Seeing the Signs at MIT and Harvard

In a recent trip to Boston for the American Institute of Architects National Convention, I found myself meandering the Ivy League walls of Harvard University and the progressive inconsistent architectural stylings of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

I was greeted by a pleasant surprise when I saw this sign at MIT:

I followed a trail that led me to a narrow staircase to an even narrower hallway. Upon reaching the front door, the spaces suddenly open up with double doors and a friendly greeting from one of the staff.

I browsed a few maps as I did not carry a map with me when I left the hotel at Copley Place but rather relied on my free-spirited instincts to carry me through from one destination to the other. Keep in mind that this is my first time visiting Boston and that I did not know anybody there except my lunch companion who meandered his way to watch the Red Sox game at Fenway Park. The good news is that I did not get lost and safely found my way back to the hotel in time for a quick change of clothes for some heady conversation and nocturnal frolic in this intellectual town.

I digressed. When my short attention span was exhausted from browsing the maps, the architecture bookshelf collection caught my eye. I saw a sign---a sign I've seen before.

It was the HOME House Project, a book on the future of affordable housing by David Brown of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in North Carolina.

This book was special to me because more than five years ago, I collaborated with three talented guys on the project, MOD(Modular Oriented Design) House. Our design efforts resulted in our work being selected as a finalist and making it in publication on the HOME House Project book. The MOD House was also part of a traveling exhibit that was mounted on prestigious venues like the Frederick R. Weisman Museum in Minneapolis, Cleveland Institute of Art, and galleries in New York.

For more information on the HOME House Project Traveling Exhibition, visit:

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When Size Matters: Small is Smart

In the world of liveable spaces, does size really matter? After living in an urban sprawl for ten years, I have to admit, I miss the free-flowing movement that large open spaces allow. "Are we spoiled by too much space?" I asked myself. I currently live in a true urban environment where the ratio of occupant space to occupancy is tight. Every space in my home is utilized---there are no underutilized and neglected spaces.

Then I came across an interesting installation at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. They call it the Smart Home: Green + Wired by architect Michelle Kaufmann.


The house is a demonstration that liveable spaces are not defined by size. It is based on the five EcoPrinciples of smart design, eco materials, energy efficiency, water conservation, and healthy living.

Upon seeing the house from the outside, I thought to myself, the garage in this Smart Home is a good match for the Smart Car. Smart, in this context, means Swatch Mercedes Art. These cute cars are Mercedes Benz's answer to BMW's Mini Cooper.

These fun cars run at forty miles per gallon on premium gas. It parks in very small spaces in the big city. I've literally seen them being parked in London, sideways in a parallel parking spot.

It seems at first I'm having a "smart" idea---the merging of a Smart Home and the Smart Car, until this revelation had to be brought back to reality by flashbacks of images of the ubiquitous McMansions.


The Oxford dictionary defines McMansions (yes, this term is now an official word) as "A modern house built on a large and imposing scale, but regarded as ostentatious and lacking architectural integrity." In our architectural jargon, we call this the enlarged versions of the cookie-cutter homes. This is a product of the developer's business model that giving the buyer an affordable price and biggest size of house without sensitive regard to architectural elements and integrity of materials, will sell like hotcakes (I mean more like BigMacs). Apparently it is an attempt to make the image of an elitist lifestyle affordable to the masses. Some people are taking the bait. Quality of space and materials is sacrificed over quantity.

Thank God there are enlightened consumers who are able to see beyond the fluff of commercialized houses. In true smartness fashion, they would be the ideal "smart owners" for these types of Smart Homes and Smart Cars. As more and more people are becoming informed about sustainability, I am hopeful that more and more consumers will make the smart move.

Great things come in small packages.
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