MIT Center for Real Estate announces new leadership team

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Siqi Zheng (left) and Kairos Shen (Photo: MIT News)

The MIT Center for Real Estate (CRE) has announced a new leadership team. Siqi Zheng, the Samuel Tak Lee Professor of Real Estate Development and Entrepreneurship, has assumed the role of faculty director. Kairos Shen, associate professor of the practice, is serving as the center’s executive director. Zheng and Shen assumed their new positions last summer, according to MIT News.

Zheng will lead the intellectual and research mission of CRE. This includes expanding the center’s interdisciplinary connections within the School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) and MIT; increasing the CRE’s global impact by supporting innovative research that includes, for example, sustainability and healthy buildings; as well as promoting an enhanced portfolio of practitioner-based online and onsite courses.

As executive director, Shen will work closely with Zheng on the strategic direction of the center; lead the Master of Science in Real Estate Development (MSRED) program and the enrichment of the curriculum; develop new channels for engaging with industry; and oversee the day-to-day operations of CRE.

“We are excited to have this new leadership team of Siqi and Kairos,” says Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “Since joining MIT in 2017, Siqi has made important contributions to teaching and research, and will strengthen the sustainability theme in our MSRED curriculum. Kairos, who served the City of Boston, Massachusetts as director of planning, brings an abundance of real-world experience, administrative expertise, and deep insights about the impact of real estate on the shaping of cities.”

In her time at MIT, Zheng has established and led the Samuel Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab, the China Future City Lab, and the Sustainable Urbanization Lab. A former president of the Asian Real Estate Society, Zheng is on the board of the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association. She was recently awarded a major grant to study the role of social distancing in shaping the Covid-19 curve, using data from 344 Chinese cities.

Zheng’s field of specialization is urban and environmental economics and policy, including environmental sustainability, place-based policies (new planned cities and transportation infrastructure), and self-sustaining urban growth. The author of numerous scholarly journal articles in the field of urban and environmental economics, Zheng co-authored “Blue Skies over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China” (with Matthew Kahn, Princeton University Press) and co-edited “Toward Urban Economic Vibrancy: Patterns and Practices in Asia’s New Cities” (with Zhengzhen Tan, SA+P Press). She will teach the course “Sustainable Real Estate: Economics and Business” during the spring semester.

“Looking forward, we will strengthen the research capacity of CRE and build a strong synergy among research, education, and industry engagement,” says Zheng. “With our unique position in the School of Architecture and Planning and our close connections with other schools and programs on campus, we regard real estate as an opportunity to impact cities and communities; we are engaging in multidisciplinary strategies to advance the frontier in urban and real estate research; and we aim to equip our students with the knowledge and skills to invent real estate solutions for the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of our cities.”

Shen MA ’91, MArch ’91 is an alumnus of the Department of Architecture’s master’s program. In his 22 years of service to the City of Boston, he oversaw many projects that have positively transformed numerous areas in the city, including the South Boston Waterfront Innovation District; the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center; and the Fenway, Allston, and Nubian Square neighborhoods. Shen returned to MIT to teach in 2016. He is currently teaching the course 11.305 (Doing Good by Doing Well: Planning and Development Case Studies that Promote both the Public Good and Real Estate Value) and in the spring semester will teach 11.303J / 4.254J (Real Estate Development Studio).

“The CRE stands out from most other real estate programs in that it is part of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning,” says Shen. “Our program approaches real estate not just from a business perspective, but instead takes a much broader interdisciplinary approach on how the industry can impact the built environment as a whole. Our educational objective is to use real estate as an instrument to take on challenges at the city scale: to improve health, social equality, and environmental sustainability by incorporating research and innovations from the fields of design, planning, and engineering.”

Dennis Frenchman, the Class of 1922 Professor of Urban Design and Planning and director of the center since 2018, retired from MIT in September. Frenchman, who holds dual master’s degrees in architecture and city planning from MIT, was also the co-founder and director of MITdesignX. He began teaching at MIT in 1983.

“I would like to recognize Dennis for his committed leadership and advocacy of real estate development as a ‘city-making’ enterprise, including the capacity for significant social contributions by those working in the industry,” says Sarkis.