Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 3 hours / session


MIT students were required to obtain permission of the instructors. 

Course Description

“Something that represents another thing, either as a physical object that is usually smaller than the real object, or as a simple description that can be used in calculations.”

This definition taken from Cambridge Dictionary is just one of many that explain what models are and how they could be used. Even this short definition is enough to unfold the basic spectrum of questions concerning models and modeling – the question of representation, scale, and the relations with the “real” objects or spaces and reality in general.

We could then take a more critical path and ask: does a model represent a specific version of the thing that is already “out here” or it is used to produce an entirely new thing? Different, and even contradictory answers instantly appear if we drop this question in the fields of art and design. If we add the problem of calculation to the representational nature of models, discussion can easily slip into the problem of scientific objectivity. Pouring data into a model and claiming scientific neutrality of the results is deeply problematic, at least as much as realism of painting when it is made by meticulous copying of the human model.

Models are powerful abstractions that have impacts on the way we think, feel, act and construct our worlds. They are unreal artifacts that mold reality. We rely on models, trusting their superior relevance and immanent ability to produce and reproduce objects, spaces, and above all – knowledge. Even the slightest change in the morphology of the model can transform reality as we know it. American historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn recognized a revolutionary potential in these changes, whereas French mathematician René Frédéric Thom explained that these seemingly unrelated or insignificant changes can cause a catastrophe. Indeed, introducing different forms of irregularities or disobedience within the dominant system of models and modeling can produce catastrophe and revolution, and this is exactly what we will be exploring within this class.

The class is developed around the concept of disobedient interference within the existing models of production of space and knowledge.

Modeling is the main modus operandi of the class as students will be required to make critical diagrammatic cuts through processes of production in different thematic registers – from chemistry, law and economy to art, architecture and urbanism – in order to investigate the sense of social responsibility and control over the complex agendas embedded in models that supports production of everyday objects and surroundings. Students will be encouraged to explore relations between material or immaterial aspects and agencies of production, whether they emerged as a consequence of connection of mind, body and space, or the infrastructural, geographical and ecological complexities of the Anthropocene. These production environments will be taken as modeling settings.

Final projects and accompanying documentation will be aggregated in an exhibition and publication that brings together selected disobedient modeling practices in culture, technology and science. The format of the exhibition and publication will be curated as a modeling experiment in its own right, a register of theoretical and methodological entanglements between different modeling agendas that will emerge during the semester-long research.

This course was developed with support from The Alumni Class Funds grant. First conducted in Fall 2012, this studio/seminar was led by Professor Gediminas Urbonas, and SMArchS '13 Alumna Mariel Villeré with ACT Research Fellow Zenovia Toloudi. The Fall 2012 course was developed with support from the MIT Council for the Arts and the ACT Pilot Grant Program.


Attendance, class participation and a seminar presentation (including ACT lecture series) 15%
Hands-on modeling assignments (documentation published on class blog) 20%
Midterm review of presentation and project proposal including research and design concept 15%
Penultimate review of presentation 10%
Final project review 40%