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How an MIT lab plans to build more data-driven cities

The new Real Estate innovation Lab will push data analysis, 3D printing, and new construction technologies  

A new program announced earlier this month at MIT seeks to bring cutting-edge, high-tech analysis to the world of real estate, bridging the disciplines of development, architecture, and planning to realize new ways to build better cities. Think of it as building tech focused on the bottom line.

“This is a safe space for new analysis,” says Dr. Andrea Chegut, a research scientist and Director of the new Real Estate Innovation Lab. “Our goal will be to understand what is happening at the frontier of the built environment today, to produce statistical and empirical evidence of approaches that work, and to translate these innovations into widespread use.”

Part of the architecture school, the lab will apply new data-driven rigor to buildings and technological innovation. In a smart city age, it’s become that much easier to apply rigorous analysis to our built environment, and by studying the economic impact of proposed innovations, MIT academics hope to speed up the transition from rendering to reality. Working with real estate industry partners, such as JLL, as well as the school’s own design-focused architecture accelerator, DesignX, this new initiative wants to get innovative, economically feasible projects under construction as soon as possible, and demonstrate the value of 3-D printing, modular construction, and new design innovations.

“Generally, architects and real estate professionals don’t talk until the building is being built,” Chegut says.

Two of the lab’s initial projects aim to demonstrate how big data can change how we look at important development questions. A large-scale analysis of startup spaces, maker spaces, and tech incubator across the world, will help determine which designs are working, and how the next generation of innovation hubs can be more efficient. The other signature project is the assembly of a massive new database of New York real estate data. By including a more robust set of data—rents, transaction prices, building mortgages, vacant space, Airbnb locations, co-working spaces, cell towers, fiber-optic cables, subway lines—the lab hopes to create a database that can help all manner of researchers and developers build a smarter urban center, and offer a way to “hack the city.”

“There’s a lot more going on in a city that creates value, other than the architecture, planning, and finance side,” Chegut says. “I want to understand how a city works, how we can make netter buildings, better designed buildings, more sustainable buildings. There’s a lot going on in the built environment, and its important to create a platform that brings all this information together.”