MIT opens new Media Lab Complex, expands research space

The new building's outside walls are almost all glass, making the building glow at night

MIT has expanded the footprint of its Media Lab with a new US$90 million, 163,000-square-foot modern building.

The Media Lab is very much focused on technology and has produced innovations such as electronic ink, wearable computers and early platforms for social networking. With its expanded focus now including human adaptability, research projects include affective computing, 6-D imaging and the future of the automobile.

The new six-story building is adjacent to the existing home of the Media Lab and is connected to it on several floors.

"We've only been here [in the new building] a short amount of time, so we're still figuring out the best way to make full use of the new space, to be able to really make it our home," said Mitchel Resnick, director of the lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group.

The new building houses seven laboratories in a very open layout. The lab workspaces vary in size from 5,000 to 8,500 square feet. The complex also houses conference rooms, a small café, and administrative, event and exhibition space.

The building was designed by Fumihiko Maki and associates. Almost all of the complex's outer walls are glass. The inside of the building is equally transparent with a mix of glass, white walls and a few splashes of color. The glass walls are intended to enhance the sense of community among students and researchers.

"To me it feels like a big kindergarten, though some people might see that as demeaning or insulting ... but to me it's a great compliment," Resnick said. "We want people here at the Media Lab to have creative operations the same way that kids in kindergarten work together playfully."

The Media Lab gets the bulk of its funding from more than 60 corporate sponsors, each paying at least US$200,000 a year. In turn, all sponsors have royalty-free access to license any technology that the Media Lab develops. There have been more than 90 companies spun off from the Media Lab.

The lab, celebrating its 25th anniversary, was founded in 1980 by Nicholas Negroponte, who went on to create the One Laptop Per Child project, and Jerome Wiesner, former MIT president and science adviser to President John F. Kennedy.

The new complex also houses several programs in the School of Architecture + Planning, of which the Media Lab is a part.

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