In conceiving the first school of architecture in the United States, architect William Ware pledged MIT to a very important task of producing architecture and architects worthy of the future. Future is always part of an architect’s prospective task. It is constitutive of architectural thinking, of the five centuries old division between representing and constructing architectural objects, and it has been summoned repeatedly throughout history as the framework and the topic of hallucinating and willing new worlds, near and far beyond the present. More importantly, Ware’s qualifier binds architecture and future through qualitative judgment, inviting us to contemplate futures worth living, architectures worthy of those futures, and the criteria for evaluating them.

The MArch program at MIT is a laboratory in which we speculate on diverse forms of agency for future architectures. Future is not a singular construct. The most useful contemporary conception of ‘future’ may be as a series of increasingly dire prospects marching towards us, all collateral outcomes of the naïve faith of previous eras in unfettered progress. These include major migrations induced by climate change and patterns of global economy, extreme weather, resource depletion, uneven and unjust distribution of economic means, crumbling infrastructure, pollution…and so many other forms of alienation.

Turning these prospects into opportunities, or ensuring better prospects for all will require many types of architectural projects, of different temperaments and temporalities at once. Together MIT faculty, guest critics and students cultivate expertise, sensibilities and critical questioning necessary to deliver architectural objects with specific effects, architecture as an active participant in the production of urbanity and of material, political and environmental territories, architecture as the agent of industry’s transformation, architecture as a means to address largest societal questions, to critically intervene in discourse, to induce hesitation in the practice of daily life, and rewire the patterns of understanding and living. T, “technology”— given primacy in the name of the institute that houses our program—is simply a fact of life in all of these architectural domains. It solves problems as often as it creates them. Our deep critical understanding of this sets us up with an enormous advantage in the contemporary landscape of architectural academia. Technology, is always already cultural and political, and vice versa, culture and politics are not separable from technology.

At MIT we probe far beyond professional training. Relying on the deep expertise of discipline groups that contribute to the MArch education at MIT (Urbanism; Building Technology; History, Theory and Criticism; Art, Culture & Technology; Computation; and the Aga Kahn Program in Islamic Architecture) we collectively produce a space for challenging and redefining those very disciplines. On the other hand, this urge to go beyond professional training is what makes that very training uniquely MIT—the profession’s future is no more static than the future of the disciplines that contribute to the built environment, or the society that relies on and pulsates within that same environment. As researchers, authors and producers MIT faculty work on the edges where the present turns into the future.  As pedagogues, they embrace the future by trusting their students, whose thinking and sensibilities will by definition defy the standards of the present. This position already prefigures the next. The thoughtful architects who are preparing to impact, and increase our future prospects, are, at MIT, equipped with technological and disciplinary know-how, and they are, with equal care and passion, supplied with intellectual and political prowess. These in turn ensure that students become increasingly self-aware about their position with respect to their technological tools, disciplinary understanding, and the ideologies and entanglements these invite into their architectural work. Preparing to be thrust into the unknown requires everything that is known, but also as Ware suggested, the capacity to evaluate and change the field, the status quo, the state of the art, the contemporary definition of the architect—to challenge the present into a better future.

The small size of MIT’s MArch program, with 25 students in each class, allows for absolutely unique trajectories through MIT’s pedagogical offerings and subsequently through the field and the profession of architecture. The program’s small size also ensures that the experiments are conducted in an atmosphere of engaged debate, occasionally inviting guests into the intimate fold of the program to share their points of view and expertise, or help us test the limits of our own. The daily life of the MIT Master of Architecture program, embedded within the Department of Architecture and the School of Architecture and Planning, is enriched by lectures and debates that are meant to frame and probe issues of different levels of urgency, with students running the most agile platforms for internal dialogue.

Though it feeds on everything that surrounds it, the MArch laboratory derives its energy from its key testing ground, the studio. Studio is a key site of iterative, embodied, design learning, where cultural meaning animates methods and materials with urgency. The MIT’s MArch studio sequence is both surrounded by and infused with deep disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking, sometimes in support of and other times deliberately at odds with studio concerns. It is comprised of three distinct units: (3) Core Studios, (3) Research Studios and a Thesis Project.

The collective mission of the three Core studios is to deliver key architectural tools to the students, while opening up a series of different entries into the vocation of an architect, such that students can begin to develop their own positions and become well versed at initiating other entries and paths through the discipline. Each of the Core studios is oriented toward the contemporary conversations and the future of the discipline. Which means that they are constantly updated. Though each of them delimits a different set of cultural, technical and disciplinary issues, together they deliver skills, attitudes and questions that the MIT Architecture faculty deem fundamental for students who are establishing their own research projects and counter projects.

For one third to one half of the population of every incoming class of MArch students, these three studios will be the first experiences in: navigating uncertainty in the creative process, the exhilaration of giving form to ideas, imagining material assemblies with specific properties, searching for the appropriate ways to align architecture’s agency with their own cultural and social ambitions. These will be experienced with increasing levels of control throughout the life of the architect. Acknowledging that, and in preparation for it, iteration and experimentation form the underlying ethos of all three core studios. Our compact Core sequence begins the long-term cultivation of the thirst for experimentation, forms of criticality and for many, love of making.

Following Core, the Research Studios offer an array of topics at scales that range from 1:1 experimentation in assembly to the geographic scale. They fit, though never neatly, into several categories of inquiry: architectural, which includes design of buildings and urban life; urban, which includes design of landscape, territories and the urban fabric); and cross studios, which focus on interdisciplinary topics and open up the possibilities for the final deliverables of the studio to various media suited to the focus of their research.

Seminars and Lecture courses drill down into historical and disciplinary expertise, which contextualize, challenge and sometimes enable studio’s instrumental thinking, while Workshops provide a platform for faster, more discrete experimentation than is normally conducted in studios. All of these are mechanisms by which faculty involve students into the deep depths of their own research.

The Thesis semester caps the MArch studio sequence. It provides to students a precious and sustained space for their own experimentation with framing the terms of engagement with the world. The size of the program becomes relevant here once again. Many forms and formats of work are possible for this self-directed project; a student could choose to see their contribution at this stage as feeding into a larger project already well under way in the department, or one of the labs currently operating, or as a more intimate dialogue with individual faculty. The buzz, the energy, and the production that take place during the MArch thesis ferment into material artifacts, processes, statements—knowledge—that probes the edges of architecture. The final Thesis presentation, set to be the last event of the semester, is when the faculty involved in the MArch program together with students and guest critics celebrate our students’ ideas, risks taken, decisions made in the course of their thesis projects, and all those yet to come.


-- Ana Miljacki, M.Arch Program Director