MIT launches three-year collaboration with London’s Soane Museum

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Collaboration with the School of Architecture and Planning and MIT Museum will involve classes for MIT students on ways of collecting and exhibiting.

MIT launches three-year collaboration with London’s Soane Museum
The Model Room at Sir John Soane’s Museum, recreating a watercolor of the room by C.J. Richardson (c 1834-35) – Photo: Gareth Gardner

The School of Architecture and Planning and the MIT Museum have launched a three-year collaboration with Sir John Soane’s Museum, a museum and library set in the former London home of the 19th-century British architect.

The collaboration will consist of seminars, workshops, and studio classes for MIT students and potential exhibitions at MIT and the Soane Museum. This fall, the Department of Architecture is offering the program’s first class, a reconsideration of architectural fragments through archival, project-based, and experimental research.

“I think there is something really meaty and amazing and rich about this program,” says Meejin Yoon, head of the Department of Architecture. “For nearly two centuries, the museum has preserved John Soane’s vision, as expressed through what he collected and the theatrical way he arranged his home. As such, it offers our students a unique opportunity to consider the role of museums through a deep history and an astonishing array of artworks, objects, and artifacts.”

Students involved in the project will explore the dissemination of culture through collecting, then design something on campus that explores future strategies in conservation and museology, Yoon says. She anticipates the course will yield a wide range of results, from “traveling sets of cabinets of curiosities,” to “combinations of digital and physical objects in nontraditional architectural contexts.”

Sir John Soane, who died in 1837, negotiated an Act of Parliament to maintain his house at No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fieldsn — exactly as it was at the time of his death — as a public institution for education and inspiration. The home is filled with carefully placed historic fragments, plaster casts, antiquities, architectural models, books, paintings and drawings. Objects span continents and millennia: an Egyptian sarcophagus, a ruined Gothic monastery, paintings by Turner and Piranesi, caryatids from The Erechtheion, a 14th-century Moroccan capital, a collection of marble lions’ paws.

Soane set up rooms as spatial experiments, with varying ceiling heights and inventive lighting effects. Skylights with two shades of yellow glass simulate the warm Mediterranean rays that would originally have fallen on his Classical artifacts. Known in his lifetime for adopting innovative technology, he used plate-glass windows, indoor plumbing, and underfloor heating at a time when only the royal household enjoyed such conveniences.

A professor of architecture at the Royal Academy, Soane intended for his museum to have a teaching purpose: His students, who were prevented from going on a grand tour to the storied sites of Europe due to the Napoleonic Wars, were granted access to his books, casts, and models before and after each of his lectures. Today, the museum not only houses Soane’s collection, but also exists as a space for research, teaching, and engagement by contemporary practitioners.

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