Madame Architect interviews alumna Melanie Meyers '82


Madame Architect interviewed alumna Melanie Meyers '82 on her transition from architecture to law and her roles in city planning and real estate development in New York.

Melanie Meyers is a member of the Real Estate Department in Fried Frank's New York office, focusing on real estate development, land use, zoning, environmental review, public approvals, and private/public partnerships. She has worked on some of New York City's most transformative projects, including Hudson Yards, Pacific Park, Greenpoint Landing, and Cornell Technion University on Roosevelt Island.

Prior to joining Fried Frank, Melanie served as general counsel to the New York City Department of City Planning. She began her career as an architect, earning her degree in architecture from MIT and her degree in law from Columbia Law School. In her interview, Melanie talks about her transition from architecture to law and her role in some of New York City’s greatest moments of urban change, advising young architects to try different things and to learn as much as they can in the process.

Read the full article via the link below.

Philip Freelon, FAIA, M.Arch ‘77, Professor of the Practice, Passes Away at 66.

Image via

Image via

Note: This article is reposted from MIT News. See original article here.

Philip G. Freelon MArch ’77, professor of the practice in the MIT Department of Architecture, lead architect for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and a dedicated force for inclusivity within the field of architecture, died on July 9 in Durham, North Carolina, of the neuro-degenerative disease amyotrphic lateral sclerosis (ALS), with which he had been diagnosed in 2016. He was 66.

For nine years beginning in 2007, Freelon taught 4.222 (Professional Practice), a required subject in the master’s in architecture program that uses current examples to illustrate the legal, ethical, and management concepts underlying the practice of architecture.

“Phil was a remarkable architect, a motivating teacher, a spirited public intellectual and above all, an exceptional human being whose modesty and respect of others and their ideas put the best face on the architect and on the profession,” says Hashim Sarkis, dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P). 

A native of Philadelphia, Freelon attended Hampton University in Virginia before transferring to North Carolina State University, from which he graduated in 1975 with a bachelor of environmental design degree in architecture. He earned his master’s degree in architecture from MIT and at age 25 was the youngest person to pass the Architecture Registration Exam in North Carolina.

The Freelon Group, which he founded in 1990, became one of the largest African American-owned architectural firms in the country.

“Phil Freelon was a creative and productive alumnus of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning,” says Adèle Naudé Santos, SA+P dean when Freelon joined the faculty. “His buildings are beautifully crafted and spatially inventive, and we were proud to have him on our faculty. We are greatly saddened by his passing.”

Freelon headed multifaceted design teams for museum projects and cultural institutions such as the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture in Charlotte, Emancipation Park in Houston, and the Anacostia and Tenleytown branches of the District of Columbia Public Library System.

The practice joined with three other design firms as Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup to create the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. As lead architect and architect of record for the project, on which David Adjaye was lead designer, Freelon directed the programming and planning effort that set the stage for the museum’s design. 

In 2014, The Freelon Group joined global design firm Perkins and Will. Recent and current projects led by Freelon include North Carolina Freedom Park in Raleigh, the Durham County Human Services Complex, the Durham Transportation Center, and the Motown Museum Expansion in Detroit. He was appointed to the board of directors and the executive committee of Perkins and Will while serving dual roles as managing director and design director of the firm’s North Carolina practice.

In addition to his role at MIT, he was an adjunct faculty member at North Carolina State University’s College of Design and lectured at Harvard University (where he was a Loeb Fellow), the University of Maryland, Syracuse University, Auburn University, the University of Utah, the University of California at Berkeley, Kent State University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, among others. A Peer Professional for the GSA’s Design Excellence Program, he also served on numerous design award juries including the National AIA Institute Honor Awards jury and the National Endowment for the Arts Design Stewardship Panel. 

“Phil was one of the hardest working people I ever knew,” said Lawrence Sass, associate professor in the Department of Architecture at MIT and director of the computation group. “I could not believe that someone so humble could have done so much. He was a dedicated professor in addition to being a trusted design professional, and a leader who lived in the spirit of a design giant. He taught from real-world experience. He was emotionally and professionally accessible. I will forever miss and remember his larger-than-life presence walking down the Infinite Corridor.”

Freelon was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and the recipient of the AIA North Carolina’s Gold Medal, its highest individual honor. A LEED Accredited Professional, he was the 2009 recipient of the AIA Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture, and in 2011 was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. The Freelon Group received 26 AIA design awards (regional, state, and local) and received AIA North Carolina’s Outstanding Firm Award (2001). Freelon’s furniture design received first prize in the PPG Furniture Design Competition, and he did design contract work with Herman Miller.

His work has appeared in national professional publications including ArchitectureProgressive ArchitectureArchitectural Record, and Contract magazine (Designer of the Year, 2008), and his and the firm’s work has been featured in Metropolis and Metropolitan Homemagazines and the The New York Times

Freelon is survived by his wife of 40 years, Nnenna Freelon; his children Deen, Maya, and Pierce; three siblings; and six grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held on Sept. 28 at the Durham County Human Services Complex in Durham. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to NorthStar Church of the Arts, a nonprofit art and culture center founded by Nnenna and Phil Freelon.

June 27 2019: Cambridge Premiere of The Proposal by Jill Magid, SMVisS '00

MITArchA was proud to sponsor the Cambridge Premiere of The Proposal, A Film by Jill Magid SMVisS '00 on a pleasant summer evening on June 27, 2019. The exclusive screening was arranged at the Kendall Square Cinema, which brought a strong showing of alumni, students and faculty, filling the 57-seat theatre to its capacity. The film, which explores questions related to the archives of Mexican Architect Luis Barragán, took viewers on a journey from Mexico to Switzerland. The event was fortunate to include a Question and Answer session after the screening, moderated by HTC Professor Caroline Jones, who provided valuable perspective to the lively discussion.

The conversation continued next door at the Cambridge Brewing Company, where the group enjoyed appetizers and several Beer Towers, vaguely reminiscent to those of Barragán.   

Alexis Sablone M.Arch '16 in featured in The New York Times


Alumna Alexis Sablone (MArch '16) was recently featured in the The New York Times. Sablone is a professional skateboarder, architect, and sculptor who has won seven X-Games medals and is on the first USA Skateboarding National Team.

"Contrary to popular belief, skateboarding and scholastics can go hand in hand. While working on her thesis at M.I.T. (on designs for an international nuclear waste repository), Ms. Sablone took study breaks by skating the subterranean network of tunnels on campus."

Read her thesis here:

Read the New York Times profile here:

Alum Neeraj Bhatia SMArchS '07, featured in ARCHITECT magazine's Next Progressives 2019

Image: Ben Kumata via Architect Magazine

Image: Ben Kumata via Architect Magazine

Alum Neeraj Bhatia SMArchS ‘07 was recently featured in ARCHITECT magazine's Next Progressives series.

As part of the feature, Bhatia shared a memorable learning experience from his time at MIT: "The start of my post-professional degree at MIT coincided with Hurricane Katrina. MIT responded with several classes devoted to efforts of rebuilding, examining water-based urbanism and highlighting the problematized relationship between architecture, infrastructure, and the natural environment. Embedded in that negotiation are deeper questions of class and race divides that architecture often attempts to normalize or control. These issues became the core of the Open Workshop’s work. In particular, we ask how this negotiation might unfold to empower local people as well as the environments they live in."

Learn more and read the profile here:

Guillermo Bernal SMArchS '14 and Erin Genia SMVisS '19 receive 2019 Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts

Note: this article is condensed and reposted from Arts@MIT. See original article here.

Guillermo Bernal SMArchS '14 and Erin Genia SMVisS '19 received the Arts at MIT 2019 Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts.

Established in 1996, the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize is awarded each year to current MIT undergraduate and graduate students for excellence in a body of work. Students submit their artistic portfolios for consideration. The first place winner receives $5,000, second place $3,000, third place $2,000, and honorable mention $1,000. Their work is presented in an exhibition in the Wiesner Student Art Gallery in June.

The 2019 Schnitzer Prize winners attest to the broad range of visual artistic expression that thrives at MIT. Awardees work in virtual reality, art and cultural education, indigenous art, and painting.  

Guillermo Bernal believes virtual reality should be more expressive. “If you go to any state-of-the-art virtual reality platform, you’ll see avatars with faces that are static masks,” says Bernal, a PhD student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at the Media Lab. “I’d like to give them facial expressions, to show whether they are happy or surprised or even angry.” Bernal’s solution, and the project that earned him top honors in the 2019 Schnitzer Prize, is “Emotional Beast,” a virtual reality headset that monitors the user’s emotional state, and transmits it to the skin of their virtual avatar. Using a head-mounted display, Bernal’s system captures facial movements, heart rate, electrodermal activity, brain signals, and respiration, which are then transformed into emotive expressions in the avatar.

“My goal is to pull avatar design away from the so-called “uncanny valley” and make the avatars more relatable,” says Bernal. “Watching avatars wearing expressions similar to ours can help us become more empathetic.”

Erin Genia’s work explores the confluence of indigenous culture, sound, and memory. A veteran indigenous artist, Genia is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, part of the Sioux nation based in South Dakota. She introduced sound into her work during her two years at the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT.)  “I was looking for a new way to express indigenous concepts and philosophy. I was drawn to sound because it is non-linear, which is often the way we tell our story,” says Genia.

Her work titled “Acoustic Tipi” features a seven-foot mahogany tipi decorated with indigenous images and equipped with four cow-hide drums. The piece was featured at last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, and will remain on display at this summer’s Venice Biennale. Genia has also produced “Sound Vessels,” an installation of clay vessels that transmit a variety of sounds, including a heartbeat, boiling liquid mud, and Dakota phrases, via a multi-channel amplifier.

“Being at MIT exposed me to so many technologies I hadn’t had access to,” says the artist, who hopes to create a gallery space for indigenous art after she graduates.        

MITDesignX Innovation in Housing: San Francisco Workshop | June 3, 2019

On June 3, 2019, the MIT School of Architecture and Planning’s DesignX venture accelerator program held its first event on the West Coast – MITdesignX Innovation in Housing: San Francisco Workshop, in the downtown San Francisco office of Gensler, a distinguished global architecture, design, and planning firm recently recognized as one of the “Most Innovative Companies 2018”.

More than 50 alumni and guests joined Professor Dennis Frenchman, founder and Faculty Director, MITdesignX, and Director, MIT Center for Real Estate, and Gilad Rosenzweig, Executive Director, MITdesignX, for an evening that included presentations and an interactive workshop. MITArchA Vice President of Programs, Pamela Tang M.Arch ’83, SM Civil Eng. ’85, worked closely with Gilad and Elizabeth (Libby) Seifel SB ’78, MCP ’79, Chair, ULI’s Housing the Bay Summit 2019, to invite alumni and friends from key leadership positions in public and private organizations to channel the conversation on housing that is of vital interest to Bay Area communities to ‘co-create challenges for students back in Cambridge’.

 The workshop format was introduced in San Francisco to facilitate the brainstorming and development of new ideas that can evolve into new ventures. To set the stage, Gilad introduced MITdesignX and promoted the need to nurture innovative approaches to solve the pressing problems in housing. Two MITdesignX ventures – Frolic, providing Revolutionary New Financing Model for Homeownership, presented by co-founder Tamara Knox MCP ’19 and Airworks, providing Aerial Intelligence for Construction, presented by co-founder David Morczinek MBA ’18 – energized the room and sparked the discourse among the thoughtfully composed interdisciplinary teams of local professionals and thought leaders.

 Recorded presentations from the workshop and important links and articles can be viewed at

I. M. Pei '40, Pritzker Prize Laureate, Passes Away at 102

Image: RIBA via The Telegraph

Image: RIBA via The Telegraph

Note: Most of this article is reposted from

I.M. Pei, B.Arch ‘40, an MIT alum and one of the most famous architects in the world, has passed away at the age of 102.

Ieoh Ming Pei was born in Canton, China in 1917 and came to the United States to study architecture at the age of seventeen. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from MIT in 1940 and upon graduation was awarded the Alpha Rho Chi Medal, the MIT Traveling Fellowship, and the AIA Gold Medal. He went on to enroll in the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1942, where he studied under Walter Gropius. He completed his Master of Architecture degree in 1946 while serving as assistant professor.

In 1951, he was awarded a Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship from Harvard, which permitted him to travel extensively in Italy, England, France, and Greece. In 1954, he became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. He formed I. M. Pei & Associates in 1955, which became I. M. Pei & Partners in 1966, and Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners in 1989. His formal retirement two years later was instigated by his desire to pursue smaller, independent projects.

Among Pei’s famous buildings are the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado; the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the renovation to the entrance of the Louvre Museum, Paris; the Fragrant Hill Hotel, Beijing; the West Wing Renovation of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the John F. Kennedy Library, Boston; the Tête de la Défense, Paris; Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, China; and the annex to the TWA Airlines Terminal, JFK Airport, New York. His many honors and awards include several honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts; the Pritzker Architecture Award; a National Endowment for the Arts Ambassador for the Arts Award; Grande Medaille d’Or from the French Acadamie d’Architecture; Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects; Architectural Society of China Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Architecture; the Medal of Freedom; and Officier de la Légion d’Honneur from the French Government.

Turning Points: Celebrating 150 Years of Architecture at MIT

Fall 2018 marked the 150th anniversary of MIT's first architecture class, making what is now the School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) home to the oldest architectural course of study in the United States. To mark the occasion, the department celebrated with a diverse array of educational and social programming on campus throughout the academic year. The events culminated in a symposium and alumni open house on campus April 12–13.

The symposium included tours of Course-IV workspaces, faculty talks, panel discussions, and a reception held at the MIT Media Lab building.

Constructing a Place for Female Architects: Lois Lilley Howe, Class of 1890 (from Technology Review)

Lois Lilley Howe, Class of 1890, was the second female member (and first female fellow) of the American Institute of Architecture and served on the AIA’s Committee on Small Houses.

Lois Lilley Howe, Class of 1890, was the second female member (and first female fellow) of the American Institute of Architecture and served on the AIA’s Committee on Small Houses.

Note: This article was originally published in Technology Review. See the original article here.

In 1870, luminaries gathered just north of Harvard Yard to lay the cornerstone for Memorial Hall, a High Victorian Gothic building being erected in honor of Harvard alumni who’d fought for the Union in the Civil War. Six-year-old Lois Lilley Howe happened to live across the street, and for the next seven years, considered the construction site her playground. As the enormous building took shape under her watchful eye, she spent so much time there that the workmen took to calling her “the little engineer.”

The precocious daughter of Dr. Estes Howe and Lois Lilly White Howe became fascinated with architecture, and came up with a plan for turning the straight staircase in her family’s home into one with landings. (An architect claimed it couldn’t be done, but Howe convinced the house’s next owner that it was possible, and was proved right.) And she would ultimately end up founding Boston’s first female architectural firm.

But while the Howes considered themselves part of Boston’s progressive, intellectual circles and rubbed elbows with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, her interest in a building career was still radical for the late 19th century. “Always interested in houses, I had wanted to be an architect but had been suppressed by my pastors and masters on the ground that I could not be an architect because I was a woman,” she wrote in a 1963 essay in Technology Review.

Not wanting to study at Radcliffe College (then known as the Harvard Annex), Howe enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts to pursue a degree in design. She spent several years attempting to work as an artist. But when her family built a new home, she found herself practically living at the construction site, and decided to seek a degree in one of academia’s newly burgeoning fields: professional architecture.

Before the 1860s, the work of gentleman architects (who met with clients and toiled at their drafting boards) and architectural engineers (who saw to the physical realization of the architects’ plans) rarely overlapped. By 1868, places like MIT were starting to offer training in both design and engineering for those who wanted to tackle every aspect of the architectural process. The young field was still primarily a men’s club when Howe arrived at MIT in 1888 as one of only two women in the architecture program, and the only one in her entering class of 66 students.

After completing the two-year “partial course” in architecture in 1890, Howe got her first taste of acclaim in 1893: second place in a national competition to design the Woman’s Building for the Chicago World’s Fair. (Fellow MIT graduate Sophia Hayden, who’d earned her four-year architecture degree in 1890, took home first prize.) Howe spent her $500 winnings on a 15-month tour of Europe with her mother and sisters before returning to Boston to start building her architectural practice.

A blueprint of a Cambridge house designed by Howe, Manning & Almy.

A blueprint of a Cambridge house designed by Howe, Manning & Almy.

In her essay for Technology Review, Howe wrote that just as her career was starting to take off in an office “downtown” in 1900, she was left “high and dry” by her two male colleagues. While this could easily have set back the young architect’s confidence, she charged forward, calling it “one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Having already started to make a name for herself through commissions for friends in her social circle, Howe realized she didn’t need to rely on male colleagues’ connections to bring in work. So instead of recruiting more male architects to replace the two who’d left, she began hiring female draftsmen.

Before long, women who’d recently completed their architectural studies at MIT began flocking to the Firm, as many in Boston called her practice at the time. Alumnae sought out Howe’s practice not only for the camaraderie among the women there but because most firms run by men tended to favor male applicants. Eventually, Howe would invite two of her draftsmen to become partners. Eleanor Manning, Class of 1906, did so in 1913 and served as the firm’s engineering expert; Mary Almy, Class of 1920, took charge of business operations when she became a partner in 1926. Having partners allowed Howe to focus on design work.

The partners realized that as Boston’s only all-female architectural firm (and the second such firm in the country), they would often be expected to focus on what they (surely!) knew best: domestic architecture and design. So Howe, Manning & Almy completed many such commissions and became known for their thoughtful renovations of Colonial Revival and Greek Revival homes. (Manning referred to such work as “renovising.”) With her keen eye for design and her background in art history, Howe created meticulous designs that not only streamlined the operation of the house but paid homage to its historical elements.

Howe’s training as an artist was evident in her watercolor renderings.

Howe’s training as an artist was evident in her watercolor renderings.

Not content to focus only on renovating genteel homes, she actively sought out public architecture projects as well. During World War I, the firm contributed to the war effort by building a cafeteria at Camp Devens and by designing and building—and then volunteering at—a canteen on Boston Common that was near the firm’s Tremont Street offices. Meanwhile, Howe and her colleagues were eager to help address urban housing problems and to provide much-needed housing stock for middle-class families. As part of their practice, they began concentrating on designing smaller, more efficient homes.

In 1924 the firm was among 25 commissioned to design one of the country’s first planned communities, which was targeted to working-class families in Mariemont, Ohio. Together, Howe and Manning designed seven single-family Mariemont houses in the “English Garden” style. In the 1920s and 1930s, the firm also remodeled apartments for a slum clearance project in Lynn, Massachusetts, and submitted its small-house designs to the US Department of the Interior for its Subsistence Homesteads program, which relocated poor rural families to planned communities.

Commissions slowed during the Depression; the firm focused more on renovations than building in the 1930s, and Howe, Manning & Almy dissolved in 1937, when Howe retired. By that time, though, the firm had completed a formidable 426 commissions. Manning and Almy went on to found firms of their own, and Howe remained in Cambridge to pursue her interests in historical architecture and preservation. She gave frequent talks at the Cambridge Historical Society up until her death in 1964, just 12 days shy of her 100th birthday.

“Small commissions led to large ones,” she wrote in Technology Review. “And while we never grew fat and rich on small houses we generally had good jobs.”