For the fourth consecutive year, America’s MIT has been ranked the top university for architecture in the world. What does head of architecture Meejin Yoon think is its secret?
How would you characterise MIT?
Few departments of architecture are in a research institute like MIT with its reach and mission to bring social and technological together. Our role is to bring design to bear on the challenges of the world. It is not just architecture, it includes computation, urbanism and art.
How important is research?
What makes MIT unique is the proliferation of labs, winning grants to research urban risk, materials or climate change and resilience. So the coverage of architecture is both broad and, in areas of research into contemporary issues, very deep. If a studio is a place for students to do self-driven theoretical projects, then labs are topic specific to faculty members’ expertise.
MIT is famous for its Media Lab. Do you have innovative ways of teaching architecture too?
The Media Lab started life as part of the architecture department, as the architecture machine lab! MIT is more collaborative than other universities and we have workshops and courses that draw people together across the faculty and institute, as well as visitors. Even in the professional degree we have cross studios and last year worked with an artist and a structural engineer.
Where do your students come from?
All over the world, 50% international students on the MArch and 70% on the advanced masters. It is extremely competitive to get in: we have around 200 students take architecture as a minor in their first year but our programmes are small; we have maybe a dozen under-graduate majors and 20-30 on each masters programme.
Tell us a famous MIT graduate
Gordon Bunshaft with his incredible works of architecture at SOM, and I M Pei, who represents technology and form coming together and many innovations.
What characterises the work that comes from MIT alumni?
That bringing together of technological and social through building form. When I started I thought it was technology affirmation but it is not; in the 60s and now again it pushes on many environmental fronts.
Does the collection of remarkable buildings at MIT give the school a boost?
An institution’s values are reflected in its built environment, so Maki’s media lab, Holl’s Simmons Hall, Baker House Dormitory by Aalto and Saarinen’s chapel are gems on our campus. They show an institution that is not conforming but embracing each building as pushing the values and technologies of our time.
MIT was ranked top university for architecture and built environment in the QS World University Rankings 2018