Designing from a distance

MIT Architecture students stay connected through the Summer Work and Pedagogy Program

While the Institute closed its physical doors on campus this past spring, the Department of Architecture opened itself up over the summer with the Summer Work and Pedagogy Program (SWAP). Initiated by Department Head Nicholas de Monchaux, the program created new opportunities for student engagement due to the lack of summer internships and research as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the efforts of administration and faculty members, over 50 paid positions were created as an initiative to employ students for the summer.

The pedagogical experiments were also offered as workshops for credit to students. These subjects ranged from building geodesic domes; prototyping publications; visualization in storytelling; workshopping for radio; exploring the social intersections of architecture; upcycling and machine learning; and more. Work and classes were conducted online, enabling the participation of students across the globe.

SWAP was a coordinated effort to bring the Department community together to design from a distance in the summer and reflect on the upcoming fall semester.

“As a discipline of making, architecture is fundamentally constructive, and optimistic,” de Monchaux stated. “There is not an architect alive who does not want, in some way, to make the world both better and more beautiful.”

Courses included:

The Architecture of the Page: Building Media for Ourselves and Others

To fill the gap from the loss of the physical presence of campus, a new kind of publication was proposed to act as repository not just of student work, but of the lives of the study body together. Led by Miko McGinty, a New York based graphic designer, the workshop focused on developing skills in print publication reimagined for the current times.

How to Build a Geodesic Dome: In-Situ Resource Utilization

Through remote collaboration with Tom Sachs, contemporary New York artist, students built a geodesic dome from a material of their choosing at a scale appropriate to their current environment. The domes were part of a tradition of geodesic building by MIT Architecture students dating back to Buckminster Fuller’s dome in 1954. Through this course, the tradition was reimagined to reflect the circumstances and challenges of this time.

Kintsugi, Upcycling and Machine Learning

Inspired by the Japanese art of “Kinstugi”, the course explored computation to piece broken fragments into new assemblies. Led by Professor Caitlin Mueller, students were introduced to scanning and categorization algorithms, processes for matching through neural networks onto a target geometry, and methods for optimization of the target shape.

Deep Time Architecture

“Deep Time Architecture” looked for ways to augment the temporal sensibilities that are essential to the architectural frameworks and infrastructures capable to act at the timescales of our most urgent crises. Led by Cristina Parreño Alonso, the workshop explored architecture where humans are both accountable for the decline caused by technological achievements but also capable of reversing climate change.

Handwashing, Rituals, and Forms of Obsession

Aside from being a sterile experience, handwashing can be among a limited set of richly tactile experiences left to us in a time of isolation. Conducted by Jeremy Jih, this class explored soap as sculptural output, site, tool, or choreographer, and investigated the reciprocal relationships between form and behavior: how behavior shapes form, and how form shapes behavior.

A House Deconstructed 

How do we define/measure our response/responsibility? The objective for this summer workshop, led by Mark Jarzombek, was to fill in research gaps from the spring study regarding material types and sub-topics. The research was then used to compile narratives found throughout the global construction and material economy.

Immersive Visualization and Storytelling

Conducted by Cagri Zaman, this workshop addressed the emerging need for remote design education. It introduced students to new methods of storytelling through a range of visualization techniques, from photogrammetry to XR. Particular emphasis was given to remote collaboration in spatial media, such as reviewing architectural models in virtual reality.

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Architecture

Led by MArch students Katharine Kettner and Christopher Moyer, the course critically explored the intersections between architecture and issues rooted in race, gender, and class. To foster collaboration, collective learning, and personal identity, course participants produced personalized syllabi that reflected their own unique questions regarding these issues.

Radio Architecture Workshop  

In this workshop led by MArch students Ben Hoyle, Jeff Landman, and Eytan Levi, participants worked with the distanced and durational qualities of radio to develop new ways to understand space. The workshop proposed the radio as the alternative medium to access other senses, other voices, other methods and other places of production.

Cooperative Conditions: Boston  

The goal of this workshop, led by Susanne Schindler, was to learn from the housing cooperative model of Zurich and transfer its strategies to Boston. At the same time, students identified design and development issues of the Boston housing market. Together, they analyzed Boston-area precedents, dissected planning regulations, fiscal, legal, and financial frameworks, and interviewed key actors.


By Carol-Anne Rodrigues M.Arch ’22. 

1. A project by Natalie Pearl M.Arch ’23 from SWAP course Handwashing, Rituals, and Forms of Obsession.

2. Experiments in rearranging fragments by Tim Cousin MArch ’23 from Kintsugi, Upcycling and Machine Learning.

3. Robert R. Taylor (back row, third from right) with fellow classmates at MIT, 1892. Taylor was the first black student to graduate from MIT, as well as the first accredited African-American architect. From What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Architecture. 

*Note: The above list of summer courses is non-exhaustive.