New MIT Media Lab Opens Doors

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March 9, 2010

The Media Lab at MIT is an unmatched incubator of unlikely partnerships -- where academia and industry hold hands, and where art and technology are inseparable. Designed by Prtizker Prize-winning Fumihiko Maki, the Media Lab extension officially opened its doors last Friday, welcoming artists, engineers, and design enthusiasts through its beautiful translucent walls.

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    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  The original Media Lab was designed by I. M. Pei in 1985, and planning for its extension began in May 1998. The new complex was conceived as an antithesis to the traditional research building: instead of a cube behind iron curtains and steel doors, Maki wanted to turn it inside out, like an ‘invisible man’ model.  

With floor-to-ceiling glass atop Corbu-referenced pilotis, all insides can now be seen -- from one lab to another, as well as from the street into the ground floor exhibitions.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    The original Media Lab was designed by I. M. Pei in 1985, and planning for its extension began in May 1998. The new complex was conceived as an antithesis to the traditional research building: instead of a cube behind iron curtains and steel doors, Maki wanted to turn it inside out, like an ‘invisible man’ model. With floor-to-ceiling glass atop Corbu-referenced pilotis, all insides can now be seen -- from one lab to another, as well as from the street into the ground floor exhibitions.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  The main atrium in the center is pierced by two glass elevators and a red staircase. As I descended to the first floor, I noticed that the stairs were carefully calibrated to be just too far apart to walk down normally, so I was forced to somehow half-run and half-glide down the steps, in a rather promenade-like and (hopefully) dignified fashion.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    The main atrium in the center is pierced by two glass elevators and a red staircase. As I descended to the first floor, I noticed that the stairs were carefully calibrated to be just too far apart to walk down normally, so I was forced to somehow half-run and half-glide down the steps, in a rather promenade-like and (hopefully) dignified fashion.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  While Maki and Associates wanted floor-to-ceiling transparency, Massachusetts energy code states that no building can have over 50% glass enclosure. This presented a problem that Maki cleverly skirted -- by utilizing 1” circular aluminum rods spaced one inch apart to form a ubiquitous external screen preserving the building’s translucency. “This method was inspired by bamboo screens in Japan,” explained Gary Kamamoto of Maki and Associates.

A 50% ceramic dot screen was used as well, producing dreamy, filtering views of the Charles River - similar in concept to the pointillism used by Georges Seurat.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    While Maki and Associates wanted floor-to-ceiling transparency, Massachusetts energy code states that no building can have over 50% glass enclosure. This presented a problem that Maki cleverly skirted -- by utilizing 1” circular aluminum rods spaced one inch apart to form a ubiquitous external screen preserving the building’s translucency. “This method was inspired by bamboo screens in Japan,” explained Gary Kamamoto of Maki and Associates. A 50% ceramic dot screen was used as well, producing dreamy, filtering views of the Charles River - similar in concept to the pointillism used by Georges Seurat.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  Inspired by the fundamental color scheme used by Piet Mondrian and the De Stijl movement, these primary hues also give a nod to the notable colored tiles in Pei’s original building. You can even tell that the staircases are slightly wider in the middle -- its form is a literal stress/moment diagram, as more structural support is necessary at the center.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    Inspired by the fundamental color scheme used by Piet Mondrian and the De Stijl movement, these primary hues also give a nod to the notable colored tiles in Pei’s original building. You can even tell that the staircases are slightly wider in the middle -- its form is a literal stress/moment diagram, as more structural support is necessary at the center.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  The top floor of the new Media Lab feels quite ethereal. It includes a double-height roof cafe, two expansive gathering rooms, and a serene balcony where one floats nearly weightless above the Charles River and the Boston skyline. 

When I noted the bravery of the wall-to-wall white carpeting, Joe Pryse of Leers Weinzapfel Associates (the building’s Architect of Record) chuckled and promptly declared a no-red-wine policy on the sixth floor.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    The top floor of the new Media Lab feels quite ethereal. It includes a double-height roof cafe, two expansive gathering rooms, and a serene balcony where one floats nearly weightless above the Charles River and the Boston skyline. When I noted the bravery of the wall-to-wall white carpeting, Joe Pryse of Leers Weinzapfel Associates (the building’s Architect of Record) chuckled and promptly declared a no-red-wine policy on the sixth floor.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  Maki presented the building as a white canvas -- “and the Media Lab will paint paintings on that canvas.”  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    Maki presented the building as a white canvas -- “and the Media Lab will paint paintings on that canvas.”

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  This gathering room on the sixth floor is lovingly referred to as the ‘acropolis,’ Its walls are clad with maple wood slats and fabric for acoustics.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    This gathering room on the sixth floor is lovingly referred to as the ‘acropolis,’ Its walls are clad with maple wood slats and fabric for acoustics.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  The Tangible Media Group is one of many vastly multiplying research groups housed in the Media Lab. Headed by Professor Hiroshi Ishii, some emerging projects include Sourcemap, which visualizes global supply chains and lifecycles of products, and Wetpaint, a technique for exploring multi-layered images.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    The Tangible Media Group is one of many vastly multiplying research groups housed in the Media Lab. Headed by Professor Hiroshi Ishii, some emerging projects include Sourcemap, which visualizes global supply chains and lifecycles of products, and Wetpaint, a technique for exploring multi-layered images.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  The public opening of the Media Lab also revealed several exhibits in the lobby, united under the theme of "Defying Gravity”.

One piece, entitled “Daedalus - Holding Pattern/Problem” by artist Haseeb Ahmed, delves into the legendary human-powered airplane Daedalus (1985), recreated from completely found materials.  Crafted from a drogue parachute, colored plastic wrap, and a tattered wing from actual historic Daedalus experiments, the piece is suspended from the ceiling and circles over the lobby, as if in its ultimate flight.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    The public opening of the Media Lab also revealed several exhibits in the lobby, united under the theme of "Defying Gravity”. One piece, entitled “Daedalus - Holding Pattern/Problem” by artist Haseeb Ahmed, delves into the legendary human-powered airplane Daedalus (1985), recreated from completely found materials. Crafted from a drogue parachute, colored plastic wrap, and a tattered wing from actual historic Daedalus experiments, the piece is suspended from the ceiling and circles over the lobby, as if in its ultimate flight.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  A site-specific installation, "Daedalus" was adapted to fit the Media Lab’s opening as a representation and a reminder of the fragments left behind by technological progress. 

As proposed by Ahmed: “People have been dreaming about wings for thousands of years. By showing something over twenty years old, I wanted to pose certain questions to the future of architecture and the Media Lab: what happens to this kind of technology after these pieces have accomplished their initial goals? What’s to come of them after their deterioration?” (Photo Credit: Greg Perkins)  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    A site-specific installation, "Daedalus" was adapted to fit the Media Lab’s opening as a representation and a reminder of the fragments left behind by technological progress. As proposed by Ahmed: “People have been dreaming about wings for thousands of years. By showing something over twenty years old, I wanted to pose certain questions to the future of architecture and the Media Lab: what happens to this kind of technology after these pieces have accomplished their initial goals? What’s to come of them after their deterioration?” (Photo Credit: Greg Perkins)

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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  Four double-height research blocks surround and anchor the central atrium, and are staggered throughout the volume to promote diagonal visual communication between labs. 

As a result, these blocks create and overlook an open Guggenheim-esque circulation path around the central atrium -- much like one big embracing house for technology's future.  Photo by: Tiffany Chu
    Four double-height research blocks surround and anchor the central atrium, and are staggered throughout the volume to promote diagonal visual communication between labs. As a result, these blocks create and overlook an open Guggenheim-esque circulation path around the central atrium -- much like one big embracing house for technology's future.

    Photo by: Tiffany Chu

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