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Okawa Funds Media Lab Annex

By Matthew F. Palmer

The Media Laboratory’s new annex, scheduled to open in 2003, will almost double the size of the research center and will house the new LEGO Learning Lab.

The new seven-story building will be connected to the existing Media Lab, located on Ames Street, and will contain approximately 100,000 total square feet in laboratory and conference space, according to a Media Lab press release.

The new lab should ease the space crunch at the Media Lab. “We’re running out of space,” said Alexandra Kahn of the Media Lab Press Office said. “We took closets down.”

The annex will be called the Okawa Center after Isao Okawa, Chairman of the Japan-based CSK Corporation, who gave a private donation of $27 million for the building. His donation will go toward building labs for researching technologies to help children.

The Okawa Center “will continue our work with children and learning and the role of technology,” Kahn said.

The Media Lab annex was designed by the Tokyo-based Maki and Associates architectural firm.

LEGO Lab continues partnership

The center will also include the LEGO Learning Lab, which is the result of a $5 million investment by the popular toy manufacturer.

The LEGO Learning Lab is another development in a 15-year partnership between LEGO and the Media Lab, Kahn said. The two also collaborated on “Mindstorms,” a line of programmable and buildable toy blocks, which was released two years ago.

Professor Mitchel J. Resnick, who was endowed as a LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research last February, describes the “Mindstorms” toys as “a new generation of construction. Toys become active and reactive to the world.”

The product line has grown to include light and temperature sensors, as well as robotics and “Star Wars” themed kits, according to a LEGO press release.

Intel, Lab to build learning centers

Yesterday, Intel formally announced plans to build 100 new Computer Clubhouses worldwide in conjunction with the MIT Media Lab.

The Clubhouses are after-school learning centers where underprivileged children “use computers to learn, create, and design,” said Resnick, who helped to set up the Computer Clubhouse Network.

The Media Lab and the Boston Museum of Science created the first Computer Clubhouse in Boston in 1993.

There are now 15 such centers, located nationwide and in Columbia and Germany, according to the Computer Clubhouse web site. Students aged 10 to 18 work on a variety of computer projects, with the help of adult mentors trained in art, science, education, or technology.