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MIT Architecture is shaped by MIT’s architecture. From our front door on Massachusetts Avenue, this architecture is imposing, classical, and apparently immutable. Yet the physical and intellectual innovations that MIT has produced — scientific frameworks and inventions, social and humanistic insights, new methods of thinking and making — course around the world and have remade it several times over. The resulting tension between speed and heaviness, and between lightness and gravity, is most beautifully captured in the ephemeral and enduring culture of hacking MIT’s own architecture: the illicit adornment of domes and towers with fire engines, Daleks, Lunar Landers, subway cars and Star Wars droids. While superficially vandalizing the Institute, they also serve as the best representation of its essential, improbable identity.

Below the roofline, MIT’s architecture is largely given over to labs and shops — places in which things are measured, charted, discovered, and optimized. But our discipline is also profoundly shaped by irrational creativity and inescapable political realities. Creativity, history, politics and technology are all present at MIT, but in this Department, they live, work, and invent together.

The organizational architecture of our department reflects this reality. Groups of faculty in the arts, design and urbanism, computation, building technology, and history and theory, are all amongst the very best of the world, and organize themselves into discipline groups to serve groups of advanced students. Our undergraduate and professional degrees connect these groups, as our faculty work together to model architecture’s unique integration of diverse modes of thinking and making.

Today, we are turning these tools to the contradictions inherent in MIT’s architecture and history. The Institute’s foundation and historic leadership are closely linked to the slave economy. MIT’s endowment was seeded, along with that of 52 other universities, with the proceeds from the sale of 79,461 parcels of indigenous land, the sale of which dispossessed members of nearly 250 tribes, bands and communities across the United States. Even today — at least until a current discussion on renaming is concluded —one of the Institute’s most public buildings memorializes Francis Amasa Walker, former MIT President and the architect of the American Indian Reservation System. In this context, and particularly in the last year, MIT Architecture has committed itself to building an anti-racist and inclusive institution in our hiring and admissions processes, in our teaching, and in the community we create in our classrooms, labs, and studios.

This commitment is particularly essential in the larger context of the climate crisis. Like our current pandemic, the effects of our accelerating climate emergency unevenly burden the least wealthy, least privileged, and most vulnerable members of our global community. Architecture has been complicit in many of the problems and decisions that have caused our climate crisis. It must play a central role in shared solutions as well.

As MIT reckons with its own history, and the challenge of creating a more inclusive and sustainable future, MIT Architecture is imagining new physical architecture of its own; working with colleagues across the School of Architecture and Planning, as well as architects Leers Weinzapfel and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, we are re-imagining the former Metropolitan Storage Warehouse as a design hub for MIT. With community-focused spaces and public galleries, and adjacent and interconnected spaces for research and teaching, a new architecture for the department will frame our most essential, contemporary mission: connecting design, research, and creativity to diverse communities and the urgent issues of our time.