Cristina Parreño Investigates the Tectonics of Transparency With Glass Wall Prototype

© Jane Messinger

Architect and MIT Lecturer Cristina Parreño has created this new prototype for a self-supporting glass facade, entitled “The Wall.” The design is the first in Parreño’s “Tectonics of Transparency,” a series of planned prototypes that will “explore the relationship between formal design, spatial perception, structural efficiency and systems of .”

More details about Parreño’s prototype after the break

Hashim Sarkis Named MIT’s New Dean of Architecture and Planning

The Courtowers (currently under ). Image Courtesy of Hashim Sarkis Studios

Hashim Sarkis - a prominent scholar of architecture and urbanism, a practicing architect whose works have been built in the United States and the Middle East, and a leading expert on design in the Middle East – has been named the new dean of ’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), effective in January. Sarkis is currently the Aga Khan Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism in Muslim Societies at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). He has been on the Harvard faculty since 1998, and has been a full professor since 2002.

“The energy and forward-looking attitude I have encountered at one of the oldest schools of architecture and planning in the country makes it feel like the youngest,” Sarkis says. Read the complete press release here.

Light Matters: Smart Flying Pixels Create a Floating Glow

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Imagine luminaires that could fly and visualise new buildings or individually guide you through space. What would happen if you could even interact with these flying pixels? These concepts could be realised in the near future as the first prototypes and experiments are being introduced. Software-driven LED pixels combined with drone swarm technology provide extraordinary possibilities for inducing new forms of spatial experience. These luminous pixel clouds emerge as digital patterns, but at the same time they emanate a romantic quality with their unique star formations twinkling in the night sky. The first projects have shared a playful note, but laboratories such as MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, ARES Lab and Ars Electronica Futurelab have shown an intriguing future in urban design for guidance systems or envisioning real estate developments, as advances in battery technology and wireless control have opened new perspectives for a life with smart flying pixels.

Beyond “Things That Flicker”: The Next Step for Media Architecture

Reconciling ‘media’ and ‘architecture’ evokes clumsy associations with Times Square, screens, integrated LEDs, paparazzi, or more generally ‘things that flicker’. Image © Flickr CC User MK Feeney

From November 19-22 in Aarhus, the Media Architecture Biennale 2014 held in will feature the world premier of ”Mapping the Senseable City,” an exhibition of the now ten-year-old MIT Senseable Cities Lab’s collected works. The following essay was written by Matthew Claudel, a researcher at the Senseable Cities Lab, In response to this collection, exploring what the future holds for media architecture, and imploring it to explore ideas beyond “TV screens for living in.”

The Actuated Cathedral

Media architecture is emphatically ambiguous. The phrase has been pasted wholesale onto a dizzying array of projects and products. But beyond imprecision, media architecture is vexed by an inherent tension: media are networked, immediate, dynamic communication systems that reach people broadly, while architecture is sited, singular, and persistent in time. Reconciling the two evokes clumsy associations with Times Square, screens, integrated LEDs, paparazzi, or more generally things that flicker.

Three Self-Healing Materials That Could Change the Future of Construction

The aggregate of this concrete contains bacterial spores that fill in any cracks in the material. Image © UCL, Institute of Making/Robert Eagle via flickr

Buildings, regrettably, don’t last forever. Until recently, the only way to increase a building’s lifespan was ongoing maintenance, which can be expensive, time-consuming and in the case of infrastructure such as bridges or roads, inconvenient. Beyond that, periodic replacement of the entire structure was an option, however this is clearly not a sustainable solution, especially considering the amount of CO2-releasing concrete used in modern construction.

But in the 21st century, another alternative is emerging. This article on CityLab uncovers three self-healing materials that could significantly extend the lifespan of a construction, including Erik Schlangen‘s asphalt that re-sets itself with a dose of induction heating, concrete developed at TU Delft (and elsewhere) that patches up cracks with the help of its living bacterial aggregate, and a recent discovery by MIT scientists that some metals have self-healing properties.

Read the article in full here, or carry on after the break for our own coverage of Erik Schlangen and ’s work in self-healing materials.

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@.edu

More info can be found here.

Nathan Friedman and Ann Lui, Editors
Thresholds, MIT Architecture
77 Massachusetts Ave, Room 7-337
Cambridge, 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 4D printing. Image Courtesy of , 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

City’s High Line. Image © Iwan Baan

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism has produced a new report examining urban 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 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 M-Blocks. 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 structures. 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 . 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 Self-Assembly Lab,

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 . The Fluid Crystallization installation – a collaboration between MIT Self-Assembly Lab director Skylar Tibbits and The Molecular Graphics Lab director Arthur Olsoninvestigates 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 Pavilion 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…