MIT model explains how the brain can learn novel tasks while still remembering what it has already learned.
The coziest corner in MIT's Barker Engineering Library is Dreaming Lounge, a mocha-colored chaise with a green canopy at the head and a wooden lever on one side.
Designed and built by Sofia Ponte, graduate student in architecture, Dreaming Lounge is a prototype for what Ponte hopes will be a place for MIT students to get a break from all the rational knowledge they must soak up.
Resembling a baby carriage for grown-ups, Dreaming Lounge offers a way to center the student who's gotten off-balance: Settle in, pull the wooden handle back and the canopy lifts over your head. Once beneath this soft dark roof, the brain is shielded from the grid of rational journals shelved opposite the lounge--Nordic Hydrology, Noise Control, the Journal of Risk and Reliability, to name a few.
"Dreaming Lounge is a bubble of air, a way to breathe and access inner categories of knowledge, like ethics and dreams. It's a place to combine the rational and the irrational," said Ponte.
Ponte, a native of Lisbon who has traveled widely, cautioned the Lounge is neither a bed nor a refuge for people in transit.
"It's for MIT students and researchers. It's designed for libraries, but I'd love to see it in any learning situation," said Ponte.
She acknowledged the head-canopy, once in place, seems to exert a definite pull to sleep, perchance to dream. This was one reason not to extend the canopy to a full-body length: too cocoon-ish.
The other? "I tried it--too medical, too much like an MRI," said Ponte.
Once her basic design was set, Ponte turned to construction. Dreaming Lounge, it turned out, presented nuts-and-bolts problems and an adventure in MIT resourcefulness that would take her beyond the Institute's classrooms, libraries and studios.
Ponte needed a moveable seat; she found one in a Somerville dump, extracting the steel frame and some foam for the lounge from an abandoned Chevy Suburban. She carved the wooden handle herself from a 2x4, and she got the mocha fabric from a supplier to hospitals, airports and schools.
Her hunting and gathering didn't end there. "I'd never upholstered anything like this, and now I was making furniture. I needed someone who knew how to sew," Ponte said.
The student was ready; the teacher appeared via Craigslist. Ponte's ad--"will pay for upholstery advice on daybed with moving parts"--intrigued Magda Aliberti, a theater designer in her 40s based in suburban Boston.
"We worked together for two mornings, starting at seven, stapling and gluing the foam, making a pattern and cutting the fabric. I stapled and sewed the fabric over the foam and sewed the ribs into the canopy. This is my final; with Magda's help, I met the deadline. Dreaming Lounge blends in with the library furniture," Ponte said.
Ponte, who hopes to refine Dreaming Lounge next term, tried footwork before hitting Craigslist: She took the Dreaming Lounge plans to Pacheco Brothers, upholsterers in Cambridge.
"They gave me an estimate of three thousand dollars--too much! But when they learned I was from MIT, they got into the project and gave me advice on it," she said.
Dreaming Lounge will recline between Machinery Annual and Tunnels and Tunneling in Barker (10-500) until Feb. 15.