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Residential System Design Contest Begins

By Frank Dabek
News Editor

Starting today students will apply their design skills to a problem close to home MIT's residence system.

The Independent Activities Period residence system design program, sponsored by Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow '72, begins today with a kickoff event in the Bush Room at 3 p.m.

The contest, which stretches through January, asks teams of students, faculty and staff to create a design that addresses a series of "compelling questions" and lays out the future of MIT's residence system. The designs will eventually be evaluated by Bacow and will influence the Institute's new housing policy.

Process Manager Kirk D. Kolenbrander described the design contest as MIT "looking to all its members and saying: We need your help in shaping our future.'"

He said that the proposals will play a large role in the formation of the new housing policy. It is "difficult to overstate how large a potential impact the output of a design team might have," he said.

Eric Liu '00, a member of the steering committee, said that the contest represents a chance for students to make "a large and dramatic change in their daily lives."

Liu added that the contest represents "an honest effort by the administration to get student input" on the problem of housing.

Contest to address questions

The design contest asks participants to consider one of five "compelling questions" laid out in an open letter to participants. The questions will serve as a discussion base and a starting point for designs.

According to Kolenbrander, designs must conform to specifications that will be given to participants at the first meeting. The design must address the timing and format of the Fraternity, Sorority, and Independent Living Group selection process, the residence hall selection process, and address ways to "mentor first year students in a manner similar to that presently [taking place] in the FSILG system."

Kolenbrander said that Institute housing currently provides mentoring for students but said that there is "no question that the FSILG system offers some important benefits" to first year students.

Designs must also consider how to assist independent living groups during the transition to housing all freshmen on campus as well as ways of improving faculty-student interaction.

The questions and specifications presented in this contest deal with the residence system in a long-term perspective. "We are asking students to look far beyond their life at MIT," Kolenbrander said.

All of the specifications considered by the design contest are formulated under the assumption that all freshmen will live on campus in 2001 as announced by President Charles M. Vest.

"That decision has been made," Kolenbrander said. He said further, however, that "I'm not going to tell anybody that they can't try to change the president's mind."

According to Liu, while Vest's decision is final, in the contest "we have a chance to change everything." He hopes to "see a residence system that can fundamentally change MIT's community" to fight apathy as well as self-segregation between faculty, students, and graduate students.

Steering committee picks winners

Completed designs will be presented to the system design steering committee chaired by William J. Hecht '61, executive vice president of the Alumni Association. The committee consists of four students, four faculty and staff members, an alumnus, an alumna and is carefully balanced between men, women, ILG and dormitory members.

Teams were originally required to have a similar level of diversity but that requirement was dropped. Liu said that the committee dropped the requirement in an attempt to be "very unrestrictive" but said that diversity would be helpful to any team.

The committee will decide on two winners. The first place team will receive a trip to Cambridge, England for up to six of its members, ostensibly to observe the housing system of Cambridge University. The second place team will receive a similar trip to either Stanford University or the California Institute of Technology. Kolenbrander said that these schools had "interesting systems" worthy of observation.

Following the steering committee's selections, the designs will be discussed at series of campus-wide events during the spring and summer and changes will be made by the steering committee.

On September first, the final designs will be submitted to Bacow who will have the responsibility of implementing them. Bacow, as chancellor, has the authority to modify the designs as desired, but Liu said that most changes to the designs after they are completed will be made by the committee. In addition, Liu said that the "Chancellor has been very supportive" of the design contest. "The Administrations view is that [the problem] is in our hands we are the experts."

Kolenbrander said that the administration wants the final design to resemble the IAP designs as much as possible. We "expect extraordinary" designs, he said.

Students interested in participating in the contest should come to the launch celebration today in the Bush room at 3 p.m.. Liu stressed that many teams will form during the contest having a team by today is not a requirement for entry.