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MIT and SUTD open International Design Centre

Aims to become the world’s premier scholarly hub for technologically intensive design.
On Feb. 7, the ribbon was cut on a new facility at MIT for the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre (IDC). The IDC is a joint research project of MIT and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), with facilities at both universities. The IDC aims to become the world’s premier scholarly hub for technologically intensive design, and serve as a nucleus for the growth of the MIT-SUTD Collaboration. About 200 to 300 IDC faculty researchers and students from both universities will work together to address issues facing the world by revolutionizing research on design science and by designing devices, systems and services to meet the needs of Singapore and its neighbors, the United States, and the world. In addition, the IDC will work to maximize the synergy of MIT and SUTD faculty researchers through joint projects.

In a brief ceremony, MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif recalled the conception a few years ago — by professors Tom Magnanti and Dan Frey — of the SUTD-MIT IDC as the heart of the research engine at SUTD. Reif commented that while it has been exciting to see the idea take shape at both MIT and SUTD, “the idea, in time, will pale in comparison with the achievements that will be accomplished in this space and similar spaces in Singapore.” 

In his remarks, Magnanti, president of SUTD and Institute Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, noted: “Like all the great universities of the world, SUTD will be research-intensive and bring the fruits of research into the classroom and into the marketplace. As the largest technically intensive design center in the world, in both scope and size, the IDC aims [for] no less than to change the world.”

The ribbon was then cut by Frey, IDC co-director and associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering systems at MIT, officially opening the new facility, followed by a tour led by Frey that was broadcast live to Singapore.

The IDC’s design projects will be organized to address the following “Grand Challenges”:
  • Design with the Developing World: to significantly improve conditions in the developing world by working with partners in developing countries.  Examples include helping rickshaw operators in South Asia to function more cost effectively and with less pollution by using electric propulsion systems and contributing to clean water resources, sanitation, power, medical care and food supply.
  • Sustainable Built Environment: to provide global cities with viable options to improve energy efficiency and resource consumption and to reduce environmental impact through design of buildings and transportation systems.
  • ICT-enabled Devices for Better Living: to develop devices and services enabled by information and computer technology (ICT) for use in education so that people can personalize learning, and to enhance human performance in individual daily problems (in particular, devices for health care and as aids for the elderly).
Connecting these three Grand Challenges are six Design Research Thrusts (DRTs): Design Computation, Design of Experiments, Fostering Creativity, Visualization and Prototyping, Decision Making and Global Collaboration. These DRTs feed back into the Grand Challenges research and industry practice with new methods, techniques and processes for design, while the Grand Challenges feed forward into the DRTs with gaps or innovative opportunities to create leaps in design processes and methods for the future. This structure of interconnectivity uniquely positions the IDC to create design research results that are novel, unexpected and of the highest quality.

In order to serve as a nucleus for growth of SUTD as a research-intensive university, the work of IDC will feed into SUTD’s interdisciplinary curriculum. The IDC will demonstrate the real-life impact of integrating perspectives from different academic disciplines. Specifically, IDC researchers will develop modules on design process to produce new tools and methods for design practice and education. The IDC will be at the cutting edge of research into the interplay between the design of physical devices, processes and actual products and why people choose them.

IDC’s physical layout is designed to create a hybrid of an engineering laboratory, fabrication facility and architectural studio space. The new facility is located above the MIT Museum and next to the Edgerton Center, a proximity that will enrich its vitality. The MIT Museum will help display the results of IDC research and design, while the Edgerton Center, which currently hosts the MIT Electric Vehicle and the Solar Vehicle Teams, will link with IDC’s efforts on mobility.

Designed by Gensler, a global architecture firm, the 13,650-square-foot IDC facility at MIT is designed to be highly flexible to suit the diverse set of activities it will house. For example, one space has garage-style doors that close to contain noise and dust from prototype fabrication. At other times it opens to make a larger facility to enable teaching of large classes in conjunction with the MIT Museum and the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program.

A state-of-the-art remote collaboration system will link facilities at MIT and SUTD. The IDC will have some of the best commercially available equipment, as well as systems designed by its own faculty members. It plans to build a fabrication or testing facility to support student design projects. Equipment will be installed for 3-D printing, fused deposition modeling and laser cutting.

Currently, approximately 55 faculty researchers and students at MIT are working on some 25 projects. At the IDC facility at SUTD, slated for completion by the end of 2012, there are currently about 60 faculty researchers and students working on 15 projects.

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