Written by Echelman Studio
David Nathaniel Feldman, MIT’s Distinguished Visiting Technologist at the Center for Art, Science and Technology in 2023, died in October 2023 at 57 after living with gusto for three years while undergoing treatment for glioblastoma. He first came to MIT in 2017 to teach an architecture studio course Soft House with his partner Janet Echelman, MIT’s current Mellon Distinguished Visiting Artist, and Prof. Caitlin Mueller.
“For over two decades, David’s vision and expertise empowered new digital design processes and cutting-edge simulation techniques for Studio Echelman,” said MIT Professors Caitlin Mueller and John Ochsendorf, director of MIT’s Morningside Academy of Design, “and David’s substantial and innovative contributions continuously expanded the visual vocabulary of the iconic public artworks they brought to cities around the globe.”
Last year, David and Janet spoke about the importance of collaboration between technologists and artists at MIT, and in June inaugurated their most recent permanent public sculpture which spans across the main thoroughfare of Columbus, Ohio (right photo above). David grew up in Belmont and graduated from Concord Academy. He earned a BS in Computer Science from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In 2023, he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the Maine College of Art and Design for developing the technology for the monumental sculptures of Studio Janet Echelman. At Apple Computer, David served as principal engineer for the file system on System 7 and invented the concept of an alias to a file or folder. He often laughed that perhaps his most well known computer science legacy would be his recording of the “quack” beep sound, the first human voice on all Macintosh computers. He co-founded several successful startups, and founded Feldman Advisors, a technology investment, strategy and development consulting firm. David led the development of soft-body computer modeling for his wife’s engineering-intensive net sculptures. They traveled the world to install pieces in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, San Francisco International Airport, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, and across the globe in Portugal, Australia, India, Italy, Netherlands, UK, Spain, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and China.
David was an unabashedly curious polymath whose counsel was deeply valued. He enjoyed artisanal baking and installed a wood-fired brick oven at home and delighted in creating and serving pizzas for many joyous gatherings. In college, David performed the Strauss French Horn Concerti, and played in both the Dartmouth Brass Quintet and the Marching Band. A lifelong athlete, David was an avid and daring skier, tackling steep couloirs and backcountry runs; toured parts of Europe by bike and played tennis competitively. As a cancer patient, he played the National Father-Son tournament the night before surgery (Boston Globe), and last year received the #1 New England singles player medal for his level. David also distinguished himself as a tennis parent and entrepreneur. He helped purchase and transform a failing tennis club critical to junior tennis into the now thriving Longfellow New Hampshire Tennis Club, which recently won the best large facility in the nation from the USPTA and established the annual David Feldman Tennis Parent Award to recognize parents who exemplify unconditional acceptance, sportsmanship, and community building.
An endowed scholarship in his name has been created at the Asian University for Women, an institution he loved and aided with the belief that education is the best way to address the world’s most intractable problems.
His greatest love was spending time with Janet and their children, Sam, a junior at Brown University, and Lilly, a first-year student at the University of Chicago. He enjoyed his final weeks at Dana Farber-Brigham surrounded by family and friends who came from across the country to reminisce, laugh, read and write poetry, paint, sing, and celebrate his remarkable life. David is also survived by his parents, Cecily (Sachs) and Wallace Feldman of FL, his sister Jennifer and brother-in-law Judge Daniel Klau of CT, brother-in-law Todd Echelman of FL, and beloved cousins, nieces, nephews, and uncle.