R&D for Real Estate

How do we build better cities?

The answer to that question might depend on your perspective—real estate mogul, city planner, job creator in the maker economy, or just a person looking for a new home.

The new MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab (REIL), within the Center for Real Estate and the School of Architecture and Planning, is gathering as many of those perspectives as possible under one roof to improve cities around the world. Billing itself as “the first R&D lab for innovation in the built environment,” REIL brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers as well as experts in big data, finance, architecture, technology, and urban economics.

“This kind of R&D is the lifeblood of MIT,” says lab director Andrea Chegut. “Designers are asked to justify every intervention they make. By getting architects and economists together, we can propose design innovations that not only support viable urban economies but also lead to vibrant and successful communities.”

Collecting empirical evidence is one way REIL will do this. Its first project is to create a comprehensive database of New York City—from rents and building mortgages to Airbnb locations, co-working spaces, cell towers, fiber-optic cables, subway lines, parking infrastructure, and vacant spaces. “Capturing the full complexity of these overlapping and interconnected sets of data will offer an unprecedented platform for insight because it will integrate multiple perspectives into one resource,” says Chegut. Data providers have already lined up to share information, signaling excitement in the field.

Another avenue will be to compare innovation clusters around the world, places where accelerators, co-working spaces, incubators, and makerspaces are found en masse. These include such cities as MIT’s own hometown, Cambridge, along with Seoul and Mexico City. How do these innovation districts create jobs or change urban design? And yet another area of exploration for REIL is how automation through robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will impact the built environment.

Research produced by REIL will be linked to DesignX, a new accelerator within the School of Architecture and Planning offering tools, capital, skills, and networks for students to launch real-world ventures in design and the built environment. The Spring 2017 cohort of DesignX successfully launched eight new ventures.