Architecture’s Cross-Studio Experiment

What creative friction is generated when two or more disciplines converge in the intensely action-oriented environment of an architecture design studio?

In the spring 2015 offering 4.154 Megalithic Robotics, Belluschi Lecturer in architectural design Brandon Clifford paired his computational know-how with the expertise of professor of architectural history and theory Mark M. Jarzombek ’85. Together, they helped students create models, tour Incan structures in Peru—and, finally, raise in MIT’s Killian Court a 2,000-pound megalith.

“There is a great deal of speculation surrounding the artifacts created by our megalithic era ancestors,” noted the course description. (A famous example: the mysterious statues on what is commonly called Easter Island.) “When one entertains that these civilizations held a focused knowledge surrounding weight, mass, and volume (topics we have since lost) these marvels transform from curious speculations into potentials for productive knowledge.”

The pursuit of productive knowledge is central to all of the “cross-studio” experiments created by the Department of Architecture. In another course, architectural design lecturer Cristina Parreño Alonso and Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture Nasser Rabbat PhD ’91 turned their students’ gazes on Granada, Spain, where successful design must function in dialogue with the city’s layered history. And architectural design professor Joel Lamere and building technology professor Caitlin Mueller ’07, PhD ’14, SM ’14 team-taught a quest to reconcile the tension between aesthetic and practical concerns in the dramatically curved buildings of Mexican architect Félix Candela.

As for that megalith on Killian Court, which students successfully erected using only a few ropes, it stands testament to the power of applying multiple perspectives to a challenge. “It weighed more than a car,” Clifford marveled after the feat was accomplished, “and yet, you could move it with a fingertip.”