Before Kent Larson plunged into academia, he designed residential, commercial, and institutional buildings as a partner with Peter L. Gluck & Partners, Architects in New York City. In 1996 he left to ply his research skills at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he currently leads both the Changing Places and House_n research consortia, as well as the MIT Open Source Building Alliance. Larson spoke recently with residential architect.
What is it like to immerse yourself in research after practicing for 15 years? “Practicing architecture is fabulous, particularly if you get to build great projects. But it doesn't usually give one time to think about larger issues beyond the project at hand. In academia, one can reflect on new, long-term possibilities and interact with students who have the freedom to think outside the box.”
What is the purpose of your various research projects? “We're trying to address societal problems by developing new models for design, fabrication, and technology integration. These models can be applied to issues like proactive health and energy conservation. There's a rich tradition of architects trying to improve society through design and technology. The visionaries of the Bauhaus in the 1920s focused on deploying the tools of the era—electricity, concrete, glass, and steel—to rethink how architecture and mass production could make the world a better place.”
How will architects' roles change over the next 10 years? “In addition to conventional practice, architects will be involved in the development of expert tools to let non-expert designers be in the center of the design process. Architects are now involved in only a tiny percentage of new homes. They will play a much more meaningful role as the industry shifts from a craft process to more of an industrial design process. Powerful computational tools will democratize design.”
What will houses be like in the future? “The future will contain an almost infinite variety of housing that responds to a broad range of personal needs and values. That's why we call our consortium House_n—there will be ‘n' number of solutions. The process of creating residential architecture will mirror the endless array of configurators that you now find online for cars, computers, shoes, and most other consumer products. Architecture, however, requires a far more complex integration of products and systems.”
Is there any topic you haven't investigated that you'd like to? “There are thousands of things I want to explore.”