PLAN 64: Article
Shaping Structures, Shaping The Future

Two Exhibits at the School’s Wolk Gallery

Two exhibits were mounted at the school’s Wolk Gallery this spring, exploring different aspects of the built environment, including how internal forces can shape built structures and how digital technologies can redefine not only the design process but also our perceptions of urban space. Below, a brief look at both:

Waclaw Zalewski: Shaping Structures, currently on view through September 15, features the work of Polish-born structural engineer Waclaw Zalewski, Professor Emeritus of Structural Design at MIT.

Zalewski is recognized as one of the most innovative and influential structural designers practicing today. During a sixty-year career he has developed elegant solutions to the problems of structural stability, conservation and construction efficiency, including pioneering concrete floor and roof systems and structural forms for high-rise construction which visually express the structural principles of his buildings and the flow of forces through them.

The exhibit, which features structures built in Poland, Venezuela, Spain and South Korea, examines not only how the structures work but also the process of their design and construction. It includes an ingenious folding pavilion for a world's fair in Seville, a roof of steel that floats on a halo of light in a Korean arena and a soaring supermarket roof in Poland. It also features unbuilt projects demonstrating simple strategies for building on steep slopes with challenging soil conditions, based on the premise that the growth of many dense urban areas in the world is restricted by precipitous valley walls.

Born in 1917, Zalewski began his studies of structural engineering in Warsaw in 1935. But just before he was to receive his degree in 1939, German armies invaded and occupied Poland, making further academic work impossible. He joined the Polish underground army and was frequently forced into hiding, providing him ample time to reflect on his studies and to read extensively on structural behavior.

He soon looked beyond the curriculum he studied in engineering school to develop a lifelong interest in how the flow patterns of forces through structures might suggest more efficient forms. As his projects began to be built after 1947, he developed the dual goals of shaping structures according to internal forces and designing efficient processes for their construction.

Following a twenty year career in Warsaw and in Venezuela, Zalewski was invited to join the faculty of MIT’s Department of Architecture, where he taught as a tenured professor from 1966 until his retirement in 1988.

An opening reception was held in April and included remarks by Zalewski and by Dean Adèle Naudé Santos, along with remarks by Visiting Professor of Architecture Ed Allen and graduate students David Foxe and Jeff Anderson, who produced the exhibition content.

Also on view in the gallery this spring was digital_minimal, an exhibit exploring alternative directions for the digital future of architecture and planning – from the use of mobile devices that describe urban space in real-time to new user interfaces that redefine the design process.

The exhibit presented a number of examples from the work of research affiliate Carlo Ratti, head of MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory, a research initiative between the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Media Lab focused on the increasing deployment of sensors and hand-held electronics in the built environment. The exhibit was also drawn from the work of Ratti’s associates Chiara Morandini and Walter Nicolino at carlorattiassociati of Turin, Italy.

digital_minimal was sponsored by the MIT School of Architecture + Planning and the cellphone operator A1 | Mobilkom. The exhibit was designed and installed by Assaf Biderman, Sonya Huang, Olivia Lee, Andres Sevtsuk and Walter Nicolino.

The Wolk Gallery was established in 1995 in recognition of Elliot K. Wolk, Class of 1957, whose generous donation of Frank Stella's four-wall sculpture and collage, Loohooloo, is permanently installed in the adjacent Stella Conference Room. The gallery is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9AM – 5PM. For information, call 617.258.9106.

June 2006