Community messages

MIT Morningside Academy for Design

To: SA+P students, staff, faculty
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: March 14, 2022

Dear SA+P community,

Following President Reif’s message earlier this morning, I write to celebrate with you the establishment of The MIT Morningside Academy for Design, a major cross-MIT entity housed in the School of Architecture and Planning. Established through a visionary and transformative $100 million gift from The Morningside Foundation, the Academy will enable design at MIT to grow and to connect across disciplines, from engineering to science, management, the humanities, and beyond. For more detail, see MIT News.

SA+P has been the traditional home of design at MIT since its founding and with the Academy, we will be able to expand the impact and scope of design to the rest of MIT and to deploy design approaches to address the world’s pressing problems. 

I am also really delighted to share with you that John Ochsendorf (Class of 1942 Professor of Architecture and Engineering) will be the Founding Director of the Academy, and that Maria Yang (Gail E. Kendall Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean of the School of Engineering) will be the Associate Director.

This momentous and unprecedented opportunity for our School and for MIT is the outcome of many efforts by many people over many years. The length of this message is a sign of our gratitude to them.

Design at MIT 

When I arrived at MIT seven years ago, President Rafael Reif and then-Provost Marty Schmidt tasked me to answer the question, “How do we shape the future of design and design education at MIT?” This question had been brewing on campus given the increasing importance of design in industry and the growing impact of design thinking in business and engineering, outside of design’s traditional spheres.

It took only a few rounds of inquiry and discussion to realize that design was alive and well at MIT and in numerous fields. Several recent initiatives spoke to that: the D-Lab, the International Design Center, and the collaboration with the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Others, such as the Design Minor and Major founded and stewarded by the Department of Architecture, MITdesignX, and the guidance provided to the creation of the Dubai Institute for Design and Innovation, ensued. However, what was lacking was a unifying vision that would give greater visibility, more support, and stronger integration for design across disciplines and into our broader STEM education.

Historically, SA+P has provided the fertile grounds for such visions, with leading figures in the field such as Muriel Cooper, Donald Schon, and György Kepes, to name only a few. Five years ago, a group of faculty from SA+P produced a position paper that highlighted the primacy of design in our School. In it they said:

“Each discipline at MIT views the learning process through its own particular lens: Engineering, for example, aims to improve learning by optimizing our efficiency and maximizing our performance. In SA+P, we look at learning through a design lens—as a process in which learners create knowledge and develop expertise as they design and make things in the world. Learning is not viewed as a one-way transmission of information and ideas from teacher to student, or computer to online learner. Rather, learning is an interactive and collaborative process, in which learners are constantly engaging with tools, materials, media, and one another. In SA+P, we learn through design. We learn about design. And we design to learn.” 

But design was already strongly present and growing in Engineering, especially Mechanical Engineering, and in the Sloan School of Management as well. In all these discussions, it became clear that we needed to strengthen design education across MIT and to build a more all-rounded approach that complemented MIT’s strongly analytic and quantitative approaches to learning with creative thinking and human values.

To this end, in 2020 School of Engineering Dean Anantha Chandrakasan and I asked John Ochsendorf and Maria Yang to convene a committee of faculty from across MIT to look at design at the Institute. Last year this committee authored a white paper with recommendations about the future of design at MIT. The bold, collective vision, strong aspirations, and the plurality of approaches to design outlined in this paper have inspired the creation of the Morningside Academy for Design. Since then, John and Maria have consulted widely across MIT for input and suggestions to ensure the success of such a cross-cutting initiative.

A Convening Place

Very much in line with the collective, bottom-up approach that John and the faculty committee laid out, the coming two years will witness collective brainstorming and open discussions that will help chart out the mission of the Academy. However, it is important to highlight that the Academy will be a place, a convening place. It will not be its own silo with its own faculty and students but will attract faculty and students from across MIT.

It will be housed in the new Metropolitan Warehouse along with the Department of Architecture, the design studios and research spaces of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Center for Real Estate, Project Manus, and several galleries and meeting spaces. Located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, it will invigorate the center of the future campus, where MIT meets the world. This ambitious project is slated to open in 2025, and some of the Morningside gift will help to support the construction.

Here undergraduates and graduates will creatively make and think. K-12 students will amplify their imagination, communities around us will think innovatively about their collective challenges, and fellows from across MIT will use design approaches to address pressing problems like climate, inequality, mobility, and energy. Here, inequity will not be a barrier to creativity. Here, the industry will interact with faculty and students. Here the breadth and depth of design will be explored: from the design of objects to that of systems, from the nano to the planetary scale, from the single source of creative talent to the open-source of collective genius, from art to science, from thinking to making, and from emphasizing the efficacy of the solution to imbuing everything we make with human values. Here will be the place where we ask deep questions about what values will guide our actions. This is what makes design such a unique and indispensable way of thinking, learning, and making the world. 

Here we will be able to turn the initial question around to ask “How will design at MIT help redesign the future of education at large?”

1,001 Thank-yous

Where do I begin? I would like to deeply thank Rafael Reif and Marty Schmidt for asking the crucial question and for all their help to get us to the answer. My fellow deans have been enthusiastically advocating the idea from the get-go, especially Dean Chandrakasan and Associate Dean Maria Yang, who have been true partners in this venture and strong believers in design education.

I am profoundly indebted to Robert Millard, the former chair of the MIT Corporation (and graduate of SA+P), who understood the value of what we have to offer to the world and strongly championed it, and who built our relationship with Morningside Foundation trustee Gerald Chan. Since taking on the role of Corporation Chair, Diane Greene has strongly embraced and led this initiative to realization. 

I am also very grateful to MIT’s development, finance, legal, campus planning and facilities, and communications offices for their support and guidance every step of the way.

Within our School, the credits can go back to the very inception of MIT more than 150 years ago with Architecture as one of its foundational programs. Past deans and heads of departments and units have been consistently and continuously advancing design. The School’s current leadership and administration have been very instrumental in guiding, debating, and shaping this initiative. I am deeply appreciative of the members of the Dean’s Advisory Council and our departments’ Visiting Committees for their ideas and support

I want to single out the important role that Nicholas de Monchaux has played in framing the relationship between Architecture and the Academy, and the seminal contributions of Dava Newman, Chris Zegras, and Tod Machover. I also want to hugely thank Larry Vale and Caroline Jones, as well as Siqi Zheng, Azra Akšamija, Sarah Williams, Svafa Grönfeldt, Phil Clay, Larry Sass, Janelle Knox-Hayes, Ken Goldsmith, Martha Collins, Monica Orta, Melissa Vaughn, and Jim Harrington. Special thanks to the development team of Barbara Feldman and Nick Marmor. Thanks also to the stalwart support of the Dean’s Office: Peggy Cain, Dineen Doucette, Hélène Rieu-Isaacs, Lori Gans, Maria Iacobo, Makeela Searles, and Jessenia Villa.

Ultimately, none of this would have been possible without the committed leadership of John Ochsendorf, his inclusive approach and optimistic spirit, and the excellent ideas that he, Maria Yang, and the design faculty committee have put in front of us. 

Above all, I want to thank our donor, Gerald Chan, for his bold and visionary philanthropy, for his intellectual generosity and engagement with the faculty and students, and for his foresight that design as an approach to solving problems is all too important to keep to ourselves and that it is part of our mission to complement MIT’s analytical strength and technical prowess with creativity and with human values.

Please join me in thanking our donor and all those who helped bring the Academy to life, and in extending our best wishes and support to John Ochsendorf and Maria Yang in their new roles.



MIT Grand Climate Challenges and SA+P

To: SA+P Community
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: April 11, 2022

Dear SA+P community,

With today’s announcement by President Reif of the five flagship projects chosen to receive major support in MIT’s Climate Grand Challenges, I am pleased to celebrate the participation of many faculty from our School in this undertaking, reflecting the deep commitment of SA+P to addressing climate issues.

Following its launch in July 2020, the Climate Grand Challenges (CGC) set in motion Institute-wide engagement in crafting ambitious research proposals. Among the 27 finalist projects selected from almost 100 letters of interest were many that included faculty from across SA+P, proposing research grouped within one of the four CGC main themes: building equity and fairness into climate solutions; decarbonizing complex industries and processes; removing, managing, and storing greenhouse gases; and using data and science to forecast climate-related risk.

Situated within this last theme is “Preparing for a new world of weather and climate extremes,” the flagship project team led by Kerry Emanuel (EAPS), Miho Mazereeuw (Architecture), and Paul O’Gorman (EAPS), which also includes SA+P faculty Kairos Shen and Justin Steil. The project will create “a scalable toolkit to help vulnerable populations face the new reality of intensifying climate events and accelerate the transition to low-carbon resources.”

The complexity of the problems being tackled prompted multidisciplinary approaches. Members of this flagship team come from the School of Engineering, School of Science, Schwarzman College of Computing, and the Office of Sustainability, in addition to SA+P. External collaborators are from Tel Aviv University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

I invite you to learn more about the five flagship projects and the Institute’s sponsorship of research on climate at the MITClimate Grand Challenges Showcase Event on April 21, 2022, featuring a discussion by President Reif and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

Please join me in congratulating the many faculty from SA+P who took part in the Climate Grand Challenges and wishing all teams the best for continuing work on this vital topic.



Welcome anew

To: SA+P students, staff, faculty
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: September 10, 2021

Dear SA+P community,

It is great to be back together!

The return is full of excitement and promises but also of anxieties. Whether you have been on campus throughout the pandemic or are returning for the first time since March 2020, you’ll find much that is new in protocols to keep us all safe. But the fundamental ties that connect us and our shared work have remained firmly in place, as seen in the warm reunions taking place in classrooms, studios, offices, and hallways.

However, this is much more than just a return. It is also a renewal. We have a new cohort of students who bring with them new aspirations and energies.

Over the past year, many new buildings have also been added, with Kendall Square, new dorms, and new facilities making ours a revitalized campus.

SA+P also has new leadership across the School, with heads in all of our major units assuming their roles within the last year or so, and the addition of the new co-chairs of the Faculty Diversity Committee to School Council membership: Nicholas de Monchaux (Architecture), Chris Zegras (DUSP), Siqi Zheng (CRE), Dava Newman (Media Lab, joining Tod Machover from MAS), Sarah Williams (LCAU), Azra Akšamija (ACT), John Ochsendorf (Joint Design Initiative with the School of Engineering), Larry Sass and Janelle Knox-Hayes (Faculty Diversity Committee), and Svafa Grönfeldt (MITdesignX). We are also fortunate to add Monica Orta as our first Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Student Support.

These leaders’ collective commitment to supporting students and advancing access and equity will spur continued movement toward environmental action and racial justice in both our operations and our societal engagements. That they managed to take on their new roles and advance the goals of their respective areas during this hugely challenging time reflects the bold determination they bring to their roles. Like the mythical Argonauts, they have renewed the ship while continuing the journey.

The Dean’s Advisory Council has added several new members, whose ideas and engagement will help propel our ambitious agenda, especially as we make continued progress on the renovation of the Met Warehouse.

The SA+P staff, so integral to every aspect of our work, have seen some wonderful new additions along with poignant departures—including those of a few members whose crucial contributions spanned decades.

But there is also valuable continuity throughout the School, including outstanding faculty members and researchers, Associate and Assistant Deans, development and communication teams, and many other vital staff.

I am grateful for such a wealth of knowledge, innovative thinking, and unwavering dedication to our School, and I look forward to a great new academic year in your inspiring company.

See you soon!



Azra Akšamija to lead the Art, Culture, and Technology program

To: SA+P students, staff, faculty
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: September 7, 2021

Dear Students, staff, and faculty,

I am very pleased to announce that Associate Professor Azra Akšamija will become the next director of the Art, Culture, and Technology program at MIT, effective with the start of the fall semester.

An ACT faculty member since 2011, Azra brings a wealth of experience as a teacher, researcher, and artist to leading the program and helping to shape its future vision and mission. With remarkable dedication and enormous good will, Azra belongs to a rare breed of PhD/artists, using her research and practice in the public sphere to examine causes and consequences of cultural destruction in the context of conflict and forced displacement. She has expanded and deeply revised conventional conceptions of public art to include unusual (sometimes even mobile) locations and more meaningful engagements of publics in the conception and creation of the works.

Her work has been exhibited most recently at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, Sharjah, UA (2019),Kunsthaus Graz, AT (2019-20), Gallery for Contemporary Art Leipzig, Leipzig, DE (2020), and Kestnergesellschaft,Hannover, DE (2020). Azra’s projects Silk Road Works and Displaced Empire (with her Future Heritage Lab and Jordanian and Syrian partners) are currently on view as a part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia 2021.

Her most recent publication is the edited volume entitled Architecture of Coexistence: Building Pluralism (Berlin: ArchiTangle, 2020), developed with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Azra’s innovative teaching was recently featured in MIT News, in a story about how she led her students in designing face masks that reflect personal and collective experiences from the Covid-19 pandemic. Her highly collaborative projects also build bridges between the various units in the School.

I would like to deeply thank Professor Judith Barry for her service as ACT’s director since January 2018 and particularly in this past tumultuous year, as she continued to facilitate programs and projects that reflect a revised sense of art, culture, and technology.  

Please join me in warmly welcoming Azra to her new leadership role.



Welcoming SA+P’s New Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Student Support

To: SA+P faculty, staff, students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: May 5, 2021

Dear Students, staff, and faculty,

I am very pleased to announce that after a rigorous and thoughtful search, SA+P’s Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Student Support will be Monica Orta. She assumes her new role on June 28.

Many of you know Monica from her highly respected work at the MIT Media Lab, where since 2014 she has been extremely effective in increasing diversity and improving graduate student support in the Media Arts and Sciences academic program. She first came to MIT in 2007 to work on diversity initiatives at the Office of Graduate Education.

Reporting to me, Monica will join the Dean’s office team and work closely with our newly forming SA+P Student Council and our Faculty Diversity Committee, co-chaired by Janelle Knox-Hayes and Larry Sass.

Monica will be part of a cohort of assistant deans for diversity at the other schools of MIT and the Schwarzman College of Computing. Having worked on diversity at MIT both in central and departmental roles, she is particularly well suited to represent our School at this moment, just as the Institute is implementing a comprehensive strategic plan.

I would like to thank those on the search committee, chaired by Associate Professor Larry Sass:

Martha Collins, Assistant Dean for HR and Administration

Mohamed Ismail, Graduate Student, Architecture

Janelle Knox-Hayes, Associate Professor, DUSP

Chenab Navalkha, Graduate Student, DUSP

Anastasia Ostrowski, Graduate Student, MAS

Paul Pettigrew, Manager of Special Projects, Architecture

Ellen Rushman, Academic Program Manager, DUSP

Please join me in welcoming Monica to her new role and in supporting her vital work.



Mind and heart

To: SA+P faculty, staff, students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: April 15, 2021

Dear Students, staff, and faculty,

I write today with a simple message for a complex time. 

Everyone is struggling, and our reserves feel depleted, our nerves raw. The release of a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin—no matter what it is—will be an emotional event for many, the latest in a year full of wrenching news.

Within this painful context, acts of selflessness and heroism are all around us. They don’t erase the harsh persistent reality of anti-Black racism, violence against AAPI, and the many layered losses of Covid. But they offer vital hope, arising from a place of love. 

As a School community we have great agency, which comes with equally great urgency—to do work that advances our highest ideals for a healthier, more equitable society. But I encourage you to spend this extended weekend caring for yourselves and others, in whatever way is restoring. It does no disservice to the issues that drive us to take time to rest and heal. Sustaining a powerful spirit of hope, activism, and love requires no less.

With a big collective hug,


To: SA+P faculty, staff, students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: February 11, 2021

Dear SA+P community,

I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Svafa Grönfeldt as Faculty Director of MITdesignX and Professor of the Practice, effective immediately.

Svafa has been an essential part of the success of MITdesignX since its launch in 2016. As a key advisor and organizational strategist, she has worked closely with Executive Director Gilad Rosenzweig and Faculty Director Dennis Frenchman to develop this vital innovation incubator at SA+P.

She will continue to teach students on MITdesignX teams, who gain course credits through an IAP “bootcamp” and a full-semester course in the spring.

In addition to her work with MITdesignX, Svafa has served as a senior advisor to the Dean and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council.

Svafa came to MIT with an impressive academic and business background: PhD in organizational behavior and industrial relations from the London School of Economics; board member of three NASDAQ OMX listed companies, and a founding member of a team of entrepreneurs that created and scaled two global life science companies for which she served as the chief organizational development officer and deputy to the CEO; president of Reykjavik University; and author (with Judith Banks Strother) ofService Leadership: The Quest for Competitive Advantage.

The focal point of her career as organizational designer has been to apply the human-centered principles of design to solve complex problems. Her signature optimism, extensive experience with entrepreneurship, business acumen, and unshakeable belief in the power of design to make the world better will provide assured leadership of MITdesignX as it continues to build recognition and register impact in the wide range of areas in which it sponsors ventures.

Please join me in welcoming Svafa to her new role at SA+P and in thanking Dennis Frenchman for his vision and leadership in shaping MITdesignX.



SA+P Climate Action Plan

To: SA+P faculty, staff, and students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: January 28, 2021

Dear SA+P community,

I am pleased to share with you the news of the launch of the SA+P Climate Action Plan (CAP).

In mid-December, School Council approved the adoption of the plan, which aims to reinforce MIT’s efforts to address climate change by piloting School-level steps that could eventually be taken across the Institute.

The plan offers detailed analysis of SA+P carbon emissions for one calendar year (2019) and provides a menu of options for reducing these through changes in our routine practices. Procurement, waste tracking, airline travel, and other areas of operation are targeted. Implementation is planned for fall 2021. 

This local initiative resonates with the School’s research and teaching in many climate-related areas and helps highlight our work on sustainability, with its critical equity dimension.

You can read about the genesis of the plan in MIT News. What is truly remarkable is that this ambitious commitment arose from efforts by students and faculty in DUSP to create a department-level approach. Their presentations of in-depth research to School Council and discussions with peers in the Department of Architecture and the Media Lab built enthusiasm for endorsing the plan School-wide. Close collaboration with MIT’s Office of Sustainability helped with data gathering and alignment with the Institute’s climate plan.

I am extremely grateful to all those who made this possible, including students, faculty, and staff across SA+P. Your passion to make the world better, starting at our School, will lead to real progress on this vital issue.



New leadership for the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism

To: SA+P faculty, staff, and students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: January 13, 2021

Dear SA+P community,

I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Sarah Williams as the new director of the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism, effective immediately.

Sarah is associate professor of urban technology and planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and director of the Civic Data Design Lab. An alumna of DUSP’s city planning master’s program, she taught at Columbia before returning to MIT to join the faculty in 2014.

She teaches courses in big data, visualization, and society, including a new course on “Data and Society” that highlights the ethical and societal implications of data. More on her research and analytical approach can be found here.

Sarah is the author of Data Action: Using Data for Public Good (MIT Press, 2020). In a recent story inMIT News about the book, Shannon Mattern of The New School is quoted as calling the work a “perfect fusion of historical framing, critical reflection, and how-to instruction” that “powerfully demonstrates how collaborative, methodologically pluralistic, reflective, and publicly responsive modes of data design can incite civic change.”

Sarah’s work on civic engagement through urban technologies and on racial justice puts her at the forefront of urban thinking and action today. Her research and teaching embody the highest of the Center’s values: Norman Leventhal’s civicness, a deep interest in collaboration between the private and public sectors, and excellence in urban design, technology, and sustainability.

Her engagement with spatial visualization as a tool to connect people with their built environment further extends Leventhal’s legacy, especially his interest in mapping and in giving citizens access to and ownership of their cities. She is also one of the key players in bridging SA+P with the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, having helped shape and direct the School’s new Urban Science program.

I am grateful to Alan Berger and Jim Wescoat for their engaged leadership of the LCAU as it has expanded its reach and impact over the last ten years as a leading interdisciplinary center for research and design on urbanism. The Center has built strong foundations: the new PhD program, the Norman B. Leventhal City Prize, a series of multi-year research themes, a burgeoning body of research, and real-world engagement through a membership program.

Please join me in thanking Alan and Jim and warmly welcoming Sarah to her new position.


To: SA+P faculty and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: December 21, 2020

I write to wish you peace for the new year.

It has been too long that we have not seen each other in person. I don’t know about you, but Zoom does not do it for me. I miss you. I miss running into you in the hallways, I miss the student lunches and the smell of the noodle soup from Steam Cafe, I miss chatting with the smokers on the Lobby 7 steps, the staff huddles over emergency issues, the six simultaneous toasts and conversations at faculty open houses, the fiery debates and reviews, the beers and stale pizza on Fridays, the endless meetings in a dimly lit Stella Room, the unwinding dinners and sharing desserts after lectures, the fire-alarms going off, and the rushed smiles and occasional fist bumps in between. I miss the dialogues, debates, and disagreements, but above all, I miss the gratification that comes after drinking from the MIT fire hose, the daily agitation and the peace that comes after it, and the peace we gain from reaching resolution after contention, from forgiving and being forgiven. As Virginia Woolf put it, “you cannot gain peace by avoiding life.” A lively day with you all is worth an eternity of this fake peace, the absence and emptiness that we are living today.

Hoping that the new year will bring us together again in real peace,

A big hug,


New leadership for the MIT Media Lab

To: SA+P faculty and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: December 22, 2020

To members of the SA+P community,

After a months-long international search, it is my deep pleasure to announce the appointment of a new director for the MIT Media Lab: MIT’s own Dava Newman (SM ’89, SM ’89, PhD ’92), Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

In a field of outstanding candidates, Professor Newman stood out for her pioneering research, wide range of multidisciplinary engagements, and exemplary leadership. She is a designer, a thinker, a maker, an engineer, an educator, a mentor, a convener, a communicator, a futurist, a humanist and, importantly, an optimist. In other words, a tremendous asset to MIT and a great match for the Media Lab. She has also been an advocate for diversity in engineering and science, and inclusion will be a foundational component of her leadership of the Media Lab.

For more on Professor Newman’s appointment, see the MIT News story published today.

Many people have worked tremendously hard to bring the Media Lab to this crucial turning point. I am grateful to the search committee, whose members are listed below, for this inspiring selection. I also extend my deep appreciation to the members of the Executive Committee who have skillfully guided the Media Lab over the last 15 months: Ramona Allen, Tod Machover, Pattie Maes, Deb Roy, and Maria Zuber. 

But it is the staff, students, researchers, and faculty of the Media Lab who have earned my most profound gratitude. They have worked tirelessly over the past year to build a renewed understanding of the mission and operational principles of the Lab, and in doing so, reinforced the strong sense of community that animates this remarkable place.

Please join me in welcoming Professor Newman to her new role, and wishing her and the entire Media Lab community great success in the years ahead.


Hashim Sarkis

Dean, MIT School of Architecture and Planning

MIT Media Lab Director Search Committee

Pattie Maes (chair)
Professor, Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT (MIT Media Lab)

Mitchel Resnick
Professor, Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT (MIT Media Lab)

Fadel M. Adib
Assistant Professor, Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT (MIT Media Lab)

Danielle Wood
Assistant Professor, Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT (MIT Media Lab)

Nicholas de Monchaux
Professor and Head of Department of Architecture (MIT School of Architecture and Planning)

Fiona Murray
Associate Dean for Innovation and Inclusion, Co-Director MIT Innovation Initiative,
William Porter (1967) Professor of Entrepreneurship, Faculty Director Legatum Center
(MIT Sloan School of Management)

Devora Najjar
Research Assistant/PhD Student (MIT Media Lab)

Rebecca Reid
Assistant Financial Officer (MIT Media Lab)

Philipp Schmidt
Research staff member
Director, ML Learning Initiative (MIT Media Lab)

Met project update

To: SA+P faculty and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: November 12, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

I would like to express my deep thanks to all of you who have contributed your time, ideas, and provocative questions to advancing the development of the Met Warehouse renovation project, which owes much to the engagement of our community across all units and roles. 

Now, an update on where things stand: in August we closed the concept update phase with broad community participation including the Town Hall, meeting of the Steering Committee, unit office hours with facilities director Jim Harrington, and Core Communications Group meetings. The basic building renovation concept that was shared in the Town Hall has been affirmed.

Now halfway into the schematic design phase, we’ve added user group sessions with the design and project management teams. Input from these sessions is being used to update the test fit of the floor plans. Revised test fits incorporating many of the suggested changes are being reviewed by the Core Communications Group and will be shared with the user groups in the coming weeks. The location, size, and adjacencies of variously programmed spaces are starting to settle into an inspiring and functionally organized set of plans and sections.

In this regard, the architects have been wonderfully responsive in modifying their proposals in light of our continuous feedback. The Core Communications Group has carefully logged all questions and input, and shared this information with the design team. They will continue to collect and forward ideas and concerns. Please reach out to them directly or via the Met project email address:

Drawing on the community’s questions, a set of responses is posted on theSA+P intranet and will be updated as new topics arise. The membership of the Met user groups and Core Communications Group is also posted there, along with the transcription of the Met Town Hall.

On October 7, the Steering Committee met to approve the program and the basic intent of the revised plans. Ongoing consideration is being given to sustainability concerns that we all share, and the project team held a sustainability workshop on October 1, with faculty representatives from Building Technology and DUSP. Additionally, we continue to develop integrated solutions to address the imperative to make this building’s design and operations reflect our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

I encourage everyone to remain involved and attuned to our progress.



Helpful election resources to support students

To: SA+P faculty and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: October 28, 2020

Dear colleagues,

I write to share a series of resources for faculty and staff designed to make it easier for you to support our students and to promote respectful dialogue and civic engagement in the days leading up to and following the November 3, 2020 election.

As you are likely aware, President Reif wrote to our community last week, noting that, “As the election nears, it is important to acknowledge that the great global family of MIT includes people with a wide variety of political views. By definition then, however the coming election turns out, some members of our community will be disappointed, heartbroken, angry.” We know that the election is a significant source of stress for many students, and we know that when faculty acknowledge significant events like this, it means a great deal. Here are some helpful resources to guide your interactions with students next week (please note similar advice can be applied to your conversations with colleagues):

I encourage you to familiarize yourself with and to take advantage of these resources. It’s also critical that we impress upon our students and colleagues the importance of making their voices heard this election season. MITvote, a non-partisan student group doing tremendous work to increase MIT voter turnout, breaks down the voting process in Massachusetts and across the country. Please take a look at and share the MITvote site with students and colleagues.

Modeling mutual respect, inclusion, and civic engagement in the days ahead will provide an invaluable service to our students, community, and country.




To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: October 8, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

This morning, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to American poet Louise Glück.

It is always redeeming when poetry wins, especially a poetry that turns personal pain and monosyllabic everyday language into resonant verse. How much we are in need of restoring this dignity to our language today, and of bridging between our isolated lives and our collective experience.

I share with you section 5 of her poem “October” hoping that her verse brings us together while waiting for all this to pass.



From “October,” by Louise Glück (2004)


It is true that there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees; we are

companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception — At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

the same world:

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.

New SA+P Faculty Diversity Committee leadership

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: October 1, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

I am pleased to announce that Janelle Knox-Hayes and Larry Sass have agreed to serve as co-chairs of the SA+P Faculty Diversity Committee and have already begun the important work of this group.

As most of you know, Janelle is associate professor of economic geography and planning, and head of DUSP’s Environmental Policy and Planning Group. Larry is associate professor of architecture and director of the Computation Group. They have outlined an ambitious potential agenda for advancing racial justice at our School, including proposed initiatives to:

  • Increase hiring of faculty of color
  • Increase the value of faculty service
  • Build racial justice policy within the departments

The committee will also be engaged in working with Assistant Dean for Human Resources Martha Collins to hire an Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Student Support for the School.

Janelle and Larry will alternate attendance at School Council meetings. Joining them on the Faculty Diversity Committee are:

  • Phillip Clay  
  • Martha Collins
  • Joseph Jacobson 
  • Kairos Shen
  • Terry W. Knight (ex officio)   
  • Ceasar L. McDowell (ex officio)  
  • Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Student Support (to be named)
  • Student members (to be named)

Administrative support and counsel will be provided by Associate Dean Larry Vale, Peggy Cain and Makeela Searles from the Dean’s office.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee’s outgoing members—Adele Santos (chair), Kristel Smentek, and Siqi Zheng—for their service.

Please join me in welcoming Janelle and Larry to their new roles and in supporting them as they focus our School-wide efforts to attain racial justice by combatting racism in our teaching, research, and everyday operations.



A disquieted world

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: September 2, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

On August 29, The Disquieted Muses, a new exhibition, opened at the Venice Biennale, bringing together all the arts represented in the Biennale since the 19th century: art, architecture, theater, dance, music, and film.

Over the summer, as architecture curator, I worked with the curators of these other fields to draw from the Biennale archives examples of where the arts confronted major upheavals in the past: fascism, anti-colonialism, the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, the nuclear disarmament struggle, and the Chilean military coup, among others.

Maybe because architecture and urbanism arrived only in the 1980s to the Venice lineup, or maybe because our fields have somehow been relatively conservative—disquieted by disquietude—the architecture biennales have been less representative of the struggles around them and, until recently, keener on highlighting the inherent optimism of what we do.

But the times they are a-changin’. As our SA+P community has shown over the past year (and as the 2021 Architecture Biennale, How Will We Live Together? will hopefully show), the fields of architecture and urbanism have moved to the forefront of engagement and action. They are also convening the other fields. Our optimism, our commitment to producing concrete alternatives for living together across scales and across cultures, is not incompatible with the need to engage and to advance equity, anti-racism, and climate justice to the forefront of what we do.

At the beginning of this new academic year, I turn to you once again for inspiration and to urge you to help us get over the false dichotomy that has prevailed for far too long between profession and engagement. The spatial contracts that you shape through your ideas and designs will no doubt pave the way for better social contracts.

Wishing you all the best for the year,


New leadership for the MIT Center for Real Estate

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: July 21, 2020

Dear students, staff, and faculty

I am very pleased to announce the appointment of new leadership at the MIT Center for Real Estate, as Dennis Frenchman, the Class of 1922 Professor of Urban Design and Planning and director of the Center since 2018, prepares to retire from MIT in September.

Siqi Zheng, Samuel Tak Lee Professor of Real Estate Development and Entrepreneurship, will assume the role of faculty director. She will lead the intellectual and research agenda of CRE, including expanding the Center’s interdisciplinary connections at SA+P and MIT. She will represent the Center at SA+P School Council. Siqi will strengthen the sustainability theme in our MSRED curriculum and teach the course “Sustainable Real Estate: Economics and Business.”

Since joining MIT in 2017, Siqi has made important contributions to teaching and research, establishing and leading the Samuel Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab, the China Future City Lab, and currently, the Sustainable Urbanization Lab. 

A former president of the Asian Real Estate Society, Siqi is currently on the board of the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association. She was recently awarded a major grant to study the role of social distancing in shaping the Covid-19 curve, using data from 344 Chinese cities.

The author of numerous scholarly journal articles in the field of urban and environmental economics, she co-authored Blue Skies over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China (with Matthew Kahn, Princeton University Press) and co-edited Toward Urban Economic Vibrancy: Patterns and Practices in Asia’s New Cities (with Zhengzhen Tan, SA+P Press).

Kairos Shen, associate professor of the practice, will serve as the Center’s executive director. His responsibilities will include leading both the MSRED degree program and the day-to-day operations of the Center.

Many know Kairos from his long service to the City of Boston as Director of Planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Chief Planner, where he oversaw many projects that would change the fabric of the city in beneficial ways. An alumnus of the Department of Architecture’s MArch program, he returned to teach at MIT in 2016.

To his new role he will bring an abundance of real-world experience, administrative expertise, and deep insights about the impact of real estate on the shaping of cities. Kairos will continue to teach the capstone course, “Real Estate Development Studio,” and also his signature seminar course, “Doing Good by Doing Well.”

I would also like to recognize Dennis for his committed leadership and advocacy of real estate development as a “city making” enterprise, including the capacity for significant social contributions by those working in the industry.

These appointments will take effect on August 1. Please join me in thanking Dennis for his great service to CRE and the School, and warmly welcoming Siqi and Kairos to their new positions.



International students in the fall

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: July 9, 2020

To the SA+ community:

No student will be left behind. This has been and remains the School’s policy since the onset of the pandemic. No matter what the next crisis or court ruling is, we will work hard to recalibrate our situation and offerings so that all students will have equal access and opportunities to what our School has to offer.

Once again, the polarizations that govern our world have produced yet another differentiation we will have to overcome, this time between foreign students and American students. This is so contrary to our beliefs and values that we have to address it directly and at its core. As you have seen, MIT and Harvard have opted to challenge the ICE ruling. As this unfolds, we want to reiterate that we are working to overcome this particular hurdle, along with others, and that no student will be left behind.

A big (international) hug,


Making SA+P more equitable and inclusive

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: July 9, 2020

Dear students, staff, and faculty,

The nationwide demonstrations, frank and painful conversations, and calls for action following the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans demands much more than the responses we have seen in the past from those in a position to make real change—in other words, all of us. Prior steps taken, important though they were, obviously did not go far enough in acknowledging and addressing deep, systemic racism.

The resources marshalled by the MIT Graduate Student Council’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, including the remarkable Allyship Guide for Research Groups, indicate important work we can all do together to make change happen. But we know that some of the structures undergirding our disciplines need to be addressed as well, such as the very origins of “architecture” and “planning,” and their relations to occupation and colonization.

At the School of Architecture and Planning, I am committed as Dean to making the educational and work experiences of Black students, faculty, and staff as excellent as our highest professed ideals. Now, we dedicate ourselves just as passionately to putting those ideals into action in the world through our research and community engagement. We have the opportunity to have a real and lasting impact.

We will begin this dedication by contributing our support for the collective action framed in President Reif’s detailed letter of July 1. In our School’s departments, labs, and centers, recent unflinching looks at pedagogy and operations have already produced specific plans to address the structures of racism. These plans come with accountability—something often lacking in the past—which we have built in to what we are doing. I will support these efforts in every way possible.

At the School-wide level, our dedication begins with these important early steps:

  • The creation of a School Student Council (announced to the SA+P community on June 22) drawing representatives from the DLCs, our NOMAS branch, DUSP’s Students of Color Committee, and other student groups, to promote communication and coordinated action with the Dean’s office, School Council, one another, and students across the Institute. Anti-racism work will be a focus. A first meeting was held on June 29, with a second meeting being scheduled for July.
  • The hiring of an officer for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the assistant-dean level. This person will liaise with MIT in developing an Institute-wide plan under the leadership of Institute Community and Equity Officer John Dozier and Associate Provost Tim Jamison, and the office of the chancellor. The School Student Council will help shape the role and be involved in the search. We are drafting the job description and aim to post it in August.
  • The strengthening of the School’s Diversity Committee in two ways: by including a broader representation of faculty, students, and staff, and by pursuing a fuller agenda. The committee will be a resource and active partner to DLCs in their efforts to recruit students of color, and to hire, mentor, promote, and retain Black faculty and staff, as well as other faculty and staff of color. Once hired, the assistant dean for diversity (see above) will be part of this committee, to ensure continuity in our efforts. The expanded committee will be in place by the beginning of the academic year 2020–2021.
  • Coordination among groups and better funding for research already under way in our School that addresses racism and promotes equity in housing, design, transportation, health, labor practices, and the justice system. The Dean’s upper management team will have a proposal for how to coordinate and support this work by September 2020.
  • The continued raising of funds for fellowships for students from underrepresented groups. We have the significant beginnings of a plan in place to increase graduate student financial aid and have been devoting growing support to such aid over the last few years. In the current fiscal year, this support totals more than $450K.
  • The incorporation of meeting and other spaces in the redesigned Met Warehouse that will be open to the diverse Cambridge and Boston communities. This will enable a very different public outreach for our School and for its identity at MIT and in the world.
  • Supporting the departments in their own efforts to create platforms for discussion and debate, and to institute meaningful reforms to their curricula, admissions processes, and strategic priorities.

These are merely some first foundational steps in a reimagined approach to rooting out racism in our teaching, research, studios, labs, and School culture. It will take everyone working in all domains to correct such longstanding and deeply ingrained patterns of exclusion and injustice. But it is clear that we have the will and the capacity to do this work, in ways and at scales not attempted before. Let us not lose the passionate insistence on the need for change that motivates us today to act.



School Student Council

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: June 22, 2020

Dear SA+P students,

The crises of the past year have made it clear that the channels of communication between SA+P students and the School Council and Dean need to be improved. This applies as well to the communication among the students of the diverse units in the School and between our School’s student body and that of MIT overall.

Toward that end, and following a meeting with representatives of departmental student councils, I am happy to share with you that we have decided to establish an SA+P Student Council that consists of elected representatives from the various units. 

The mission of this group will include:

  1. Bringing together student representatives from SA+P units to address School-wide student concerns and organize activities across SA+P
  2. Advising the Dean on student life matters and on School culture in general
  3. Presenting student concerns and perspectives to the School Council
  4. Working with the Diversity Committee to improve student diversity and culture in the School

During their first meeting, Monday, 6/29, at 4 PM, the Student Council will generate a broader agenda and share it with the community. If you have any ideas, please do not hesitate to share them with the student representatives of your unit or with me directly.

I look forward to working with you all to improve communication and through that effort, improve student life at SA+P.




To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: June 15, 2020

Dear SA+P Community,

Listening to Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar”on the car radio, I could not help but wonder why a song so out of sync with what is happening has been getting so much air time. Yet it is perhaps its very escapism and the yearning for summers past that make it so successful.

Contrasting with this light-hearted soundtrack is the sheer effort to carry on as much as possible with our work and family responsibilities and our mobilization against the injustices and violence that surround us. We are all asking ourselves what we can do to make things better, at many scales and across many issues. I doubt that our collective spirit will go back to being anything like a summer love song any time soon, but I would here like to share just one thought: However you engage with the critical challenges the world has presented in abundance—on the streets, at MIT, and in our personal lives—please take some time for yourselves, and call it summer.

I encourage the departments to be creative and flexible in letting everyone find time to rest and focus on whatever brings some measure of relief from the huge stresses of the past three months. Whether this means working a compacted four-day work week or taking vacation—even if only to step away from Zoom for a few days and spend more time outdoors—is not important. The crucial thing is to have a real break. The announcement today from President Reif and Vice President Ramona Allen of an additional MIT holiday for faculty and staff on July 6 provides a good start.

For students who are still in Cambridge or anywhere else in the world, a similar suggestion: find a way to reclaim some cherished aspect of summers past. Having made it through the daunting spring semester, you deserve time to relax and recharge.



SA+P supports #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: June 9, 2020

Dear SA+P Community,

The School will be participating in the nationwide #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM day planned for this Wednesday, June 10, dedicating the day to solidarity with Black STEM professionals and Black academics and to education, action, and healing from anti-Black racism. Discussions are being organized within the departments and units, and I encourage you all to take part.


Today’s Vigil

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: June 2, 2020

Dear SA+P Community,

Once again, we find ourselves at a loss for words. Violence has that effect. It impedes speech and makes anything we want to say seem hollow.

The goal of violence is to impose silence. Therefore speaking out against it, lending our voices to its victims, to those who can’t speak, let alone breathe, is so critical in the days ahead. Even as we are all still reeling, today’s MIT vigil at 5:30 pm could be one way to shift our collective silence into a source of strength for all. I would respectfully encourage everyone to attend.

Also, the various units of SA+P have set up platforms for discussion to help us arrive at what to collectively say, how to say it and, importantly, what to do.

In her book The Origin of Others, Toni Morrison analyzes how the images and words of literature construct the Other as inferior, to implicitly naturalize and perpetuate control over others. Working through some of the canons of 19th century American literature and also through Faulkner and Hemingway, Morrison reveals that the lurking racisms and sexisms have little to do with race or gender, but more with the power gained and justified by the construction of Others as strangers.

What to do then? It is important to speak up, but also to extricate this power and the racism, violence, and the negative idea of the Other from our own languages, from our fields of knowledge, and from the devices, spaces, and cities that our languages uphold. Much work lies ahead. Let us get started.


To the SA+P Class of 2020

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: May 27, 2020

Dear SA+P Class of 2020:

I never had a high school commencement. In the spring of 1982, a war was raging in Lebanon and instead of celebrating together, each member of our senior class huddled in a basement alone, endlessly studying for endlessly postponed exams. Two weeks after we emerged from hiding, we went straight to college. Later that fall, a few of us gathered in our school principal’s office for a small reception, said thank you and goodbye to our teachers, and went back to our respective colleges. It did not feel the same. We did not have our prom, our parents did not get the pomp and circumstance they deserved, and we did not really get to close that chapter in our lives. The calamities of the war made our disappointment seem trivial. Many of us ended up walking in college and graduate school commencements afterwards, but somehow none of these ceremonies could make up for that missing milestone.

I hope that the similarity with your situation, MIT Class of 2020, does not end here, because there are truly beautiful, although unexpected, outcomes to this lack of closure. Every time I meet my high school classmates, whether in groups or in pairs, whether in Beirut or elsewhere in the world, we feel that we are still there, that we never left the school in which our friendships were formed, that we are more friends than classmates, bound by a unique experience that differentiates us from the other classes and by a conversation that never ended. We also feel that our friendship was only strengthened by those pleasures that we were forced to live without.

This may not be what you signed up for or what you deserve, and you may feel at times that it is not fair. In the imagination of my generation, 2020 was the future. “Vision 2020” was a recurring subtitle to many projects we designed and papers we wrote, and the future was always high tech, sunny, and very fair, very just. The future is here and yes, you may have encountered its high-tech aspects at MIT, and lest we forget, it has been a prevalently sunny year despite everything. However, the justice part remains to be attained. I hope you will forgive the generations before you for not having met their own future aspirations, and that you will carry forth the pursuit of justice whether through climate change mitigation, social equity, or public health in your own visions for 2050, 2040, 2030, and maybe even 2021 if I know your determination well enough!

But as you advance in your noble pursuits, please remember, as Michel de Montaigne reminds us, that in Aristotle’s ideal city, the lawmakers held friendship higher than justice. “Of a perfect society,” Montaigne said, “friendship is the peak.”

May 2020 bind you together and to MIT in a lifelong friendship.


A message to staff

To: SA+P staff and faculty
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: May 19, 2020

Dear SA+P staff,

When you packed up files and a few supplies from your desks in mid-March, anticipating two or three weeks away from the office, there was no way to know that working from home would extend into May—and likely beyond. That sheltering would involve caring for toddlers while trying to complete time-sensitive assignments, or sharing quarters with restless college-age children, or dividing up limited working space with a spouse or partner. Or spending days alone but for back-to-back Zoom meetings and socially distanced outdoor conversations.

Our SA+P community has done a remarkable job during this anxious time, supporting students and one another to complete the semester with integrity and grace. But for all of us, operating in this unfamiliar way, it has not been easy to forge ahead day after day with equal focus and energy. Boundaries—between weekdays and weekends, between work and home life, between global time zones—have eroded, and there is less of a shared sense of schedules or expectations. Some worry that they are not working enough, while others feel that they are working all the time. 

I would just like to say that I appreciate how difficult it has been to remain productive and optimistic, maintaining mental and physical well-being in the face of such extreme challenges and constraints, without the normal technical and social infrastructure of the office. Some of you are understandably struggling, and I hope that you are not hesitating to take advantage of the many resources available to staff coping with adversity around health, finances, or family needs. Also, I trust that those of you who are supervisors will continue to offer flexibility for staff to complete their work at their best times of the day, while not holding out unreasonable expectations of availability at all hours.

As MIT grapples with plans for fall, incorporating feedback from all parts of the Institute as well as evolving guidance from health professionals and state government, there will remain some uncertainty in coming weeks. But you can all take pride in everything you’ve accomplished so far under trying circumstances, including remaining positive about our collective future.

I thank you for your spirit and dedication, without which we would not be SA+P.



A major gift for the Met

To: SA+P staff, faculty, and students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: May 13, 2020

Dear SA+P faculty, staff, and students,

I am very pleased to announce that thanks to the generosity of Alan Dworsky ’57, an alumnus of our Department of Architecture, we have crossed a key fundraising threshold set by the Institute for the development of the Met Warehouse. This significant gift allows us to advance with the design work to renovate this historic structure for new use as a design hub for SA+P and MIT as a whole. In the coming weeks, we will be organizing community discussions with Diller Scofidio + Renfro about the plans moving forward.

Having begun his career at organizations including The Architects Collaborative and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, working as a registered architect, Alan turned his professional attention to investing in equities, with an MBA from the Harvard Business School. After 17 years at Putnam Management, Alan founded Mt. Auburn Management with his wife, Suzanne. Their firm was notable for concentrated portfolios in growth companies and for exclusive service to large nonprofit institutions.

Alan served for many years as a trustee of the Boston Symphony and endowed its Tanglewood Festival Chorus and conductor. He and Suzanne have also endowed chairs at both the Harvard Art Museums and the Yale University Art Gallery.

Alan’s interest in supporting the Met building project was inspired by MIT’s choice of architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose creative and bold work he admires.

We thank Alan for his generous gift, which is doubly appreciated for being made at this challenging time for MIT and the world.




To: SA+P faculty, students, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: April 22, 2020

Earthrise, by William Anders (1968)

The earth said
remember me.
The earth said
don’t let go,

said it one day
when I was
listening. . .

Jorie Graham, Poem

When the early astronauts started orbiting the moon, they witnessed a phenomenon they called “Earthrise.” This referred to the way the planet earth slowly rose and shone over the curvature of the moon, as if it were a little sun, charting a Lissajous path, slowly unfolding its blueness. So many environmental movements attribute their inspiration, if not their beginnings, to this important representation of the planet. For the first time, we saw it as a “whole earth,” as a single object, brought together by technology, geography, geology, atmosphere, and by our sheer fragility yet uniqueness as a humanity floating in space.

But somehow, we quickly forgot all of that and returned to our mundane practices except for those occasional days when, as Jorie Graham puts it, we are “accidentally listening.” Yet, one aspect of this particular phenomenon that does not get played out as much is that no matter what happens, no matter if we remember or forget, the earth rises. Today, more than ever, it is rising in our consciousness, in our research, in our concern toward each other, and in everything we do as architects, designers, planners, artists, or engineers. We are at last intently listening to the earth rise, again. Happy Earth Day.


A Window for Applause

To: SA+P faculty, students, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: April 8, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

Many cities around the world have taken to applauding their medical teams and front-line workers from their windows every evening. I would like to bring the practice closer to home and to applaud the world’s front-liners, MIT’s, and SA+P’s own—the School’s staff.

Thanks to them, we took the difficult first step, and I hope that this week offers incremental feelings of ease with remote instruction and other virtual activities. The staff have sought to perform their duties in a markedly changed environment, with new policy guidelines being issued daily. And all those who care for children and elders sequestered at home struggled to find balance. With staff help, faculty have managed to reconfigure their instruction plans and materials for online delivery, teaching from their homes. Students have also been able to take up the challenge of continuing their studies amid dramatically altered, anxious circumstances. Many staff members have also volunteered for the undergraduate coaching support. They are ensuring that everyone’s needs are being addressed, and that no student is left behind in this virtual world.

None of them signed up for their roles with this in mind, and yet all of them have risen to the occasion in a very effective and moving manner. I’ve been continuously struck by the determination shown by all to make this new system work, and to be kind and generous to one another. Thanks to their help, and along with the rest of MIT and on a tight timeline, we have launched a new way of moving ahead with our School’s commitment to innovative teaching and learning.

I wish you a healthy engagement with this second week of remote learning. The commitments we make to each other as a community will never be more important than now, as we navigate a way forward, week by week. I know that this has been very demanding on all of you, but whenever you can, please open your computer window and, with a few words or emoticons, applaud one of the front-liners of SA+P who make it all work.


Michael Sorkin

To: SA+P faculty, students, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: March 27, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

I write to share with you the sad news that Michael Sorkin (MArch ’84) has passed away in New York at the age of 71 after contracting Covid-19.

Michael led a very rich and hugely impactful life: from consultant to MoMA, to city planner, to educator, to journalist, to architect with a diverse and experimental practice. As architecture  critic of the Village Voice during the 1980s, Michael helped establish the critical outlook toward the prevalent postmodernism, maintaining a strong commitment to the role that architecture and urbanism could play in addressing the social and urban ills of the city. His writings include some of the most powerful advocacies for a public architecture in support of a vibrant public life. Throughout, he also helped shape a disposition for the architect as a public intellectual.

His affiliation with MIT was long and rich as well. His master’s thesis was a written document about his educational experience, exposing and analyzing many challenges to architectural pedagogy at MIT and in the United States. He later became part of the community in different forms, including serving as a critic.

Nicholas de Monchaux, professor and incoming head of our Department of Architecture, said of Michael, “His deep understanding of cities meant, inherently, that he saw himself as an advocate for the powerless against the powerful, whether in questions of development, in the hierarchies of design culture, or vision of a more sustainable and inclusive urban ecology.” Nicholas notes that Michael’s last lecture at MIT was given in May 2019, itself titled, “The Last Lecture.”

The outpouring of statements and obituaries has been truly moving. They all attest to a sharp mind and tongue, an intellectual wealth and generosity, an ethical commitment and uncompromising engagement with the world, and a warm and endearing man.

With sadness,


To: SA+P alumni
From: Hashim Sarkis

Date: March 25, 2020

Dear SA+P alumni,

In the midst of this global crisis, I write to you simply to reach out and express solidarity with  everyone in our community who has been adversely affected, whether in terms of health, housing security, or major disruptions to educational and professional activities. When social distancing and quarantine prompt feelings of isolation and disconnection, it is often helpful to think about the things that bind us.

Throughout Lebanon’s civil war during the 1970s and 1980s, my family and I had to frequently relocate in order to distance and protect ourselves from the dangers of war. I also experienced how people created community during times of disaster. Against the scarcity of basic needs like water and shelter—let alone telephones—continuity and connectedness were maintained through a sense of sympathy and solidarity among the occupants of the building or the street. In times when reason, truth, or a basic sense of fairness were regularly challenged, what held us together and upheld our spirits was love.

At MIT, our students have had to adapt very rapidly to unaccustomed routines and upended expectations. Yet as we all come to terms with the serious adjustments necessary in our ways of engaging during this crisis, I cannot say enough about the deep spirit of cooperation and generosity that has been demonstrated by SA+P staff, students, and faculty over the past several weeks. This resilient community—including our alumni around the world—is diverse in its activities and approaches, yet there is a shared strength and commitment that will see us through this dreadful situation. As always, we look to our alumni as allies in creatively facing what lies ahead.


A message to staff

To: SA+P staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: March 25, 2020

Dear SA+P staff,

As I hear accounts of how staff across our School are working intensely and creatively to support students and faculty (and each other) in this new reality, I’m reminded of a truism: staff are the strong backbone of SA+P. Whether working in academic units, research groups, building facilities, IT services, or my office, staff are the crucial connectors in all of our efforts. At a time of crisis and uncertainty, the unwavering commitment of staff to the mission of our School makes more of a difference than ever.

“Spring break” has not typically been a break for staff, and this is truer than ever this year, as the Institute continues its work to assure safe housing for students and we get ready to adopt an entirely new way of teaching and learning next week. Your role in working with students and faculty in preparing for this huge shift to online instruction is vital. You are equally important as recognized builders of a sense of community within your units. But I hope that each of you is finding some time this week to adapt to your own remote work while taking care of your families, friends, and yourselves.

As you’ve heard, I’m hosting an informal Zoom lunchtime gathering tomorrow for all staff, which I hope you can attend; please check your email for details. It will be a chance for us to connect and share experiences and ideas, and for me to thank you (almost) in person for your valued contributions during this challenging time.


Update on School operations

To: SA+P staff, faculty, and students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: March 19, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

As we come to terms with the serious adjustments necessary in our modes of operation during this crisis, I cannot say enough about the deep spirit of cooperation and fortitude that has been demonstrated by staff, students, and faculty over the past several weeks. This community is diverse in its activities and approaches, but there is a shared strength and commitment that will see us through this dreadful situation.

In keeping with Institute policies to respond to the coronavirus, I want to emphasize a few key operating measures:

1. All meetings must be held virtually; there should be no in-person meetings. MIT has an enterprise license to use the online meeting platform Zoom,  Many of you have already become acquainted with this platform for meetings large and small, and it seems to be working well.  

2. The only employees who should be on campus are a) workers deemed essential employees by MIT; b) those few who have received approval to be exempt from the research scale-back; and c) those few who have received approval to use MIT facilities for remote teaching. No other faculty or staff should be on campus after Friday, March 20, except for brief visits to reboot equipment or pick up materials or supplies. Graduate student offices in DUSP and Architecture are closed; students and lab researchers should contact Jim Harrington ( to schedule quick visits to campus if necessary.

3. As a matter of current Institute policy, no one may be encouraged or required to come to campus for any reason, except for employees deemed critical.

4. Teaching assistants who do not have suitable wi-fi connections can get personal hot spots through IS&T by emailing Just a reminder that extensive guidance for teaching remotely can be found at  

5. Department heads and faculty supervisors should review all graduate students who are scheduled to be on the May degree list to assess whether they will be able to graduate on time. Supervisors are urged to be flexible about meeting specific milestones for

I thank you all for your adherence to these policies, which will minimize personal interactions and thus help to limit the spread of the virus. We will continue to work creatively together to get through these unprecedented times.


Accelerated space closings

To: SA+P staff, faculty, and students
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: March 13, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

I would like to thank everyone for the great flexibility and care for others that has been demonstrated over the last few days. The strength of our community was never more evident than in the way you’ve risen to this unprecedented challenge.

Given the accelerated pace of clearing out of dorms and the likelihood that MIT will wind down all other operations—including lab operations—I am writing with the following steps of accelerated evacuation in SA+P, which have been worked out in consultation with unit leadership:

  1. The use of the studios and other instruction spaces should end today.
  2. Students may access studio spaces to collect belongings until midnight on Tuesday night. But we strongly encourage students to move out earlier—by midnight on Sunday. Faculty whose offices are accessible only through studio or other instruction spaces will still have access to these spaces, until further notice.
  3. All PhD students, and masters’ students who share office space, should move out of their spaces by midnight Tuesday, if not sooner.
  4. Labs should shut down following a similar procedure: Work should stop by this evening, and labs should make every effort to close by midnight Sunday, with all labs closed by midnight Tuesday. There will be only limited and monitored access after Tuesday.
  5. Leaders of labs that deal with the physical sciences, animals, or research directly related to the coronavirus pandemic, or other work governed by the protocols of the Vice President of Research, may submit a written exception request to the Media Lab Executive Committeeby Saturday at 2pm. Labs granted exceptions will remain open (with appropriate social distancing measures) until VPR or Institute policies are revised. All labs not granted exemptions must shut down by midnight Tuesday.

The consistent application of safety measures across the School, in keeping with MIT policies, assures that we are doing everything possible to protect all parts of our community from health risks. I thank you for your cooperation and continued support of one another at this difficult time.


SA+P response to COVID-19

To: SA+P students, faculty, and staff
From: Hashim Sarkis
Date: March 9, 2020

Dear SA+P community,

The spread of the coronavirus worldwide has created serious challenges, but much is happening at MIT and SA+P to deal with the crisis, so I wanted to report on where things stand for our School with this rapidly evolving situation. It is worth repeating that risks to our community are currently low.

With the consultation of School Council and in keeping with the most recent Institute guidance and a precautionary approach in our local response to COVID-19, I have put forth the following action steps for all units:

—We are canceling or making virtual all public lectures and other extracurricular events for the spring term, even those with fewer than 150 expected participants. This should happen immediately. I am very pleased to see that some of our units have already announced a switch from place-based to virtual events.

—We are making all open houses for admitted students online.

—We are thinking proactively but quickly about making all classes online, including studios, should this become necessary. Many resources are available to support such a move, including WebEx and a pending  Institute site license for ZOOM, announced today by Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz.

—To the greatest extent possible, we are converting in-person meetings to phone calls or other types of distance communication.

I have also tasked two groups at our School to monitor the fluid situation and provide guidance to me and the DLCs, to coordinate decision-making and communication.

  1. The School Council will be in open session online throughout this crisis and will ensure School-wide informed discussion of COVID-19 issues and proposed solutions. 
  2. The Emergency Operations Group, composed of Dean’s office senior staff and administrative officers and other representatives from the DLCs, will meet regularly to review concerns and coordinate responses and communications.

Ken Goldsmith, Assistant Dean for Administration, and Martha Collins, Assistant Dean for Human Resources, will bridge the two groups. Melissa Vaughn, Director of Communications, will also attend both group meetings and be the liaison with MIT communications leadership.

At the Institute level, Associate Dean Larry Vale will continue to represent SA+P on the MIT COVID-19 Academic Continuity working group. I will remain in continual contact with MIT leadership as decisions are taken in light of changing circumstances and will update you. Finally, please also watch for the launch of a new MIT COVID-19 website this week, as a consolidated point of reference about policy and resources.

For any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to your unit’s administrative officer.

Many thanks for your flexibility and community spirit as we face this difficult but ultimately temporary situation. I greatly appreciate any necessary sacrifices made to protect ourselves and others.