Alumnus Samuel Tak Lee donates $118 million for Institute research

Funds are to be primarily used to support MIT projects and programs pertaining to real estate development and research

Samuel Tak Lee ’62 has made a $118 million donation to MIT, one of the largest in the Institute’s history, to promote real estate entrepreneurship.

Lee, who majored in civil and environmental engineering, is currently a real estate developer at Prudential Enterprise, which is based in Hong Kong and grew into a multinational firm under Lee’s management.

In acknowledgement of Lee’s contribution to MIT and its Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Building 9’s official name will be the Samuel Tak Lee Building. The building’s lobby and classrooms will also be renovated.

The donation will be used to establish a real estate entrepreneurship lab, which will be housed in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Center for Real Estate. Funds will also go toward a “Think Tank,” fellowships for people inside and outside MIT, and other programs.

Eric Grimson PhD ’80, who currently leads MIT’s official capital campaign, worked with Lee to make sure his goals aligned with MIT’s interests. Lee hopes to encourage a new generation of socially responsible real estate development and is interested in seeing an impact in places such as China, so partnerships with various institutions overseas are likely to be established.

The lab will research strategies that would allow entrepreneurs to achieve their goals in ways that benefit communities by addressing the issues of environmental impact, land rights, ownership, and displacement.

With this gift, the lab’s professors and students hope to establish a greater global presence by engaging with the public at large through MITx, organizing fellowship programs that would allow international scholars to conduct research at MIT, and giving MIT students opportunities to work in other parts of the world.

According to Eran Ben-Joseph, the head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, an important role of the lab will be to create more case studies. Students and researchers will have more opportunities to go on-site to discuss the political, economic, and geographic factors that are involved in urban development while seeing the situation firsthand.

“Lee’s interest in global impact fits very well with what we already wanted to do,” Ben-Joseph said. “We already have thirty years of engagement in China, and this gift gives us resources to increase engagement with more businesses, government establishments, and universities.”

The Department of Urban Studies and the Center for Real Estate hopes to see the $118 million donation used across the Institute. An advisory board composed of MIT’s five schools will oversee the distribution of the funding, according to Albert Saiz, the director of the MIT Center for Real Estate. MIT affiliates will be able to submit proposals to the new Think Tank funded by the donation in order to secure capital for research that may be applicable to real estate development.

“Real estate and urban planning is very interdisciplinary to begin with, so this donation already is incredibly well positioned to generate opportunities across all fields,” Saiz said. “We expect a wide range of departments to take advantage of the Think Tank.” A non-exhaustive list of fields mentioned that are applicable to real estate development includes architecture, economics, urban sociology, history, geography, education, material science and engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and anthropology.

The budget for the various programs to be implemented is still to be determined.