News
Fall 2020 in the MIT Department of Architecture

To the graduate student members of our community,

In 1868, MIT created the first academic program in Architecture in the United States of America. In replacing a system of purely professional apprenticeship, the Institute imported a system of more formal education in physical studios, based on drawings, models and prototypes. Many things have changed (and we are glad of it!, but this hands-on approach to learning has not, and the challenges of this spring helped us understand how essential it is. In planning for the Fall of 2020, our goal has been to preserve the very best elements of place-based and project-based learning, throughout the many programs in our department, while ensuring safety and individual flexibility for students, staff and faculty.

As discussed already in Town Halls, FAQs, and in our faculty/staff/student committees, we plan a hybrid model which emphasizes the need for physical spaces of ‘making’ and learning within a socially-distanced framework, supported virtually and with robust support for off-campus making and thinking as well. We believe this approach can best sustain the ambient sense of connection that allows students to learn the most from each other, the potential to safely interact with instructors, as well as the creation of physical prototypes, printouts, and artifacts that are essential to learning about, and imagining the world in all its dimensions. At the same time, we recognize the paramount importance of ensuring public safety, and the safety of our students and faculty, by planning for appropriate constraints in social distancing, broad individual flexibility in day-to-day physical presence and modes of interaction, and robust support for students and faculty engaging remotely. This will be complementary, we hope, with parts of on-campus research and learning, such as access to libraries, that rest in the Institute’s control.

For all graduate students in Cambridge and Boston (whether enrolled in studio courses or not), and for undergraduates invited onto Campus by MIT, we will offer a desk in socially-distanced shared space, as well as access to workshops and as many other campus resources as possible for study, visualization and design. 

We will also dedicate strategic resources to accomplish several essential goals normally accomplished in the studio environment by other means. These will include support for off-campus making via remote learning from our shop instructors and new TA positions, material kits delivered to all students in making-based classes for common materials and reference in design and creative work, as well as additional teaching support for students and faculty via TAs and teaching fellows. 

In addition to these expanded teaching assistant opportunities to support new modes of making and learning, we have been working on a more robust process of applying for and receiving these positions that will bring as much transparency and equity as possible to the process of applying for and receiving department-funded positions. 

Curriculum 

Within this larger framework of opportunity and support, different classes will adapt differently. It will be important to offer equitable access to learning experiences for students in different locations, and yet also take advantage of physical resources where possible -- both remotely and in Cambridge. Given the small scale of many of our classes, including seminars and studios, we expect that many of the best decisions about how to balance in-person making and working, online instruction, and other approaches will be made locally. 

However, as we have shared with you, we expect most discussions to be online. This is particularly true as it will be important to offer equitable access and experiences to students not able to join us in person for part or all of the semester. Yet we also expect, within developing MIT and local government guidelines, for there to be the potential for more opportunities for events like in-person site visits, outdoor discussions, than in the last two months of the spring semester. 

For students in our M.Arch. and SMarchS program, we will be making additional efforts to coordinate across the curriculum, particularly in core semesters, to help ensure that the work of balancing coursework is done as much as possible for, and not by, students. Faculty in these programs are already meeting to plan this overlap and coordination, and dedicated TAs will operate between classes to facilitate coordination and communication throughout the semester.

Lectures, Publications, and Department Events

Our department is much more than its classes and studios. Over the summer, groups of students, staff, and faculty, as well as dedicated summer courses, have been meeting to think about how we can best connect to each other, debate together, and ensure the impact of our work together. A result of these conversations has been new strategies around lectures, publications, and events. We will be in touch with more details in the next several weeks, but, as a preview of some of these efforts, we are working with faculty and students on a combined lecture series for the department as a meeting place for all our students, as well as a new, student-designed publication of work from all our programs, including ACT, to ensure work, and our life together, is recorded and shared beyond the confines of zoom. 

Fall 2020 Academic Calendar, including final review dates.

All classes will begin virtually on Tuesday, September 1, and end on Wednesday, December 9, as according to the Institute Academic Calendar (https://registrar.mit.edu/calendar). All in-person meetings and activities will end on Friday, November 20, prior to the start of the Thanksgiving holiday break.

Graduate final studio reviews will take place virtually on Monday, December 7 through Wednesday, December 9.

Pre-thesis reviews for students in the S.M.Arch.S program will be held virtually during the Institute Reading Period on Friday, Dec. 11. 

A final date for M.Arch thesis reviews will be announced shortly in consultation with thesis directors.

Undergraduate studio reviews will take place virtually during the final exam period and are scheduled by the Registrar.

To our International Students

We know that this has been a particularly challenging two weeks for you. We are happy that the legal action pursued by MIT and Harvard (and supported by many other institutions) was successful and the recent visa restrictions imposed by ICE have been rescinded. However, we know that there are additional concerns with delays in visa processing and concerns about travel. Many of these issues are out of our hands, but rest assured that MIT is working hard to ensure that students are able to progress in their degree programs. For general questions on visas and off-campus / on-campus learning, we encourage you to consult the International Students’ Office. And for questions about student employment off-campus, the most up-to-date information from the Office of the Vice-Chancellor is here. 

As we contemplate a fall semester full of challenges, but also new opportunities to renew our connections with each other, I’d like to particularly thank those student representatives, staff, and faculty who continue to work with us tirelessly to shape the most effective plans possible for making, thinking, and learning this fall. This is not a situation or circumstance that any of us would have chosen, for our community, or the world. I am grateful to all of our students, staff, and faculty for their creative commitments to this community, and each other, as we negotiate these challenges together.
Nicholas de Monchaux
Professor and Head of Architecture
MIT