Research Labs

Architecture (Un)certainty Lab

The planetary scale of life today has resulted in a radical enlargement of what it means to think architecture in the 21st century. At the same time, environmental urgencies, political entanglements, algorithmic interfaces, and cultural paradoxes keep multiplying leaving studio-focused pedagogies overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the task. The tendency has been to reduce architecture to problem solving within the limited spectrum of professional competencies.

The ARCHITECTURE (UN)CERTAINTY LAB is dedicated to challenging architecture's epistemological and design capacities and bring the conversation back into a world of immersive ambiguities. The work that the lab promotes operates outside of subject-object and theory-practice dualities. The ARCHITECTURE (UN)CERTAINTY LAB thus identifies the classroom and seminar room, the sites of historically situated complex critical thinking, as the renewed locus of architectural education for the 21st century. It is only by first speculating on architecture at various levels - including at the scale of the global - that tomorrow’s architects can begin to imagine architecture as anything more than a limited solution to local exigencies. What is at stake is the very legitimacy of architecture in the 21st century. A(U)L is the pedagogical wing of O(U)R, [Office for (Un)certainty Research] the project-oriented studio run by Mark Jarzombek and Vikram Prakash.

Design Intelligence Lab

The Design Intelligence Lab, directed by Marcelo Coelho, is an MIT research lab inventing new forms of expression and collaboration between human and machine intelligence. Our work draws from industrial and interaction design, digital fabrication, manufacturing, and artificial intelligence to develop new kinds of objects, interactions, and networks that fundamentally expand and enhance the experiences we can develop with data and computation. 

Digital Structures

Digital Structures, a research group at MIT working at the interface of architecture, structural engineering, and computation. Digital Structures focuses on the synthetic integration of creative and technical goals in the design and fabrication of buildings, bridges, and other large-scale structures. The group is particularly interested in how digital techniques and tools can play an unexpected, collaborative role in these processes. Led by Professor Caitlin Mueller, the group is based in MIT’s Building Technology Program in the Department of Architecture, and also includes contributors from Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the Center for Computational Engineering.

Future Heritage Lab

The Future Heritage Lab collaborates with communities affected by conflict and crisis to collect and preserve histories of transcultural exchange and histories of threatened monuments, artifacts, textiles, and crafts. We design and implement civic-scale participatory ART projects that function as carriers of collective memory and as mediums to disseminate them.

Future Urban Collectives

Future Urban Collectives, led by Rafi Segal, is dedicated to an architecture for new forms of sharing and collaboration. As digital platforms and networks shift the production of space, trust, and value, Future Urban Collectives explores how architecture and urbanism can support and enhance cohabitation, coproduction, and coexistence across various scales of community. Combining digital platforms and physical design outcomes, Future Urban Collectives promotes an urban project, driven by a new kind of user and open to new programs and activities.

Infrastructure Architecture Lab

The Infrastructure Architecture Lab, directed by Arindam Dutta, conducts research on the relationships between broad, macroeconomic factors driving built infrastructure and the specificities of architectural and urban form. Lab researchers combine the knowledge frameworks and techniques of economic and planning theory with the practices of architectural design to study the real-world complexities that go into the making of infrastructure and its effects on built form.

Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism

The overall goal of the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU), co-directed by Alan Berger and James Wescoat, is to establish a new theoretical and applied research platform to transform the quality of urban life. LCAU is committed to achieving this goal via collaborative interdisciplinary research projects, intellectual discourse, leadership forums and conferences, publications, education of a new generation of leaders in the field, and a distinctive, highly influential presence at international gatherings focused on urbanism.

P-REX: The Project for Reclamation Excellence

P-REX lab at MIT (est. in 2002 as P-REX: The Project for Reclamation Excellence), is a sustained effort to redesign environments after large-scale landscape alteration has taken place, urban or otherwise. P-REX analyzes landscape systems to embed long-term sustainability and environmental intelligence in planning and design projects. We seek to find the largest possible ecological benefits for sites, across scales from local to regional.

Prototypes of Prefabrication Research Laboratory

The Prototypes of Prefabrication Research Laboratory (POPlab) co-directed by Anton García-Abril and Debora Mesa, investigates prefabrication in the design and construction of architecture and urban environments, applying a scientific vision that results in spaces that are better thought, better engineered, and better built. The lab works at multiple scales developing technologies and systems that aim to have an impact in our built reality. In this hands-on laboratory, ideas are tested in the physical world.

Self-Assembly Lab

The Self-Assembly Lab, directed by Skylar Tibbits, is a cross-disciplinary research lab at MIT inventing self-assembly and programmable material technologies. Our goals are to re-imagine processes of construction, manufacturing and infrastructure in the built environment.

Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement

The Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement (SIGUS), directed by Reinhard Goethert, links housing and community interests. We offer workshops and short courses, and carry out research stressing participatory methods in promoting affordable and equitable housing. SIGUS started in 1984, grew out of experience in developing countries, and has evolved to include the developed countries, applying a common set of issues and approaches.

Structural Design Lab

The Structural Design Lab at MIT is an interdisciplinary research group focused on conceptual structural design. Led by Professor John Ochsendorf, the group includes undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in Civil Engineering and Architecture. Research interests include form-finding, funicular structures, structural optimization, and interactive design processes.

Sustainable Design Lab

The Sustainable Design Lab at MIT produces speculative and applied research that facilitates the design of resource-efficient and comfortable environments at the building and neighborhood scale. The lab's goal is to change current architectural practice by developing workflows and performance metrics that improve design solutions for occupant comfort and building energy. The Lab is led by Christoph Reinhart.

Urban Risk Lab

Operating as designers at the intersection of disaster management and risk engineering, hurricanes and earthquakes, ecology and infrastructure, rural and urban, research and action, the Urban Risk Lab is a cross-disciplinary organization of researchers and designers addressing the most challenging aspects of contemporary urbanization. We develop methods to embed risk reduction and preparedness into the design of the regions, cities and everyday urban spaces to increase the resilience of local communities. The Urban Risk Lab is directed by Miho Mazereeuw.

Virtual Experience Design Lab

The virtualXdesign seeks to pioneer the integration of immersive technologies into research and education. The lab brings together faculty, researchers and students across MIT to conduct cutting edge research on emerging digital technologies and to create innovative and thought-provoking projects at the intersection of design, science, and engineering. Our research reaches a broad community through our publications, presentations in prominent venues, intensive workshops, and exhibitions.

Research Areas

Aerogel Insulation

Through the DuPont MIT Alliance (DMA), an interdisciplinary team led by Profs. Leon Glicksman (PI), Lorna Gibson and Gang Chen is developing high-performance thermal insulation panels based on a formulation of silica aerogels developed at MIT. The aerogel samples perform better than commercially available products while requiring less material; meanwhile, the innovative panel design provides great structural support with minimal impact to the conductivity. This research may lead to a new high-performance thermal insulation product.

Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture

The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT (AKPIA@MIT) conducts a broad program of research on architectural history, landscape, water, hazards, and university campus design in the Islamic world.

Research projects include collaborative initiatives with the:
-Aga Khan Development Network (architecture, landscape, hazards, heritage, water, design)
-National academies of science and environmental design (water, environment, hazards, design)
-MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), TATA Fellows Program (water, environment, energy, food, design)

Architecture Representation and Computation

Principal researcher: Takehiko Nagakura
Founded in 1996, the Architecture Representation and Computation Group sponsors a wide range of education and research activities to students and visiting scholars at MIT's Department of Architecture. The group's challenge is innovative use of computation for solving problems stemmed in contexts of architectural design practice. Current projects encompass software and hardware development, computer graphics content creation, and design work for architectural competitions and building projects.

Composite Architectures

Prof. Mark Goulthorpe is looking to combine digital design and fabrication logics with composite material processing to bring forwards a highly automated and lightweight base-building methodology. This looks to radically streamlining current building-procurement logic via a highly automated and unitary fabrication process, and to attain very environmentally benign yet highly resilient building envelopes and structures. This work is being carried out by a network of academic and industry partners, looking to validate performance (structural design and testing by Mark Bishop, fire engineering and testing by Prof Nick Dempsey at WPI, environmental assessment by Prof Mike Lepech at Stanford). The goal is to prove-up such new base-building technology via prototypes and pilot projects, and then to drive it into commercial production, initially targeting housing, aiming at developing world markets in particular.

Computational Making Research Group

Director: Terry Knight
The Computational Making research group is articulating a new area of interdisciplinary research on the processes and practices of making across contexts and scales. In recent years, there has been growing interest in materials and material practices, and in “making” and “makers”, usually revolving around digital fabrication. Our work aims to expand the study of making beyond its current bounds. We view making as an improvisational, action-centric, embodied, and situated activity. We examine the potentials of computational theories and techniques for understanding and enhancing making activities.  

Digital Design and Fabrication

Principal researcher: Larry Sass
The Digital Design and Fabrication group is a center for education and research in areas of rapid prototyping and CAD/CAM fabrication for architects and designers. The group engages faculty, students and staff in research focused on the relationship between design computing and physical output used for design representation and reflection. 

The Guastavino Project

The Guastavino Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is dedicated to documenting and preserving the tile vaulted works of the Guastavino Company. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Rafael Guastavino Moreno and his son Rafael Guastavino Exposito were responsible for designing tile vaults in nearly a thousand buildings around the world, of which more than 600 survive to the present day.

Platform for a Permanent Modernity

The Platform for a Permanent Modernity (PPM) investigates operational templates of public form that integrate architecture, infrastructure, and landscape into elements of a lasting territorial order. Its hypothesis entails the possibility of a public reading of the territory through forms of permanence, while accommodating uncertainty and change within and around these interventions.

Shape Grammars

Principal researchers: George Stiny, Terry Knight, Takehiko Nagakura
This group is engaged in a broad range of work on Shape Grammars, a visual and generative system for creating and describing designs on multiple levels. Work on shape and shape representation at the theoretical level aims at a new computational basis for design. Work on practical applications focuses on the potential of shape grammars in stylistic analysis and in the creative design process. Faculty and students are also exploring the use and development of digital and web-based technologies, computer software, and remote collaboration for supporting shape grammar applications.

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project

Director: Anne Whiston Spirn
The West Philadelphia Landscape Project (WPLP) is a three-decade-long action research project, which integrates research and practice in ways that are synergistic through strategic design, planning, and education projects that restore nature and rebuild community. WPLP studies vexing problems that are usually treated separately, such as vacant urban land, polluted water, and troubled public schools, and views them as opportunities for integrated solutions rather than disconnected liabilities. It combines top-down (comprehensive) and bottom-up (grassroots) approaches. Since 1987,  WPLP has engaged many organizations and hundreds of individuals, including groups who rarely work together such as inner-city residents, middle-school children, university students, and municipal water engineers.