Keith JL


I am a PhD student in Building Technology in the department of architecture at MIT, under the supervision of Professor Caitlin Mueller in the Digital Structures research group. 

My pronouns are he/him. 

This is about my fourth attempt at a professional web presence. I’m hoping all the text in the sections below get replaced with links to proper writing and figures once I sort all my things out and feel proud enough to share. No promises though. 

Research Interests


In two sentences:

I seek computational methods of optimizing design performance when limited to existing structural materials, a constraint that is becoming much more necessary when reckoning with material scarcity and the carbon emissions from structure production. Parallel to this, I want to consider construction as a key agent in design decisions, and develop processes that allow structures to be built quicker, safer, and with fewer heavy machines.

In many words, my interests are:

- Providing a complementary design/build framework that focuses on easy-to-access structural materials and easy-to-assemble designs. Much of the amazing work up to date on material-efficient structural systems come at the cost of bespoke and expensive machinery for their realization. Where these machines are inappropriate, it would be nice to find optimality in the strategic placement of abundant structural elements and construction efficiency, rather than through purely geometric means. I am inspired by the works of Liu Jiakun and Wang Shu, as well as research on circular economy in the built environment, primarily by the SXL at EPFL, and Catherine De Wolf at TU Delft/ETHZ.

- Assembly procedures and construction in general. I am interested in historic methods of construction, especially of non-western indigenous structural systems, and how they can inform current methods of construction that maximize stability throughout the assembly process, and how our dependence on heavy and expensive machinery can be reduced. I am inspired by the bamboo scaffolders of Hong Kong, and the many independent historic examples of creating spanning bridges.

- Characterization and clustering of non-standard structural elements and forces. To optimize our use of non-standard elements, we need fast methods of numerically characterizing shape (tree branches, reclaimed tiles, etc), their capacity (what is their optimal loading condition and direction?), and methods of evaluating ideal combinations of these elements to resist load. For more conventional structures, shape optimization typically comes at the cost of complexity and significant range of connection forces and directions. Being able to quantify and cluster these variations of both geometry and force would allow for more justifiable designs, where compromise is met between optimal and buildable.

- A general unification of structural design and architecture. While there are fundamental differences between the two, and the uniqueness should be celebrated, I think that much of the conflict between them is wholly artificial and come from (un)conscious objections from each side. The tired jokes made by freshman instructors about the ‘other’ mean well, but plant lasting seeds of visionary vs. restrictor, or daydreamer vs. objectivist (not in the Rand sense).  We would do well to understand each other better; the more important goals are shared. 

Teaching & Communication


Effective teaching is incredibly important to me. I have taught self-sufficiency in bicycle maintenance and mechanics at the Mile End Bike Garage and the Flat Bike Collective for many years while living in Montreal. I am currently or have been a teaching assistant for:

- 4.462 Introduction to Structural Design (MIT) - CIVE385 Structural Steel and Timber Design for Architects (McGill) - CIVE318 Structural Engineering II (McGill)

Structural mechanics and design is maybe the most intuitive field in STEM. If you think a beam will bend a certain way after putting a certain type of load on it, you’re probably right. My general aim is to teach the mathematical language behind structural behaviour while keeping this important and valuable intuition. It’s like learning how to write when you’re already a good speaker. The greatest joy is sharing the a-ha! experience when the language and the intuition converge for the first time. Once you have a grip on the language, you can attempt poetry.

Personal


I was born in Seoul, Korea in 1994 and moved to a suburb of Vancouver, Canada in 1998. The person that I am today developed in Montreal, Canada, a city that I love dearly.  

My non-academic joy, and many of my cherished friendships, come from the cycling and bike mechanic communities. I’m most involved in cyclotouring and utilitarian cycling. 

This website used to be a personal blog when I carried my camera everywhere and wrote a lot. I no longer do either, but a collection can be found here.  Every few years, I release a mix. My friends really like the first one.

Contact


I’m on twitter and instagram.
You can email me at keithjl (at) mit.edu. 

If you are interested in the field of structural design, research, or graduate school, and you are a first-generation student or come from an under-represented minority, I would love to help you find resources and a path towards achieving these goals. When I started, I found it incredibly difficult to even understand how higher education worked, and spent many sleepless nights figuring out the bureaucracy and formality of how to get my foot in the door. 

I have been extremely blessed with good mentors and role models, and would love to extend that to you.