March/April 2022Vol. XXXIV No. 4

Elevating Design at MIT Through the Morningside Academy

John Ochsendorf, Maria Yang

MIT has areas of tremendous strength in design education and research, but we have not been greater than the sum of our parts. Over the last 18 months, faculty and staff have come together to envision new opportunities for design. Now, thanks to a $100 million gift, a new cross-cutting entity – the MIT Morningside Academy for Design – will become a hub for advancing the many facets of design across the Institute.

A Committee to Envision the Future of Design at MIT

In the fall of 2020, Deans Hashim Sarkis and Anantha Chandrakasan charged the two of us with developing a new path forward for design at MIT. With input from the deans of the five Schools and the College, we created a committee of faculty and staff who are engaged in design from across the Institute. During eight online committee meetings throughout the winter months, we heard from students and colleagues about MIT’s many strengths as well as noticeable gaps, and we converged on a series of actionable recommendations for the future. We also built community and found connections across MIT that we were not aware of previously, generating optimism during a time of profound challenges.

In April of 2021, our committee released a white paper with recommendations on Envisioning the Future of Design at MIT (available here). Specifically, we recommended to:

  1. Grow the footprint of design education through courses, awareness, and access;
  2. Enhance the profile and visibility of design excellence, across campus and around the world;
  3. Elevate societal impact through MIT designs and designers;
  4. Create a new center to support design opportunities for our students and faculty, as well as for our colleagues and communities.

Throughout 2021, we participated in departmental and School faculty meetings across the Institute to seek feedback on our recommendations, culminating in a presentation to the Institute faculty meeting on December 15, 2021. This led to a rich set of conversations with broad enthusiasm for our committee’s recommendations, as well as clear suggestions for ways to sharpen our thinking and broaden the impact of design. It was heartening to have so many colleagues embrace the vast potential to elevate the Institute’s commitment to design education and research.

A Gift from the Morningside Foundation

During the summer of 2021, we also shared our recommendations with Dr. Gerald Chan, a remarkable educational philanthropist and a trustee of the Morningside Foundation, the charitable arm of the T. H. Chan family. Gerald and his family grasped immediately the power and the potential for design education to help students and faculty translate innovation into actions for the benefit of society. And as the Morningside Foundation outlined the goals of a transformative gift for design, they encouraged us to think bigger than our own campus and to find ways to scale the impact of design from MIT to the world.

To ensure a lasting and powerful presence for design at MIT, the Morningside Foundation has provided a $60M endowment, which will support design activities for perpetuity through the MIT Morningside Academy for Design.

In addition, $40M will support initial expenses to launch the Academy as well as capital expenses for renovating the Metropolitan Warehouse to serve as a design hub. This farsighted gift will enable us to achieve many of the recommendations of our committee’s white paper from last April. It required many colleagues to support this vision and to secure this remarkable gift, and we are extremely grateful to the Morningside Foundation for making this possible.

The Role of the Morningside Academy for Design

The Morningside Academy for Design will promote collaboration and innovation in design across MIT, with links to all five Schools and the College, and it will be administered by the School of Architecture and Planning in close collaboration with the School of Engineering. Following the healthy model provided by other cross-cutting centers at MIT, the Academy will build bridges and community, support the lively exchange of knowledge and ideas, and help raise the profile of design at MIT. In broad strokes, the Academy will support student fellowships, public outreach, and entrepreneurship. It will provide a convening space where thinking and making can come together, whether through coursework, research projects, exhibitions, or events. We will shortly issue a call for graduate fellowships in design open to any enrolled MIT graduate student and we ask that you encourage talented applicants to apply.

The Morningside Academy will be housed in the renovated Metropolitan Warehouse, the future home of the Department of Architecture and other units of the School of Architecture and Planning as well as Project Manus, with a dramatic new maker space. Slated to open in 2025, the revitalized iconic building will position the Academy at a key crossroads of campus with strong links to our residence halls and the City of Cambridge. It is our sincere hope that the Morningside gift will help to elevate the Met Warehouse as a design hub for MIT, Cambridge, and the world.

Launching the MIT Morningside Academy for Design will be an act of co-creation with colleagues across campus and around the world. While the Academy’s goals, activities, and governance structure are still evolving, via continued discussions with faculty, staff, and students from around the Institute, we welcome your input. Please write to us at and with your suggestions and comments as we move forward together. 

John Ochsendorf is the Class of 1942 Professor of Architecture and Civil and Environmental Engineering. Maria Yang is the Gail E. Kendall Professor of Mechanical Engineering and associate dean of the School of Engineering. Together they will serve as the founding director and associate director of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design.