Pioneering Computer-Aided Design
Masanori Nagashima MArch’76 is a major donor to the School of Architecture + Planning, having established a fund in the Media Lab for graduate student financial support and having named the Masanori Nagashima Conference Room in the new Media Lab Complex. He is Chairman of Informatix, a company that develops software for architectural, engineering, construction and facility management industries. Below, a brief Q&A about his experience at MIT and after:
Why did you decide to study at MIT’s School of Architecture + Planning?
Around 40 years ago, I was a student studying architecture at the University of Tokyo in Japan. Architecture and the building industry were exciting fields to work on around that period, because we had to build so many cities from scratch, such as Tokyo, after the World War II.
Around that time, computer itself was not popular. But I developed an interest in computers for architectural design. People did not have an adequate idea of what computers could do. MIT was the famous engineering school in USA, and I got a strong impression that I could study CAD in architectural design at MIT. I therefore submitted the application for the admission and I was fortunately accepted for September 1974.
When I arrived at the Department of Architecture, I was puzzled that there were no CAD systems in the design studio there. Around that time, it was very difficult to get information about MIT from the remote place namely in Japan, since we did not have tools like the Internet. However, I soon found the MIT Architecture Machine Group (AMG) and met Professor Nicholas Negroponte. Later I asked Nicholas to supervise my thesis. He kindly accepted me and my thesis centered on CAD for the MArch degree.
Who and what was memorable about SA+P?
Professor Nicholas Negroponte is the person I have to list first. I was very impressed with his way of thinking when it comes to what is most important in each circumstance. I learned from him that it is important to look at the various aspects of the subject, and to ask effective questions.
At AMG I was in the project team called “Architecture - by - Yourself” led by Guy Weinzapfel, who gave attentive guidance. There were also so many capable and attractive people: Andy Lippman, Chris Herot, Mike Miller, Seth Steinberg and so on. In 1975 John Habraken became the head of the Department of Architecture. I knew his name when I studied at the University of Tokyo a few years before. He was a well-known figure for the systems building design even in Japan. I really enjoyed attending his class.
In order to study on computers, I took some classes at the Sloan School of Management. I was deeply impressed by professors John Donovan and Stuart Madnick. Their lectures were wonderful. Professor Donovan said (as far as I remember) that ‘Computer Science is quite different from the other Natural Sciences. Major ones are Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc., and their aim is to explore the Truth. But with Computer Science we are not finding out the Truth. Computing is the Science of Action.’
Throughout your life – and especially as Chairman of Informatix – what have been your successes?
Nicholas Negroponte provided me a job as a technical assistant at AMG from June 1976 for four months. Nicholas wrote about this in the Architecture Machinations (May 23, 1976 issue), using my nickname MAS: ‘MAS’s four month appointment should lead to one of the most handsome computer-aided architecture packages around. We all recognize MAS’s super-human programming abilities and can look forward to the results with enthusiasm. …’
In late 1976, I moved from Cambridge MA to Cambridge UK. I was in the development team at Applied Research of Cambridge Ltd (ARC). We produced the commercial CAD software called General Drafting System (GDS) in 1980. In October 1981, I came back to Japan to establish a company selling GDS in Japan. This is the origin of Informatix Inc. GDS was sold not only in the UK and Japan, but also worldwide including in the US.
GDS was used by large engineering companies as well as by architects including I.M.Pei and John Burgee with Philip Johnson. In the Boston area, GDS was adopted for some large projects including Boston’s ‘BIG DIG’. In Japan, GDS was used to design many buildings including the NEC Headquarter Building and Ebisu Garden Place. GDS also began to be used as a Geographic Information System (GIS), since it can efficiently handle so much graphic data.
At Informatix, we are doing nearly 200 projects every year nowadays. We have thousands of valuable customers for CAD and GIS. They are using our system every day and I am proud to serve them with our systems.
What led you to make your generous gift to SA+P? Why did you choose to give for graduate financial support?
As I mentioned earlier, I studied architecture then switched to computing because I came across the Architecture Machine Group at MIT. My time at MIT is so-to-speak an epoch-making period in my life. I therefore want to help open up this sort of opportunity for students to have the similar exciting experience that I had there some time ago!
What is your advice for new graduates?
When I arrived at MIT in 1974, I found MIT very active and exciting. I soon realized this is because the people over there are active and doing exciting things. I hope that new graduates will keep on trying what they want to accomplish, since they learned at MIT how to cope with problems to be solved. I do hope that they will continue to come up with more innovative solutions.