4.110 / MAS.650
Design Across Scales and Disciplines

Required of: 
Arch and Design minors
Preference Given to: 
Course 4 minors

Inspired by Charles and Ray Eames’ canonical Powers of Ten, the course explores the relationship between science and engineering through the lens of design. It examines how transformations in science and technology have influenced design thinking, and vice versa. It offers interdisciplinary tools and methods to represent, model, design and fabricate objects, machines, and systems. Structured as core lectures and lab sessions, the course is organized thematically with topics such as information design, user interaction, digital fabrication, and design ethics.

The course creates a new pedagogical paradigm for learning and education, which cuts across various disciplines and scales to demonstrate that design is not a discipline, but a way of looking at the world; one that promotes the synthesis of interdisciplinary knowledge across scales in order to create objects and systems for the greater good. This is partly due to the fact that big, real-world challenges – such as the race to cure cancer, the mars landing mission and the challenge to design sustainable cities and buildings – require, perhaps more than ever, an interdisciplinary skillset combined with an ability to operate across multiple scales with creativity. 

The history of design innovation provides endless examples of cross-disciplinary innovations and individuals. Buckminster Fuller, for instance, was a designer, a futurist, an inventor, an author and a systems theorist. His designs based on the geodesic dome have inspired not only generations of designers, architects, engineers and urban planners but also chemists, material scientists and physicists, who were inspired by his representation of the physical world.  Charles and Ray Eames were mid-century American designers working at a range of scales and in a variety of media, from furniture and military aircraft parts to films and exhibitions. Their experiments in design fabrication, and cultural media provide significant references for design education today. An example of the value of learning across disciplines today is found in Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book, Emperor of all Maladies: a Biography of Cancer, which tells the story of how the process of inventing cell dyes to trace the growth of cancerous tissues was actually inspired by textile design. 

Design has expanded to include a broad range of scales and disciplines, shifting from the production of objects to the design of experiences, data, networks, territories, and social frameworks. Designers are no longer exclusively committed to design autonomous objects (buildings, cars, furniture and household products), but rather are conceiving and testing whole ecologies of design experiences (robotic construction systems, transportation systems, health care experiences, water distribution, and clean energy). This has prompted Tim Brown, CEO of the design consultancy firm IDEO to state, “Design is too important to be left to designers.” The scope of design ecologies is so broad and so integrated with other disciplines that all disciplines benefit from design inquiry and methods to tackle the new breadth of design problems at hand. Interdisciplinary teams must work together to design the systems, experiences, environments and futures for our increasingly complex world. Design Across Scales responds to this challenge by creating a course that is not a traditional design course for designers, but a design course about culture, science and technology serving as a foundation course for all students regardless of their major.

Additional work required of students taking the graduate version of the subject.