Four Ways to Learn About Architecture for Free

Project example from OpenCourseWare’s Geometric Disciplines and Architecture Skills: Reciprocal Methodologies by Isabel Collado and Ignacio Peydro. Image Courtesy of Luisel Zayas-San-Miguel

Learning doesn’t necessarily need to be formal – or expensive for that matter. Thanks to the Internet and some generous benefactors, you can further your education for free from the comfort of your own home. Top schools such as MIT and Harvard University are affiliated with free online learning resources, allowing people from all over the globe to connect and audit courses at their own pace. In some cases, these services even provide self-educators with proof for having completed courses. Keep reading after the break to check out our round-up of four free online learning resources.

MIT Develops Self-Assembling, Easy-Bake Robots

MIT has developed a way to 3D print sheets of material that self-assemble when baked. With inspiration from Japanese , researchers have developed — among other objects — robots. Head researcher Daniela Rus is already looking for potential applications saying, ”I want a robot that will play with my cat.” Check out the full article at HNGN to learn more and watch a video of the assembly in action.

Six “Miracle” Materials That Will Change Their Industries

The following six “miracle” could be headed straight into your home, office, car and more. Dina Spector at Business Insider recently rounded up the six most promising materials. As of now, their potential applications have just scratched the surface, but the possibilities are endless. Presented by AD Materials.

Scientists are constantly on the look out for lighter, stronger, and more energy-efficient materials. Here’s a glance at some materials that will change the way we build things in the future.

MIT’s Thresholds Launches New Website

Courtesy of

In time with the release of the 42nd issue, Human, Thresholds Journal — ’s peer-reviewed journal of art, architecture and culture — has launched a new website. The new ThresholdsJournal.com has been redesigned with more content, spanning the past two decades of the journal’s publication. Other features include online purchasing of past issues, enhanced search capabilities for past contributors, and social media interactivity. The new website will feature news on upcoming issues and related events, submission calls, as well as the broad range of voices that Thresholds has featured since 1992.

Thresholds is also currently seeking submissions for its 43rd issue, to be published in spring of 2015, on the topic Scandalous. What causes you to gasp? Which sites are labeled crime scenes? Editors Nathan Friedman and Ann Lui intend to complicate the idea of high-stakes public discourse through a series of long-form scholarly texts and creative projects. The deadline for contributions is April 30, 2014Content can be sent to thresholds@mit.edu.The full call for submissions can be accessed here.

Call for Submissions: Thresholds 43

Gasp! What provokes this reflex that leaves one short of breath? More than just a sudden turn of events, for discourse to move from gossip to scandal there have to be stakes. Reputations, profits, and history-by-the-winners are on the line. 

In 1939, architect George W. Stoddard understood these stakes well when writing his apology to the AIA Board of Directors. “There are times in every man’s life when he does things on the spur of the moment that he later regrets,” Stoddard implored after flouting a professional ban on advertising.  The popular newspaper tabloid from following decades trafficked in one form of scandal surrounding the crime of regrettable deeds: originating in the private sphere and then splashed in the public one. These stories trade in schadenfreude while simultaneously performing in the interest of public good.

Stoddard’s delinquent act barely raises the contemporary pulse. Today, shocking headlines proliferate. If scandal shapes and reflects the historical moment, what does this de-sensitization say about our current condition? Many artists and architects operate fully conscious of an anaesthetized public. 43: Scandalous seeks to investigate the relevance of scandal in creative practice. Content should confront a history of devious schemes, spectacular headlines, and pulp fictions by engaging them in critical conversation.

Scandal, we believe, is the red flag of every cultural movement. Sin segues into standards. Take Corbusier’s Plan Voisin and subsequent tower in the park offshoots, or Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment that opened a new era of artistic provocations concerning public funding and censorship. This potential for transition, from shocking to ubiquitous, leads the editors of Thresholds to subvert a pursuit of the ‘goods’ and instead ask: what is ‘bad’? How does scandal emerge from or act counter to institutional and social contracts? How do changing forms of media, from the catchy hashtag to the news alert, incite slander or even revolution? Why does scandal destroy some while elevating others? Which sites are labeled crime scenes?

Submission Guidelines 

Submission Deadline: April 30, 2014 

Thresholds is an annual, peer-reviewed journal that accepts original material for publication.

Thresholds is looking for three types of content: Scholarly articles, projects, and shorts.

1. Scholarly articles: Text should be in English, limited to 3,000 words, and formatted in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style. Images should be included separately at 300 dpi print quality, with captions and credits.

2. Projects: Image-based content of creative practices formatted for print publication. Thresholds is formatted with an individual page size of 6.5” x 9.5”  (portrait) and spread size of 13” x 9.5”.

3. Shorts: Brief creative content, such as a sketch, rant, or overheard, to serve as a break between featured articles and projects. Guidelines are open.

Submissions should include a cover letter, contact information and brief bio of under 50 words for each author. Text as MS Word, images as TIFF files. All material should be submitted to thresholds@mit.edu

More info can be found here.

Nathan Friedman and Ann Lui, Editors
Thresholds, MIT Architecture
77 Massachusetts Ave, Room 7-337
, MA 02139
thresholds@mit.edu 

Spectrum Magazine Spotlights MIT’s Cross-Disciplinary Research into Cities

Fluid Crystallization, a project by Skylar Tibbits which informed his investigation of printing. Image Courtesy of The Self-Assembly Lab, MIT

Spectrum Magazine, an annual publication by MIT to highlight the work of a cross-section of their professors and alumni, has recently released its 2014 edition. This year, the focus is on cities, with a great selection of architecture, planning and technology based contributions. You can download a pdf of the magazine here – or read on after the break for links to some articles of note.

Joi Ito Explains His Theories of Organic City Design

Joi Ito. Image © Flickr CC User Nokton

As part of their coverage of the Global Agenda Council on Design and Innovation, Grasp Magazine interviewed Joi Ito, director of MIT‘s Media Lab. He voices his opinion that current strategies for masterplanning do not work, as designers struggle to reliably “predict and cause a future to occur” (a better approach is to enable and empower innovation on a grass-roots level); that designers need to find the right balance between intuition and data; and that new technologies should not just improve existing systems, but preferably overhaul them entirely. You can read the full article here.

Design: A Long Term Preventative Medicine

New York City’s High Line. Image © Iwan Baan

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and MIT’s has produced a new report examining urban health in eight of the USA’s largest cities, which has been translated into a collection of meaningful findings for architects, designers, and urban planners. With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas – a statistic which is projected to grow to 70% by 2050 – the report hinges around the theory that “massive urbanization can negatively affect human and environmental health in unique ways” and that, in many cases, these affects can be addressed by architects and designers by the way we create within and build upon our cities.

3D Printing Moves Into the Fourth Dimension

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While most of us are grappling with the idea of 3D printing, Skylar Tibbits – computational architect and lecturer at MIT – is spearheading projects towards a fourth dimension. Transformation, Tibbit claims, is an uncharted capability that enables objects – straight off the printing bed – to assemble themselves, changing from one form to another. “Think: robots with no wires or motors.” Tibbits exhibits how a single strand – embedded with predetermined properties – can fold from a line to a three dimensional structure. “I invite you to join us in reinventing how things come together.”

MIT Researchers Propose Self-Assembling Robots as Future of Construction

An exposed prototype of the M-Block, a new modular robotic system . Image © M. Scott Brauer

Picture this: self-assembling blocks that, when given a task, have the ability to reorganize themselves into new geometries.

This is precisely what research scientist, John Romanishin, at MIT‘s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has long envisioned for a near future — robotic modules known as . Romanishin has teamed with his professor, Daniela Rus, and colleague, postdoc Kyle Gilpin, to prototype robotic cubes with no external moving parts, able to climb over, around and even leap onto each other.

Till now, robots have depended on arms or attachments to move themselves. “We wanted a simpler approach,” says Romanishin, that uses fewer moving parts. Inside each M-Block is a flywheel that spins at 20,000 revolutions per minute, creating enough angular momentum when it brakes that the blocks assemble themselves in new configurations. On each face and edge of the cubes are magnets, naturally connecting the cubes when spurred by the flywheel.

Learn more after the break…

How to Construct Large Structures Out of Small Ones

© Kenneth Cheung

MIT researchers have developed a lightweight, interlocking composite component which can be snapped together to create airplanes, spacecraft and even larger . Likened to chain mail but based on a newly-developed geometry, the parts form a structure that is 10 times stiffer for a given weight than existing ultralight materials. The structure allows much less material to carry a given load and could revolutionize all moving vehicles, reducing their weight and the costs of while allowing greater design flexibility. To find out how it happens, read the full description here.

Fluid Crystallization / Skylar Tibbits + Arthur Olson

Courtesy of The Lab, MIT

From the architect. MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab has exhibited the Fluid Crystallization project as part of the 2013 Architectural League Prize Exhibition at the Parson’s Gallery in New York. The Fluid Crystallization installation – a collaboration between MIT Self-Assembly Lab director Skylar Tibbits and The Molecular Graphics Lab director investigates hierarchical and non-deterministic self-assembly with large numbers of parts in a fluid medium. 

What is Architecture in the Age of Digital Networking?

Silk at the Media Lab, a cross-disciplinary initiative. © Steven Keating

I get most of my knowledge about the current trends and interests of architects through social media and various websites. My Facebook newsfeed constantly shows an array of pictures, articles, and videos of things ranging from new buildings to data algorithms to bacteria evolution to (usually confusing) romantic, poetic statements about architecture.

They all share one thing in common: they are posted on Facebook by architects and architecture students. To me, this shows the current disarray and lack of focus in the field. Architecture publications and websites only confirm my thoughts further. And nothing reaffirms this more than my daily experiences at MIT.

Read more, after the break…

Silk Pavilion / MIT Media Lab

© Steven Keating

“Our research integrates computational form-finding strategies with biologically inspired fabrication“, claims the ‘about’ page of MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group. Though this may sound like run-of-the-mill architectural boasting, you are unlikely to find any more exemplary combination of scientific research, digital design and biomimetic construction than their recently completed Silk Pavilion.

‘Infrastructural Monument’ Conference

Courtesy of Center for Advanced Urbanism

Taking place April 8-9 at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning the ‘Infrastructural Monument’ Conference hosted by the Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU), focuses on the development of infrastructural research agendas and projects which is a key mission for MIT’s CAU. This conference is the first in a series, devoted to a series of strategic design challenges facing worldwide. The conferences challenges you to answer the question, ‘Can a typical American city be transformed from a collection of fragments assembled regionally by interstate highways, to a more durable regional constitution, using targeted infrastructural investment projects?’ For more information, please visit here.

Neri Oxman: On Designing Form

Neri Oxman is an architect and founder of MATERIALECOLOGY with the Media Lab. Her work focuses on computational strategies for form finding; she chooses to define and design processes that generate form. She has published numerous papers and has contributed to various texts. Her work has also been featured at the MOMA for the exhibit “Design and the Elastic Mind“, which she designed four systems of processes. In this lecture posted by PopTech, Oxman discusses what the processes of nature can teach designers and how computational strategies defined by materials and the environment can expand the possibilities of the generation of form through algorithms and analysis.

Follow us after the break for more.

‘Latest Works’ Lecture by Manuel Aires Mateus at MIT

House in Aroeira / Courtesy of Mateus e Associados

Manuel Aires Mateus of Aires Mateus e Associados will be giving a lecture at MIT featuring ‘Latest Works’. The projects of Aires Mateus e Associados are characterised by materiality, mass and an essential muteness or quietness. The Paulo Gomes Archeological Center, Casa Areia and Furnas Monitoring and Investigation Centre are perhaps the most elemental and representative of their projects, seeming to draw power from the connection or contrast with nature.

Situated at the archaeological site of Crasto Lofts, the Paulo Gomes Archeological Center features an exhibition area defined as the liminal space between a and glass skin and the exposed cliff side. (Australian Institute of Architects).The event, which is free and open to the public, takes place Thursday, May 3rd at 6:30pm at Building 10, room 250. For more information, please visit here.

‘Elemental Recent Projects: Monoliths and Trees’ Lecture by Alejandro Aravena at MIT

Siamese Towers / Courtesy of

Alejandro Aravena, based in Santiago de Chile, will be giving a lecture at MIT on the theme of ‘Elemental Recent Projects: Monoliths and Trees’. After the 8.8 earthquake and tsunami that hit Chile in 2010, they have worked in the reconstruction by proposing a mitigation forest as the main infrastructural work, but also dealing with housing, public buildings, productive activities and transportation. In 2011 they were called to perform a similar redesign of an entire city in the Atacama desert, where the Chilean Copper Company, Codelco, commissioned them to intervene at the whole scale of Calama where they are proposing an oasis.

They have been also working in different buildings like the Angelini Innovation Center in Chile and the Mirador del Diablo in Mexico where architecture has become rather monolithic. The event, which is free and open to the public, takes place Thursday, April 19th at 6:30pm at Building 10, room 250. For more information, please visit here.