Blueprint Fundamental


During John Ochsendorf’second commencement yr of college, inwards an introductory engineering science grade, his professor gave the students an unusual assignment. She told them to accept 2 sheets of 8½-past-eleven-inch paper, cutting them into pieces no bigger than iv inches across, brand a structure of their ain blueprint, and see how heavy a load it could back up.


Even later or so brainstorming, it may not appear obvious how two sheets of paper, combined into whatsoever cast, tin back up much weight at all. Ochsendorf idea virtually it for a piece. Then he got scissors and or so Elmer’sec gum too created a set of small-scale, precisely cut parallel tubes of newspaper nestled together. From ane end, the consequence resembled a beehive. Fully assembled, it could back up over 300 pounds.


“I was like, ‘What? How is this possible?’” recounts Ochsendorf, straight off an MIT professor too the founding director of the newly established MIT Morningside Academy for Design.


“It showed in that location are solutions out there waiting to live discovered,” he adds. “This for me was the neat joy of encountering engineering, because in many of my [other] classes in that location was a job, together with at that place was one reply. But when y’all have an open-ended blueprint practise—similar, back up as much weight every bit you tin alongside ii sheets of paper—forthwith the gears beginning to spin in addition to y’all mean: What am I going to make? How am I going to do it? Is this going to function?”


The assignment helped Ochsendorf quickly learn something vital nigh design: There is non 1 respond. Today, his newspaper beehive sits in his function at MIT, a reminder of that undergraduate course together with its lessons.


Now Ochsendorf is bringing that approach to the Morningside Academy—a campus hub launched in Oct 2022 thanks to a $100 meg gift from the Morningside Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the T.H. Chan family. The academy will be a middle of blueprint didactics, enquiry, thinking, too entrepreneurship, drawing projects and people from across MIT.


That volition assistance bring ideas, enquiry advances, too innovations from the lab too classroom into everyday life. Design is the process through which the possibilities of invention are made tangible, from pocket-size-scale technologies to consumer products to big-scale civic initiatives.


Design is already thriving at MIT. Product Engineering Processes, amend known every bit two.009—a class long taught past David Wallace, SM ’91, PhD ’95, amongst other faculty as well as a cadre of mentors from industry—has become a high-profile prototyping contest too a memorable experience for undergraduates. MIT’second honour-winning D-Lab, led past MacArthur grant recipient Amy Smith ’84, Eng ’95, SM ’95, engages communities around the earth inwards participatory design of depression-cost technologies to address poverty. And MIT has the nation’sec oldest architecture program, which remains a leader inwards the plain, too as a thriving Department of Urban Studies and Planning. MIT scholars inward engineering, computer science, the humanities, direction, in addition to the physical sciences study design together with employ pattern principles to their function.


“We are not investing in something novel equally much equally we are connecting our existing strengths, elevating them, in addition to and then trying to reflect it back out to the Earth,” says Ochsendorf, who is also the Class of 1942 Professor at MIT, a professor of architecture and of civil in addition to environmental engineering, as well as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow.


The academy’s founding support includes funding for faculty chairs, fellowships for graduate students, inquiry opportunities for undergraduate students, together with entrepreneurship. The commencement fourteen fellows, graduate students from across MIT, are active inward the 2022-’23 academic year, working on their ain projects.



“It’second in our DNA at MIT to cross boundaries inwards pursuit of interesting problems. That is as well inherent inwards pattern, which does non end in ane subject area and selection upwardly inward another.”

John Ochsendorf


The university, which will live housed in the Metropolitan Warehouse one time renovations designed by internationally renowned architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro are complete, will as well offer world events, including lectures in addition to exhibitions. In October it held an initial symposium titled “The Power of Design.”


“This is such a skillful instant for MIT and design,” says Maria Yang ’91, the associate manager of the Morningside Academy, who is too an associate dean inwards MIT’sec School of Engineering together with the Gail eastward. Kendall (1978) Professor of Mechanical Engineering. (On superlative of that, she’sec faculty manager for academics inward the D-Lab, founder in addition to director of MIT’sec Ideation Lab, and, like Ochsendorf, a MacVicar Faculty Fellow.)


“It’s been a long fourth dimension coming, together with it’s practiced to synthesize a lot of didactics in addition to research interests across the Institute,” Yang adds. “Personally, I intend inventiveness is a primal chemical element inward all this. MIT people are creative, as well as such a nub office of pattern is creative.”


As Ochsendorf notes, “It’second inward our deoxyribonucleic acid at MIT to cross boundaries inward pursuit of interesting problems. That is besides inherent inwards pattern, which does not cease inwards one subject together with option upwards in some other. It’sec a much more fluid manner of research into the world.”


Developing the Morningside Academy does non merely postulate bringing people together from around campus, although it includes that. A adept pattern environs likewise helps individuals meld multiple disciplines in their ain go. For insight into this dynamic, get-go with its faculty directors.


“You tin can make both”


When John Ochsendorf built his newspaper beehive, it didn’t but earn him a proficient course. It helped him remain inward school. This was at Cornell University, where his innovative professor, Mary Sansalone, combined engineering science principles amongst history, instance studies, too design exercises. That approach appealed to Ochsendorf, who came from the pocket-sized community of Elkins, West Virginia, in addition to was mayhap less prepared inwards certain fields than approximately of his peers.


“That was what kept me inwards college,” he says. “I mean, it was absolutely thrilling, too the fact that I could brand things amongst my hands was an advantage, because I surely was not ahead of the other kids in physics or calculus.”


Still, Ochsendorf’sec pupil career remained unsettled. He loved studying ancient together with indigenous structures as well as the cultures that created them. The side by side academic year, later weighing matters approximately more than, he decided he was through amongst engineering. He went inwards to say Sansalone near his modify of heart.



John Ochsendorf assembling a model
Professor John Ochsendorf, founding director of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design




“I walked into her function as well as told her, you know, ‘Thanks for your assist, but I’ve decided I actually don’t belong inwards engineering science—I’k going to act to archaeology as well as anthropology,’” Ochsendorf recounts. Then he got a surprising answer.


“That’s a terrific idea,” she said. “But don’t get out applied science. You tin do both.”


And then, alongside Sansalone’sec guidance, Ochsendorf majored inward structural engineering science, archaeology, and history. Before long, he was on a company inwards Republic of Peru, where the builders of the Inca Empire had created strong rope bridges from native grasses; he threw himself into studying those structures. Then he earned a main’s grade at Princeton University, studying the history as well as pattern of interruption bridges as well equally Japanese span design, together with received his PhD inwards engineering science mechanics at Cambridge University. He joined the MIT faculty inward 2002.


Ultimately he emerged alongside a particular specialty: he applies mod engineering to the written report of indigenous, ancient, as well as merely erstwhile structures to ameliorate sympathize how people in different times in addition to places have developed sophisticated engineering science techniques.


“I’m trying to bring a novel lens to design in addition to structure, merely doing and then through a historical and technical lens that combines both,” says Ochsendorf, who has had students at MIT copy rope bridges on campus. “I think it’s an important fashion of looking at the world.”


Ochsendorf’sec enquiry has ranged widely. His 2010 book, Guastavino Vaulting: The Art of Structural Tile, explored how ane family that immigrated to the USA inward the 19th century—the Guastavinos—applied centuries-erstwhile Spanish building techniques, featuring sparse interlocking tiles as well as mortar, to construct spectacular interior arches, domes, as well as staircases in monumental American buildings, including the arrival hall at Ellis Island, New York’second Grand Central Terminal, the commencement Penn Station, the Boston Public Library, too the National Museum of Natural History inward Washington, DC.


When MIT built the Collier Memorial honoring MIT law officeholder Sean Collier, who was killed inward the line of duty inward 2013, Ochsendorf played a primal role inwards its blueprint and structure, analyzing to what extent the hitting construction could support itself. He has been involved in campus life, serving every bit a head of home at the Warehouse, a graduate dorm on Albany Street, from 2010 to 2017, too from 2017 through 2020 he was manager of the American Academy inwards Rome. (Classical edifice techniques are among his interests.) Amid his global travels, the gregarious Ochsendorf developed a passion for Earth soccer, and he volition happily chat virtually his favorite team, Arsenal, inwards the hallways of MIT.


“I couldn’t have predicted that this is the fashion my career would take developed,” he says.


While Ochsendorf’s enquiry may ofttimes focus on the by, his work—together with that of his inquiry grouping—has many hereafter-­oriented applications. It identifies new ways that depression-carbon materials tin live used, together with suggests that many techniques can notwithstanding live developed to come across hereafter structure challenges. Not bad for individual who got his outset past pondering how two sheets of paper could comport a heavy load.


Please, reinvent the bicycle


Prospective designers would do good to larn what John Ochsendorf absorbed in college: There is non i answer. But the practice of pattern is not totally gratis-form, either. That’second one argue the university benefits from the outlook of its associate director, Maria Yang.


Yang is an engineer who, like Ochsendorf, has a detail involvement inward blueprint too a distinctive expertise inside it: she has spent nearly three decades empirically studying how modern designers work. While Ochsendorf has roamed the globe studying designs in situ, Yang has, inwards her ain way, covered as much ground piece surveying rather unlike terrain. In experiments across many settings, Yang has extensively observed designers at go, relating her findings inward dozens of published papers. She has often focused on early-stage blueprint, to improve understand how projects accept form. In a distinct merely related vein of run, she has scrutinized how visual representations, from uncomplicated sketches to high-end CAD drawings, influence design outcomes.


Among other things, Yang has plant that the rattling beingness of those visual representations matters greatly: designers who do fifty-fifty basic, preliminary sketching consistently generate more pattern ideas. As she together with a coauthor wrote in a 2007 paper, there is “an of import interplay betwixt a designer’s power to sketch in addition to their power to visualize in their heads or through prototypes.” She has even found that if designers aren’t highly skilled at drawing, that doesn’t touch on the quality of their concluding pattern outcomes; it but matters that they depict at all.


Yang’second work has as well confirmed that iterative prototyping helps designers, as does user feedback. And all this inquiry illuminates a essence premise: If blueprint is important, so it is of import to blueprint good.


“I’one thousand interested inward how designers pattern things, because that volition aid yous pattern things,” she says. But only as Ochsendorf knows that in design in that location is not ane answer, Yang will say you how many full general approaches to pattern are used inward contemporary life: four.



“People say, ‘Oh, you lot don’t want to reinvent the bike.’ But inwards fact, well-nigh design is redesign.”

Maria Yang ’91


She’s zeroed in on those iv approaches through the high-degree understanding of how designers go that she’second developed over fourth dimension. One of them is to place the technology first; in this case, class distinctly follows role. A instant method is what she calls “designing in a market-based manner,” seeing what industry competitors make too producing something like just better.


Then there is the “designer-led approach,” a procedure more explicitly expressing the ideas as well as vision of i individual or squad; many architectural projects country inward this category. Finally, designers tin can have a user-centered approach, collecting feedback on what users take in addition to developing a blueprint alongside those factors inwards heed.


“Design is what lies betwixt applied science in addition to what humans role,” Yang says. “Hopefully y’all do that inwards a beautiful, thoughtful fashion as well as people observe it useful.”


As she summarizes years of research most designers, Yang offers piece later piece of sometimes unconventional wisdom.


“People say, ‘Oh, yous don’t want to reinvent the bicycle,’” she observes. “But in fact, about blueprint is redesign. You accept a blueprint and so yous change it, simply you lot go far a trivial ameliorate every fourth dimension, as well as that’sec how we brand progress.”


Perhaps we cannot better the basic cast of the wheel. But inwards the meantime, we have, inward fact, reinvented the wheels used on automobiles, trains, airplanes, bicycles, and industrial mechanism alongside novel technologies, configurations, too production methods. That’s helped us act faster, further, as well as more than efficiently.



Maria Yang
Professor Maria Yang ’91, associate director of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design, is also an associate dean inward MIT’second School of Engineering.




Yang, too, mightiness take spent her career reinventing the bike. An MIT technology undergraduate who grew upward inwards West Lafayette, Indiana, she received an offering to function for Ford later on graduation just turned it downwardly. She nevertheless wanted to pursue her blueprint interests inwards academia.


Yang wound up inwards graduate school at Stanford University, where she earned her PhD in the mechanical engineering science department’sec Center for Design Research too produced a doctoral thesis most how designers search for data. After running a design grouping at a startup and and then doing a postdoc at Caltech, she returned to MIT, where her career has flourished: likewise her academic achievements, she has worked with Ferrari, IBM, and even NASA to assist them alongside novel ways to mean about early on-stage pattern.


On the ground of accumulated show, Yang has kept returning to the value of user-based design, making her perspective different from that of many technologists, who may live reluctant to change innovations for the sake of consumers.


“One piece I’1000 really interested inward is how y’all design backwards from the terminate user,” she says. “How y’all make products people are going to honey. There’second this romantic notion that I’m going to invent this cool matter together with I’ll go far as well as individual’sec going to dearest it, and hope for the best. That’sec a recipe for disaster. Sometimes it industrial plant, just the vast majority of the fourth dimension it does non operate.”


All of which presents further reason why a design university benefits MIT. Design is not just a subject expanse just a science. If many kinds of designs are possible, learning how to pattern—too how detail approaches are best applied—is particularly valuable.


Off the drawing board


Since the Morningside Academy for Design launched, Ochsendorf and Yang accept been giving campus presentations near the university, hiring staff, too getting the inaugural course of fellows settled inwards. But good before they took the helm, getting the university off the drawing board was a grouping attempt.


Back in 2020, the 2 professors were given an assignment past Hashim Sarkis, dean of MIT’sec School of Architecture too Planning (SA+P), together with Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering: to class an Institute-broad committee tasked amongst studying how to strengthen pattern on campus. By early on 2021 that grouping, featuring many of MIT’second leading design experts, had produced a white paper on the subject area, with a pattern heart every bit a fundamental thought.


Almost everyone involved inward the blueprint centre has a unique interdisciplinary background. Sarkis is a prominent scholar of architectural history in addition to a practicing architect who, spell getting his architecture PhD from Harvard inward the 1990s, besides studied political philosophy. Sarkis’sec civic-minded designs—including a town hall he designed in Byblos, Lebanese Republic, amongst a glass-encased showtime level to encourage political transparency—reflect this background.


And when he served every bit curator of the Venice Biennale’second 17th International Architecture Exhibition in 2021, he gained plaudits for the demo’s broad-ranging engagement with civic challenges, including climate change, migration, together with more. The New York Times called the exhibition “a example report for how to commence to tackle such questions” today.


“Design is really well-nigh bringing the man dimension to bear on technology,” Sarkis says. He adds: “Why is there an increased involvement inwards blueprint today? It reflects our involvement in innovation.” But rather than trying to engineer a single “solution” out of an conception from the lab, Sarkis emphasizes, pattern leads to “resolutions,” plural, alongside many potential outcomes, calibrated to circumstances.



A student is crossing a cardboard brige on the campus lawn while other students watch.
Students examination the charge-bearing capability of a span they constructed out of moving material for a blueprint challenge inward this twelvemonth’sec ii.009 (Product Engineering Processes) course. This yr’second subject was MOVE!




Given this greater focus on blueprint, Sarkis notes, “bringing those elements together situates the academy every bit a catalyst for the whole MIT pattern community.” Meanwhile, Chandrakasan, whose own research is on energy-efficient microchips, has explored a notably broad reach of interests every bit dean, chairing or cochairing MIT projects on AI, AI hardware, biotechnology, together with climate, piece as well serving on the board of The Engine, MIT’sec startup firm fund. Having seen how oftentimes blueprint overlaps alongside technology, he has called the Morningside Academy “an incredible stride forrad inward our vision to bring up too strengthen interdisciplinary didactics, research, as well as design inward pattern.”


Of class, the university would not exist without the Morningside Foundation’second gift. When the university launched, Morningside Foundation trustee Gerald L. Chan said that design “is a disciplined manner of practicing creativity,” while “blueprint instruction is a complement to traditional STEM pedagogy.” For that argue, he added, “MIT is the perfect abode for melding pattern didactics alongside STEM.”


At the university’second Oct symposium, Chan gave a verbalize elaborating on this intellectual framework. Citing the scholar Herbert Simon’second thinking, Chan noted that the practice of making things, long anchored in engineering science within academia, inherently includes pattern, too applies to schools of architecture, business organization, teaching, police, too medicine besides. For that affair, to deed too convey almost changes inward club is to live a designer.


“Everyone who devises courses of action to modify a state of affairs from 1 country to a more than desirable 1 is engaged in blueprint,” Chan said. In recent times, he added, blueprint has go more than “formalizable too teachable,” piece retaining the idea that multiple responses to a challenge are possible.


“Design teaching is intended to bear the educatee from a bounded infinite into an unbounded space where he learns to explore as well as create,” Chan said. “It is a necessary grooming for the students to enter into the earth, which is a really unbounded infinite.” Recall John Ochsendorf as a offset-year educatee, taking scissors to newspaper. There is not i reply. 


Rebuilding the building


The founding of the Morningside Academy for Design has converged amongst another of Sarkis’second major MIT efforts, the relocation of SA+P to the renovated Metropolitan Warehouse when it reopens inwards 2025. Located inward the middle of campus on the corner of Mass. Ave. and Vassar Street, the formidable brick construction—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as predates MIT’second 1916 act to Cambridge—volition take offices, blueprint studios, classrooms, makerspaces, as well as exhibition areas. The Morningside Foundation’second gift allocates funding to renovate part of the “Met,” as it’sec known in MIT design circles, specifically for the Morningside Academy.


The building will as well characteristic a distinctively MIT blueprint element to encourage collaboration: its own earth-flooring version of the Infinite Corridor. This calls to listen Maria Yang’s observation that a lot of skillful blueprint is redesign. MIT is non reinventing the cycle inwards the Met Warehouse, but it is reinventing the Infinite Corridor. And nearly student-based spaces, Sarkis notes, will be on the ground floor also.


Meanwhile, students are moving toward blueprint. The Department of Architecture started a fast-growing design fry inwards 2016 as well as a design major inwards 2017. The Institute besides launched a Design Plus plan, a starting time-twelvemonth learning environs for thirty students with access to pattern tools in addition to lab time.


“There’sec a existent hunger in addition to interest for access to design tools in addition to design thinking on the part of MIT’sec undergraduates,” says Nicholas de Monchaux, caput of architecture at MIT.


De Monchaux has his own interdisciplinary outlook, as a practicing architect whose published books range from a history of the Apollo plan’second spacesuits to an exploration of how information tin assistance urban revitalization.


“We render one of import perspective on pattern, merely so do others at MIT,” he says of the Department of Architecture. “To role what nosotros accept to reinvent who nosotros are—that is design in its quintessence, together with that is also something to which all of MIT tin can and should contribute, then the academy gives us a framework to do that.”


When it comes to didactics, he adds, “education blueprint is really inviting students to wait at a complex job without a unmarried optimized solution inward a reach of real, very dissimilar ways, inward collaboration alongside the communities and people facing the job.” There is non i respond. 


Times accept changed since Ochsendorf too Yang were finding their fashion toward studying and practicing blueprint. Today’second MIT students can have interdisciplinary design courses, notice opportunities to go on blueprint projects, and witness pattern merging productively amongst other fields of written report. Many of them come up to college already thinking nigh pattern.


“We accept more students submitting blueprint portfolios together with maker portfolios every bit they apply to MIT,” Ochsendorf says. “It’second a wonderful time for us to attract students who enjoin, ‘Here’second an engine I made.’”


The Morningside Academy will expand MIT’s existing pattern curricula one time new faculty are hired. And itis already supporting the innovative enquiry of its beginning xiv fellows. Ganit Goldstein, a master’second educatee inwards the Architecture Studies in Computation program, for case, is using her company to try how computational blueprint workflow tin can generate customized garments sustainably. Justin Brazier, pursing a main of architecture degree, is studying the evolution of the Green Innovation Corridor that will function through Boston’sec Mattapan in addition to Dorchester neighborhoods, looking at the affect of blueprint on cultural identity, agriculture, environmental education, as well as economic sovereignty. And Morningside Fellow AJ Perez ’thirteen, MEng ’14, is using recycled consumer plastics to 3D-impress depression-toll, environmentally friendly habitation foundations to assistance address homelessness. Other fellows are working on deployable desalination together with water treatment systems, prosthetic technologies, too more than.


“We hope we’ll attract the best in addition to the brightest students who are good at theory in addition to at do, together with at making,” Ochsendorf says. “Many of our students are designers because they’re interested in solving problems, too blueprint is how you deploy technology inward the Earth together with connect it to people. I think it’s office of our rattling special civilization, which celebrates pursuing problems wherever they atomic number 82. It’sec such a joy to live inwards such an interesting place.”