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MIT and SUTD Open International Design Centre

08 Feb 2012

Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and its key collaborator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), jointly opens a new facility today ─ the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre (IDC). The IDC is a joint research design centre of SUTD and MIT with facilities at both universities, in Singapore as well as MIT in Boston. The IDC aims to become the world’s premiere scholarly hub for technologically-intensive design, and serve as a nucleus for growth of SUTD. IDC faculty researchers and students (about 200-300 members) from both universities will work together to address issues facing the world by revolutionising design science research and designing devices, systems and services to meet the needs of Singapore and its neighbours, the United States, and the world. In addition, the centre will work to maximise the synergy of MIT and SUTD faculty researchers through joint projects.


The design projects of IDC will be organised to address the following “Grand Challenges”: 

  1. Design with the Developing World – To significantly improve conditions in the developing world by working with partners in developing countries. Examples include helping rickshaw operators in South Asia to function more cost effectively and with less pollution by using electric propulsion systems, or contributing to clean water resources, sanitation, power, medical care and food supply;
  2. Sustainable Built Environment – To provide global cities with viable options to improve energy efficiency, resource consumption, and reduce environmental impact through design of buildings and transportation systems; and
  3. ICT-enabled Devices for Better Living – To develop ICT-enabled devices and services for two purposes: for use in education so that people can personalise learning, and
    to enhance human performance in approaching individual daily problems (in particular, devices for healthcare and as aids for the elderly).

Connecting these three Grand Challenges are six Design Research Thrusts (DRTs), including Design Computation, Design of Experiments, Fostering Creativity, Visualisation and Prototyping, Decision Making, and Global Collaboration. These Design Research Thrusts feed back into the Grand Challenges research and industry practice with new methods, techniques and processes for design, while the Grand Challenges feed forward into the Design Research Thrusts with gaps or innovative opportunities to create leaps in design processes and methods for the future. This structure of the inter-connectively uniquely positions the centre to create design research results that are novel, unexpected, and of the highest quality.

The grand challenges should enable the IDC to complement ongoing efforts in Singapore’s research landscape, especially given the IDC emphasis on innovation through Design. To make a practical impact, devices and services would be designed to optimise the use of these innovations. Professor Tom Magnanti, President of SUTD, said: “Like all the great universities of the world, SUTD will be research intensive and bring the fruits of research into the classroom and into the marketplace. As the largest technically-intensive design centre in the world, in both scope and size, the IDC aims no less than to change the world.”

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

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

Designed by Gensler, a global architecture firm, the 1,268-square metre IDC facility at MIT is designed to be highly flexible to suit the diverse set of activities it will house. For example, one space has garage-style doors that close to contain noise and dust that will sometimes be generated during prototype fabrication. At other times it opens to make a larger facility to enable teaching of large classes in conjunction with the MIT Museum and the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Programme. SUTD faculty members headed for MIT for a year-long SUTD-MIT Teach-the-Teachers Programme will also be working mainly in the IDC. The SUTD-MIT Teach-the-Teachers Programme is a customised faculty training and development programme to help SUTD faculty better appreciate MIT's pedagogical and teaching methods, and culture, enabling the transfer of MIT DNA to SUTD.

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

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