3Q: Paul Pettigrew

Prior to my MIT return, I taught a “functional object design” class in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) for 10+ years. Each semester, I would work alongside my students designing and fabricating a functional object in response to my own assignment. Inevitably, I would find a way of working stereo systems and/or music related functional objects into my response to my own assignment.

I bought my first stereo system with paper-route earnings as a seventh grader and immediately designed and assembled a shelving system for my new system. I also fabricated custom stands for my late 1970’s era, insanely oversized, stereo speakers.

I’m kind of obsessed with music. I listen to music every chance I get and try to attend at least 12 live music concerts each year (one per month). I’m also constantly in search of the next great sound in music so I tend to go to concerts of up-and-coming bands rather than more established, well known, or even “famous” bands. One benefit of this approach to concert going and live music listening is the price of concert tickets, which are often under $10, or just the price of a beer that I sit and drink while listening. My favorite Boston/Cambridge music venues include: Great Scott, Paradise Rock Club, Brighton Music Hall, The Middle East, and The Sinclair.

In Chicago, I had access to the Illinois Institute of Technology model shop and all of its machines and equipment. Here in Cambridge, I typically work out of the MIT Hobby Shop. During Covid times I lost access to the MIT Hobby Shop, so I was forced to rethink my latest music related projects, i.e. goodbye MIT Hobby Shop, power tools, machines, walnut, aluminum, and custom cast concrete….hello North-Cambridge apartment floor, corrugated cardboard, x-acto knife, Japanese saw, and Home Depot pre-cast concrete.

To date, I’ve designed and fabricated two mini-stereo systems (icharnley & g2 mini), two sets of “rearrangeable” stereo speakers (Joy Division & New Order), an acoustic electric ukulele, multiple stereo shelving systems, and most recently, a headphone/cd stereo “table”, vertical corrugated cardboard boom-box “table”, and corrugated cardboard turntable “table.”

Because ultimately, I’m an architect by way of education, teaching, and practice, each of my music related functional object designs is site specific, and typically the materials used are sourced locally. Perhaps the project that speaks to this design philosophy most clearly is my electric-acoustic ukulele which uses spalted maple from a storm damaged Buchanan Michigan tree, sawed into boards, and dried in a Sawyer Michigan solar powered kiln. The acoustic resonance of the ukulele and portable ukulele amplifier were intended to re-create the sounds of South-West Michigan’s Lake Michigan shores like a sea shell re-creates the sounds of the oceans and sea.

After September 7th, when we all return to campus, feel free to stop by my office, and take a listen to my headphone “table.” Most of these projects are written about, drawn, photographed, and presented in more detail on my website

Paul Pettigrew is currently Director, Undergraduate and Alumni Outreach, Career Development at the MIT Department of Architecture. Paul holds a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and a Master of Architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

Paul's story is part of a series of profiles meant to reveal the incredible stories, talents, interests, and backgrounds of our MIT Architecture staff.


1. "Fabricating Functional w./Frequency." Courtesy of Paul Pettigrew.

2. Electric acoustic ukulele & amp. Courtesy of Paul Pettigrew.