated view of the Charles River and Boston skyline when looking outside from within the building. It’s a nod to both the Media Lab’s digital world, as well as a pointillist adaption of landscape as seen in the paintings of Impressionist George Seurat.
Looking in at the Media Lab Complex at night, those same screens are lit from behind by the building’s interior lights and create semi-translucent views into some labs. The effect hints that a giant Japanese paper lantern has been plopped down on the corner of Ames and Amherst Streets in Cambridge.
It’s a distinct contrast to the dim and cozy den atmosphere of « the Cube, » the MIT Media Lab’s old space in the I.M. Pei-designed Wiesner Building. That space consisted of a series of rooms overlooking a multistory common area with minimal outside light. Keeping « the Cube » as inspiration, the new six-story building is connected to the Wiesner Building and consists of seven cubes awash in white walls, glass, and natural light. The staggered double-height units with glass walls allow various groups to look across, down, or up at one another. The cubes then form another cube around a common atrium.

Maki and his team have created a series of literal think tanks filled with professors, students, computers, and robots all working in tandem on future technology.
The cubes themselves, now referred to as labs, have retained the same creative and colorful preschool feel of the original Wiesner cube, with many of the usual players and odd projects-in-progress that the Media Lab has come to be known for.

In addition to housing new labs and offices for the MIT Media Lab organization, the building will also be home to several programs belonging to MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, the Jerome Lemelson Center for Inventive Thinking and the Okawa Center for Future Children. It also has a digital fabrication and machine shop, a lecture hall, a winter garden, a cafe, and conference rooms.



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