PLAN 89: Article
SA+P Receives One of Largest Gifts in MIT History

$118M to Promote Social Responsibility in the Real Estate Profession

SA+P has received one of the largest gifts in MIT’s history, from alumnus Samuel Tak Lee ’62, SM ’64, to establish a real estate entrepreneurship lab that will promote social responsibility in the real estate profession worldwide, with a particular focus on China.

The $118M gift will fund fellowships to attract both US and international students; will support research on sustainable real estate development and global urbanization; and will make the lab’s curriculum available worldwide through MITx.  In recognition of Lee’s substantial and ongoing commitment to the Institute, Building 9, home to the MIT Center for Real Estate, will be named the Samuel Tak Lee Building.

‘With this gift,’ said MIT President Rafael Reif, ‘Sam Lee aims to tap the transformative power of real estate to shape the built environment, and thereby to shape society and culture, to enrich our shared civic life, to increase our harmony with nature — in short, to make a significant positive impact on the world.’ 

Lee says his gift was motivated by a desire to tie the study of real estate to 21st-century realities such as land reform, environmental challenges, burgeoning populations and an evolving global economy. ‘This is a period of tremendous change and opportunity for entrepreneurs in China and around the world,’ he says.  ‘I am eager to connect ambitious, talented students with the skills and knowledge that will help them succeed.’

The new Samuel Tak Lee MIT Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab will be housed in SA+P’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Center for Real Estate. SA+P is a pioneer in the study of real estate, offering the first Master of Science degree in real estate development in 1983.

While preliminary work on the lab will begin immediately, formal program activities will begin in the 2015-16 academic year under the leadership of an endowed faculty chair and an administrative director, still to be announced. The gift will also establish a ‘Think Tank’ and a research fund to ensure MIT’s continued commitment to research and thought leadership in sustainable and socially responsible real estate development and global urbanization.

According to Albert Saiz, director of the Center for Real Estate, the lab will explore questions of social responsibility — ranging from the individual’s obligations to society to the impact of the built environment on the natural environment — that are essential to how the Center prepares its students to operate in a complex global market.

The lab will attract top research talent from around MIT and beyond, he notes. ‘The lab’s graduate students, visiting scholars and practitioners will also become a leading global community for the development of successful models of sustainable real estate,’ he says. ‘And the lab’s educational program will inspire a new generation of socially conscious and knowledgeable citizens and entrepreneurs.’

Accordingly, the lab will emphasize both the practical — for example, developing new case studies, the major component of real estate education here — and the global, focusing on the rapidly changing real estate practice in China.

‘Deepening our understanding of development in China has the potential to inform our broader outlook on urbanization, city planning, and design,’ says Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Ben-Joseph says that SA+P’s extensive history in China — such as the Beijing Urban Design Studio, a summer exchange between MIT and Tsinghua University that dates back to 1984 — will give the lab a running start. ‘The issues that create complexity in Chinese real estate, such as migration, land ownership, and environmental impacts, make it a fertile area for research and practice,’ he says. ‘Lessons learned from China can serve as models worldwide.’

‘My hope,’ says Lee, ‘is that by offering them MIT-level tools and perspectives, the lab will empower students from all backgrounds to take their place among the next generation of global real estate entrepreneurs.’