By AJ Unander MEng ’17

The design projects integrated into the curriculum of the MEng program were some of the most impactful parts of my experience. Each semester we were divided into groups of 3-4 students and tasked with designing a structure from scratch. In the fall semester the challenge was to cover the courtyard of Building 14 with a roof in order to create a space that could be used year-round. In the second semester, we designed a tall building that could fit into New York City’s Hudson Yards development.

Grid Shell Roof Rendering - Copy

My team designed a wooden, grid shell structure that would be freestanding within the courtyard.

Roof rendering 4

Not only are grid shells structurally efficient, but the triangular panels allowed for unique architectural schemes.

Each project began with research about design codes, construction constraints, site conditions and structural precedents. Studying historic and previously completed structures was something I had never done before in undergrad and it gave me a greater appreciation for the history of structural engineering. The designs of Heinz Isler, Jurg Conzett and Robert Maillart inspired me to design my project as efficiently as their structures.

These projects allowed me to practice the fundamentals I learned in undergrad in a semi-professional environment. Each week we met with Professor Ochsendorf and Gordana Herning to be critiqued and questioned about our design decisions. Often, they would bring in industry professionals to comment on our designs as well. Their professional engineering experience was very valuable to learning how a project is developed and the considerations outside of the calculations. At the end of the each semester we presented our design proposals to a panel of engineers, professors and staff from MIT Building Services.

Out of the classes, thesis and projects that make up the MEng program, the design projects were the most useful to my career today. They gave me a multitude of material to discuss during interviews, and demonstrated that I could think through a design challenge in a coherent way, something employers really look for. Understanding the evolution of a building design and the many constraints imposed on structural engineers was very useful as well. Finally, learning to work through decisions and responsibilities as a team was vital, as all projects in the industry are the result of teams of architects, engineers and builders.

AJ Unander completed the MEng program in 2017 with a focus in structural engineering. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2016 with a bachelor of science in Civil Engineering. Questions for AJ, or about the MEng program, can be emailed to

More information, including a link to the application, can be found here.