ICIS: International Center for Integrative Systems
The International Center for Integrative Systems (www.integrativesystems.com) will be launched later this fall in Cambridge, a few miles from MIT. The Center, started by MIT alumni and local volunteers, aims to bring systems thinking and practice to the local community through research and educational programs in health and sustainability. The hope is that the Center will serve as a community laboratory for local universities and researchers to collaborate, test, and refine their ideas for healthcare and sustainability, here and now, among our own community.
The Center, with nearly 20,000 sq. ft. and 85 parking spaces (a real boon in Cambridge), is located at 701 Concord Avenue, a few blocks up from the Fresh Pond “Whole Foods,” accessible from MIT via the MBTA. Three key activities define the Center’s work: (1) Clinical: working with community members to nurture health through nutrition, movement, and diagnostics, 2) Research: collecting data and publishing research on integrative medicine and sustainability for national and international audiences, and 3) Business: being a full-service incubator where for-profit business models that encourage sustainability and health can emerge.
To accomplish these aims, the Center will perform scientific research integrating systems biology and traditional medicines; provide a community space for coffeehouse, lectures, and open forums; enable integrative diagnostics from both Eastern and Western perspectives; build and run a state-of-the-art rooftop garden; integrate technologies to make the Center fully energy self-sufficient; and build partnerships and links with local institutions.
One half of the first floor will house a 5,000 sq. ft. business incubator space with professional managers, some graduates of the MIT Sloan School, as well as staff support in accounting, administration, human resources, sales and marketing, so emerging entrepreneurs can focus on converting ideas to businesses through a well-defined process of ideation, customer acquisition, and scaling up. The other part of the first floor offers an auditorium for lectures, educational events and performances. All such events will be videotaped and streamed on-line.
On the first floor is also a fully functioning, N+1, state-of-the-art data center, secure, and completely redundant. The data center will support both research as well as marketing and outreach programs.
The second floor will have one portion of it dedicated for movement and meditation. Here the Community will be introduced to modern and ancient, eastern and western forms of movement therapy as well as meditative exercises. Local practitioners will run these classes. Another portion will house the Center’s coffeehouse that will be fueled by infinitely locally grown produce from the Center’s rooftop garden.
A third portion of the second floor will be focused on providing diagnostics to the local community for better understanding their state of health. In modern medicine, we use expensive instruments and new technology to understand what is going on inside of us. Most hospitals today provide Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning, Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, Electroencephalogram (EEG), Electrocardiogram (EKG), and detailed blood analysis. Apart from these wonderful methods, there are other approaches, which can also help with diagnosis. The Center will offer traditional methods of diagnosis, including face diagnosis, pulse diagnosis, and in an ongoing manner, bring in practitioners from across the traditional world to offer new diagnostic methods. In addition to offering traditional methods, the Center will continue to offer access to modern methods of diagnosis including blood analysis and neuro-psychology analysis with a collaborative group of partners.
Through such integrated diagnosis, the Center’s goal is twofold: one, to provide immediate and rapid assessment to an individual; and second, to create an integrative database from which the Center can conduct clinical studies to understand co-relation across East-West, Ancient and Modern, science and tradition. This will support one of the main research goals of the Center: to bridge understanding across East and West, Ancient and Modern, Mind and Body by developing a new lingua franca, linking the Molecular Age with the Yogic Age.
One of the central tenants of the Center is the belief that healthy food is integral to healthy bodies. In keeping with this belief, one of the first elements to be constructed in the Center will be the rooftop garden. The rooftop garden will be a cutting-edge facility, which will source the in-house café with fresh, local vegetables, serve as an educational forum for community members interested in food production, and provide a best-practices research model for others to follow.
Space for gardening is scarce in urban settings; rooftop gardens are a way for cities to reclaim agricultural space. As a trend, rooftop gardens are catching on – and it is no wonder. The benefits of a rooftop garden are immense: they reduce heating and cooling costs by providing building insulation, they absorb heat that would otherwise go into the atmosphere and thus have a cooling effect on cities, they absorb storm water, they reduce the distance food travels from farm-to-fork, they get vegetables to urban communities surrounded by fast food, and the list goes on. But there are many issues to work out in the rooftop garden model and questions about their feasibility and yields are unresolved.
To get the project off the ground, the roof will need new flooring (waterproof membrane), as well as a geodesic dome greenhouse. New stairs will need to be put in place to make the roof more accessible. Some of the main considerations of roof gardens are the amount of food that can be produced compared to the initial and operating costs. The Center will explore several methods of rooftop gardening, including modular intensive gardens (the approximate equivalent of raised bed gardens on a roof) and hydroponics, in and out of the green house.
The Center also wants to push the envelope here and now on energy sustainability. To this end, the Center will work to make the building fully sustainable year-round, day and night. Wind, solar, and geothermal devices will be installed and integrated to meet this challenge.
Many new integrative approaches and learning’s will come from this Center. Many questions will also emerge such as: How do you engage the community in healthful and sustainable practices? What will fuel a local movement so change is accelerated? What are the real and viable technologies and processes that can be implemented? How can we integrate learnings of the East and West to deliver a new type of low-cost and far higher-quality health care? – to name a few. The Center hopes to be a sandbox from which new ideas and activities will emerge.
The Center offers MIT faculty, students, and staff a real place to work, hands-on, to perform research and engage our local community. We welcome your support and feedback.