September 27, 2006 2:40 PM PDT

MIT Media Lab's latest innovation? More space

If you have ever been to "the Cube," you know that the MIT Media Lab, while filled with colorful innovations, lacks space.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Tuesday that it is breaking ground in 2007 on an expansion project that remedies that issue.

The new 163,000-square-foot space, which will hold the MIT Media Lab and various other departments, has been designed by the Pritzker-winning architect Fumihiko Maki and his Maki and Associates firm. MIT estimates that the building will cost $120 million to build.

MIT Media Lab expansion

The MIT Media Lab, which opened its doors in 1985, is an interdisciplinary laboratory that focuses on digital technology in relation to the way people communicate. It was co-founded by Nicholas Negroponte and then-MIT President Jerome Wiesner, for whom the current Media Lab building is named. Its research has yielded technologies such as a wearable computer, mesh networks and the $100 laptop.

"The new space will have many different disciplines bumping up against each other, helping to get each other to think in different ways, and it sort of illustrates the core of how the Media Lab does explore technology," said Alexandra Kahn, spokeswoman for the MIT Media Lab.

The Media Lab expansion will consist of multiple open floor plans designed to induce social interaction--a signature Maki trait--among the different research groups that will occupy the space. It will be located at Ames and Amherst streets, adjacent and connected to the Wiesner building, which was designed by legendary architect I.M. Pei. Pei graduated from MIT's architecture program in 1940.

The Cube in the Wiesner building is a multilevel room of glass, with offshoots of space for different research groups. It's filled with many contraptions and devices in various stages of progress by Media Lab researchers. Unfortunately, after years of growth, the space is cluttered and cramped, Kahn said.

Lab space for MIT Media Lab professors and researchers is so tight that the university has had to remove closets to create more room for its growing teams.

The seven 5,000- to 8,000-square-foot labs in the new building will be multilevel combinations of walls and glass, with lots of visibility among groups to foster interdisciplinary inspiration.

The six-story building will also have a 100-seat theater, a dining room, 3,500 square feet of multipurpose space, event space, catering facilities, a conference room with floor-to-ceiling glass, and an outdoor terrace. On the upper floors there will be a view of the Charles River and the Boston skyline.

In addition to various Media Lab groups, the two buildings together will house the List Visual Arts Center, the School of Architecture and Planning's Design Lab and Center for Advanced Visual Studies, the Department of Architecture's Visual Arts Program and the Comparative Media Studies program. Also housed there will be the Okawa Center for Future Children, a part of the Media Lab that concentrates on education for children in developing nations. The Okawa Center was established in 1998 with a $27 million donation from Isao Okawa, the late chairman of Sega Enterprises and the software company CSK.

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