Media Lab Extension Nearing Completion

Exterior Will Finish by November, As Work on Interior Continues Until Next October

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The Media Lab extension construction site is seen on Thursday afternoon from the intersection of Ames Street and Amherst Street.
Quentin Smith—The Tech

The new Media Lab extension is in its final stage of construction and the exterior will be completed by the end of November. Construction on the interior will continue and if everything goes according to plan, the new lab (building E14) will be operating by October 2009.

Greg Tucker, Director of Facilities at the Media Lab, has been an active participant in the development of the new Media Lab building since the first design proposal was submitted in 1998. The original plans called for the completion of the new lab in 2002, however, the project was delayed for five years when an important donor pulled out of the project.

“We had planned to start construction in 2002,” said Tucker. “In July, all we needed was to finalize our plans with the building contractor, but we lost a donor when the stock market tanked.”

After the five year delay, enough funding was collected to begin the actual construction. The design for the new Lab is the brainchild of Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Fumihiko Maki and his Tokyo-based firm Maki and Associates. With over 160,000 sq. ft. of space distributed over six floors, the new lab will hold several conference rooms, social spaces, and administrative offices.

In addition, the new extension will have a 100-seat theater, two-level atrium, and exhibition spaces, and a cafe overlooking the Charles. Seven research labs, ranging from 5,000 to 8,500 sq. ft., will spiral around the central atrium in a staggered arrangement over five floors.

The new Media Lab extension will be shared among Media Lab research groups, the MIT School of Architecture, and other smaller groups.

David Small, visiting lecturer at the Media Lab, is leading a committee responsible for the actual transition into the new lab extension. “Unlike some MIT buildings,” described Small, “the Maki design is subtle and simplistic. The building will be transparent with more glass walls and easier vertical movement along floors.” Small identified that there are also three different types of stairs and elevators in order to maximize inter-floor activity.

With some research groups moving into the new building, several old lab spaces will be given to the Comparative Media Studies program. Even though teams will be transitioning into the new space, the old and new building will be fully connected in order to maintain interdisciplinary interaction between research groups.

According to Tucker, funding for the project came from MIT, individual donors, and six major corporate sponsors. One of the major benefits of corporate sponsorship is that it gives companies the right to take Media Lab patents to the commercial market. Organizations which do not fund the Media Lab must wait at least two years before they can license any patents. A 37-page list of patents is featured on the Media Lab website.

This week, the Media Lab is hosting Sponsor Week, a biannual event in which companies and prospective entrepreneurs tour the Media Lab to learn and experience its developing technologies. Representatives from internationally recognized companies will tour the numerous demos and projects on Thursday in hopes of bringing a Media Lab invention to the commercial market.

Plans to build the Media Lab were first announced in 1980 by Professor Nicholas Negroponte ’66 and MIT President Jerome Wiesner. With help from the MIT Architecture Machine Group, the Lab was built in 1985 to pursue the real-world application of novel technologies.

Currently in its third decade, the Media Lab consists of more than 40 faculty members, 116 graduate students, and 30 interdisciplinary research groups. Notable research projects include RoboScooter, the humanoid robot Nexi, powered ankle-foot prosthesis, smart post-it notes called Quickies, and the roving alarm clock Clocky.