Asian Cultural Council Hong Kong

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A Day in MIT – Delving into the Maker Culture

2016-11-30  

Yip Chun Hang (recipient of the 2015 ACC Hsin Chong - K.N. Godfrey Yeh Education Fund – Young Architects’ Award) is Architecture Director and Co-Founder of LAAB Architects, a Hong Kong-based firm that synthesizes innovations in visual art, architecture, design, engineering, and fabrication. Yip received his Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from University of California, Berkeley and obtained his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Hong Kong. He participated as exhibitor and fabricator at the 2010 and 2012 editions of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, and has also taken part in the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture in 2011 and 2013. Furthering his interest in the potential impact of fabrication and the ‘Maker Movement’, he has received a fellowship from ACC to visit media laboratories, research digital fabrication and urban intervention projects, and to meet with green researchers based in the U.S. In the following, Yip reflects on his visit to the MIT Media Lab.


 
15 years after leaving the States since I graduated, never did I imagine that re-visiting the country would be another mind-blowing experience in my life.

I had been longing for a visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to experience the maker culture – a culture that is changing the modern lifestyle through introducing the spirit of invention into daily life with novel technologies that are rendering physical invention ever more feasible and accessible. It was indeed one of the highlights of my 3-week trip. I was blessed to have Alan Kwan, another ACC Fellow and an MIT alumnus, showing me around the campus and I was not disappointed.

Alan took me on an exclusive tour of the fabrication laboratory in the MIT Media Lab, where I observed the community and facilities inside the interdisciplinary research laboratory devoted to projects at the convergence of technology, multimedia, science, art and design. It was truly inspiring to me. Surrounded by a plethora of cutting edge fabrication machines all within reach, including new 3D printers, CNC routers, water jet cutting machines and other rapid prototyping machines, I was ashamed of my limited knowledge and exposure to digital fabrication technology as a designer deploying advanced technology as design methodology.


During a casual walk to Building N51, another famous home to the maker culture, I happened to see a student playing an interactive Tetris game using a cityscape model with several skyscrapers. I was amazed when Alan told me that the MIT hackers had brought this  80s Soviet style game to the Boston skyline when they turned the façade of the school’s Green Building into a cascade of colored blocks. The inventive spirit of Neil Gershenfeld, MIT professor and a pioneer in the idea of "How to make (almost) anything", has deeply implanted in the MIT community.



Just two blocks away from the MIT Media Lab is Eero Saarinen's MIT Chapel. Contrary to the celebration of modern technology and maker culture elsewhere in the campus, it is a place of solitude and withdrawal that induces reflection. Built in 1955, the design reflects the architect's ingenious use of geometry, his play on materials, and his sensitivity to light. The tranquility created by the undulating wall, the white marble altar and the hanging metal sculptures by Harry Bertoia that shimmer in the sunlight to reflect and distribute light into the chapel, is surreal to me. During the hour of my stay within this windowless chapel, I was spiritually refreshed and replenished to take the next step forward.



© Flickr User: caribbeanfreephoto

Now the trip is over, but I believe this is just the beginning of my personal journey.



In memory of Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh, late Chairman of the Hsin Chong International Holdings Ltd., who first inaugurated the Young Architects’ Award through the Asian Cultural Council in 1990. The Asian Cultural Council relies on the generosity of private donors and organizations to further its work, and as such is greatly indebted to Dr. Yeh for his philanthropic initiatives through the years, which have altogether supported over 40 architects from Hong Kong and China to embark on transformative cultural exchange journeys abroad.