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Alex Dreyfoos commits $15 million for building in new MIT complex

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr., President of The Dreyfoos Group/Photo Electronics Corporation (PEC) of West Palm Beach, Florida, has committed $15 million towards construction of a complex of buildings that will serve as a new center for computation, information, and intelligence sciences at MIT.

"I am delighted to be able to announce this superb naming gift from Alex Dreyfoos for a building within the new complex to house the intelligence sciences," said MIT President Charles M. Vest.

The Dreyfoos Building will include the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, and some portions of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Frank Gehry, who designed the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has been selected as the architect and the initial programming and design are underway. The 300,000-plus square foot complex, replacing building 20, will also include the Laboratory for Computer Science and is to be named for Ray and Maria Stata.

Mr. Dreyfoos, who graduated from MIT in 1954, has been a member of the MIT Corporation since 1986. He is also a member of the Corporation Development Committee, the Architecture, and Media Arts & Sciences Visiting Committee, the Visiting Committee of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Visiting Committee for the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He contributed in the spirit of "giving something back," he said in a recent interview.

"I needed to borrow money from the Institute in order to complete my studies after my father died. I felt very fortunate that financing was available."

Mr. Dreyfoos has achieved far more than repaying old loans since his student days. In addition to founding PEC, Mr. Dreyfoos holds 10 U.S. patents, and he invented the Professional Video Analyzing Computer (PVAC), a machine used by color labs to make high-quality color photographic prints, which is marketed worldwide by Eastman-Kodak. An earlier version, the Video Color Negative Analyzer (VCNA) is on permanent display in the Smithsonian. PEC won an Academy Award in 1971 for developing a motion picture version of the VCNA.

Mr. Dreyfoos believes the fruits of success should never obscure the route to success, and he still credits MIT with inspiring and guiding him towards the rewarding -- even adventuresome -- life he enjoys today.

"Somebody was generous before me," he commented, noting that that generosity included a far-reaching intellectual challenge from MIT Physics Professor Arthur C. Hardy in 1951.

Mr. Dreyfoos recalled that Professor Hardy advised him, "...those who would be successful in the future would be those who could combine disciplines. Hardy believed that electronics would play an important role in the future of photography, and he took it upon himself to convince me. 'If you understand photography and electronics together,' he said, 'you'll be able to do creative things."' Mr. Dreyfoos then began to study electronics, along with optics and physics. Later he earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School under the GI bill.

Mr. Dreyfoos started PEC in the northeast in 1963 but relocated to Palm Beach, Florida, in 1969, inspired by the discovery "that you could vacation and work in the same place."

Still a resident of Palm Beach, Mr. Dreyfoos takes that vacation/work mix seriously. He holds an Air Transport Pilot rating and owns a Citation V Ultra, which he flies solo. An avid photographer, fisherman and scuba diver, he has just completed refitting a 114-foot motor yacht which he and his wife Carolyn plan to cruise in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Seychelles, and Baltic over the next two years.

The same taste for adventure showed up in Mr. Dreyfoos' business life when, in 1973, he bought the CBS-TV station in West Palm Beach and later used it to advocate for the arts.

"It was the first time I turned away from an oscilloscope and soldering iron," he said with a chuckle. "Soon, I got curious: could you use a TV station to move a community to do something specific?"

"Something specific" started out simply enough, with Mr. Dreyfoos advocating and then founding the Palm Beach County Council of the Arts and a year later agreeing to chair an effort to build a performing arts center. This turned into a 14-year effort, and major fundraising campaign to build a world-class performing arts center. The $63 million, Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts opened in West Palm Beach in 1992. Mr. Dreyfoos remains chairman of this very successful project. In 1977 the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, a magnet, public, senior high school, opened adjacent to the Kravis Center.

In 1995, he established the Alex W. Dreyfoos, Jr. (1954) Professorship of Media Arts and Sciences, currently held by Michael J. Hawley.

"I like what I see going on at MIT," he said, citing "the brightness of the students and the lack of discrimination." Mr. Dreyfoos also commended "the way MIT now encourages innovation and entrepreneurship."

Mr. Dreyfoos has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the MIT Media Laboratory that goes back to 1980 when he assisted then MIT President Jerome Wiesner and Media Lab Director Nicholas P. Negroponte, in fundraising for the construction of the Wiesner Building that houses the Media Lab.

As for the complex that will house so many scientific disciplines, Mr. Dreyfoos describes himself as "excited at the prospect of a major project, done well, that should provide wonderful opportunities for the cross pollination of ideas, in fields of study that, I believe, will see great advancements in the coming decades."

"I hope that the new complex, and the way it is sited, will make an architectural statement that will be to the 21st century what the original MIT Cambridge buildings were to the 20th century," said Mr. Dreyfoos.

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