PLAN 85: Article
Introducing Four New Professors

Experts in Games + Play, Art + Design, Transportation and the Architecture of Money

Lauren Jacobi, Assistant Professor, History, Theory and Criticism, Department of Architecture. A scholar of early-industrial and early-modern Europe, Lauren Jacobi researches the relationships between financial institutions, the norms of ethnic and religious behavior, and urban geographies in relationship to architecture and ornamental symbolism.

Her doctoral thesis studied the location and architectural language of buildings used for banking in Italy during the early modern period. By analyzing the physical structures and urban context of banks, she was able to offer a clearer picture of how these buildings both shaped and were informed by contemporary cultural attitudes towards money – a highly polemical issue because it was intertwined so deeply with the Christian sin of usury. This timely inquiry yielded a better understanding of capitalism’s contentious early history.

She is currently working on a book exploring how topographic clusters of banks helped to define banking as a morally just activity, quelling charges of usury. This book project posits that a spatio-structural banking system in Italy and elsewhere helped set a path to post-industrial capitalism. It also addresses the history of banks as institutions that encouraged cultural hegemony.

‘My current research is engaged with studying systems – urbanistic ‘structures’ that are perhaps even more important than physical buildings themselves,’ she says. ‘The principal structural system I address is networks linked by monetary capital. I explore how the flow of money influenced the production of space and form, and the ways in which monetary and spatial systems, in turn, impacted cultural thought and vice versa. My research seeks to explain the ways in which this system produced and acted on capital-oriented cities, towns and buildings.’

Jacobi holds a BA in Art History and English from Swarthmore College (’98), an MA from London’s Courtauld Institute of Art (’01), an MA from the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU (’06) and a PhD in the History of Art from the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU (’12).

She was previously an adjunct professor at Dartmouth, NYU, Brooklyn College, Marymount Manhattan College and the Spitzer School of Architecture, City University of New York.

Hiromi Ozaki (Sputniko!), Assistant Professor, Media Arts and Sciences. Building on an interdisciplinary background in mathematics, computer science and interaction design, Sputniko! has earned an international reputation for art and design projects that facilitate discussions about social, cultural and ethical implications of technologies.

Though still very early in her career, her work has already been exhibited in prestigious institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. She also reaches beyond such traditional venues, taking advantage of social media, music and video technologies to spread messages virally and provoke discussion among diverse popular audiences.

In many of her projects, Sputniko! builds real machines in connection with fictional stories to spark discussion about the role of new technologies in everyday lives. In her Crowbot Jenny project, for example, she developed the story of a fictional girl, Jenny, who built a robotic crow to overcome her inability to socialize with other people. As part of the project, Sputniko! bullt and exhibited an actual robotic crow that could communicate with real birds in an urban environment.

Recognized as an active social media influencer in Japan, she was chosen by the Japanese government to become the youngest member of the Cool Japan Advisory Council, a committee discussing the funding of Japanese creative exports and industries.

‘For many people,’ she says, ‘design is understood as something for problem-solving or making products more efficient and easier to use. I am interested in using design as a way of having conversations about the impacts of technology on every day life, to imagine how the future could be.’

Sputniko! holds a BSc in Mathematics and Computer Science from the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of London (’06) and an MA in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art in London (’10). She is also a guest professor of Interaction Design at Kobe Design University.

Kevin Slavin, Assistant Professor, Media Arts and Sciences. An international leader in developing games that integrate the physical and digital, Kevin Slavin explores the use of new media and new technologies (such as social media, sensors and mobile technologies) to design a new generation of play experiences.

In 2005, he co-founded the successful gaming company Area/Code (later acquired by Zynga). Some of Area/Code’s more notable advances include games that mix game worlds with real-world geography, such as ConQwest, the first commercial ‘Big Game’ to use the city as the ‘board’ for the game (played in ten cities across the US); and Crossroads, a real-time GPS two-player game with a third character in the grid, the imaginary spirit Papa Bones; players move in the game by running through the streets of Manhattan, working with real data (themselves) and imaginary data (Papa Bones).

Area/Code also advanced games and systems that use time as the medium for expression, re-synchronizing users/players to real-time interaction and simultaneous experience. Backchannel, for example, was the first commercial experience built for real-time synchronous chatter around broadcast TV, preceding Twitter’s focus on synchronous broadcast conversations, as well as a host of startups that all focus on this bottom–up social behavior.

Another example is Together Everywhere, executed for Puma during the European Football Championships; fans of specific soccer teams received automated phone calls (with their country’s anthem as a ringtone) on every goal, and were brought into a live voice chat with every group of ten other fans around the world.

In addition to his commercial success, Slavin is seen as an intellectual leader in rethinking the nature of games and play in the digital age. ‘Too many brilliant technologies and ideas have failed not because of technological shortfalls but because they have failed to capture our attention or imagination. I would like to build a lab from which games might emerge, but focused more on the broader concerns of where games come from and draw on the effects of what play does. Playfulness brings us into forms of engagement we might not otherwise have in our lives, and I aim to build a lab that brings that to the Media Lab in general.’

Slavin holds a BFA (’95) from Cooper Union. He was previously an Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU and a Guest Professor at Cooper Union.

Jinhua Zhao, Edward H. and Joyce Linde Career Development Assistant Professor, Department of Urban Studies + Planning. Widely regarded as one of the world’s rising stars in the field of transportation, Jinhua Zhao brings distinct strengths in the institutional dimensions of transport policy analysis in both developed and developing countries, combined with significant skills in the quantitative aspects of civil engineering and information technology.

His specific research interests center on three interrelated themes – mobility management in the context of China’s rapid urbanization; transportation policy analysis; and information technology and public transit. His ability to bridge urban planning and engineering, seen as an excellent fit for MIT, offers the opportunity for the department to consolidate and expand its growing leadership in the realm of global transportation planning.

Since 2004, Zhao has led the China Planning Network (CPN), an NGO focused on China’s urbanization and its implications for transportation, housing, energy and the environment in Chinese cities – a post that has brought him widespread connection to planning academics in the West and in China, as well as links to Chinese policymakers, business and professional leaders.

For his work developing the network as a student here, he was recognized twice by the Department of Urban Studies + Planning with an award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Intellectual Life of the Department’. His continuing involvement in China will expand the capacity of the department to engage more fully in the important issues facing that country today.

Zhao holds a bachelor's degree from Tongji University (Shanghai) and three advanced MIT degrees – a Master of Science in Transportation (’04), a Master of City Planning (’04) and a PhD in City and Regional Planning (’09). His dissertation on transport behavior in London won the 2010 national prize for the best dissertation in planning (Barclay Jones Award), awarded by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.

Previously, Zhao was an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, where he held a joint appointment in the School of Community and Regional Planning and in the Department of Civil Engineering.