I grew up in a country where the thinking was closed,” says Anna Kotova, who was raised in western Russia. “We didn’t have many resources. Whatever I wanted to do, I felt I couldn’t.”

Now, she says, “MIT has opened up my thinking. I think more positively and don’t consider any goal too ambitious. I know now that when I have a dream, it’s actually possible to realize it.”

An architecture major, the 21-year-old junior — who was raised in a standard apartment complex and now dreams of creating unconventional housing — recently spent a year working on a UROP project with Prof. Larry Sass to create prefabricated houses. The project was launched in New Orleans for families to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, but the idea could be applied anywhere in the world.

Kotova says the goal is to create low-cost housing, where manufacturing and assembly would be so easy that you could order a custom-made house online, and the parts could be delivered and easily assembled on-site.

Online, you would choose from a variety of designs — Victorian, Greek Revival, or Colonial. You also could choose cabinets, paneling, and molding. A computer would sort the data and generate the shapes to be cut. The parts would then be assembled, and you wouldn’t need glue or nails because the pieces would fit together with a notching system.

“The great thing is the materials would be environmentally friendly, so if you wanted to take the house down, it would be as easy to disassemble as it was to put up.

“UROP definitely helped me to grow,” says Kotova, who also once participated in a UROP project on 3-D modeling for a computer game and another on the historical aspects of thin-shell concrete structures.

“The best part about the program is you gain practical skills and knowledge, you interact with faculty, and you learn about research. That’s a big plus. And what’s most important to me is you’re exposed to new ideas.”

The daughter of architects, Kotova spent her childhood reading hundreds of design books in the family’s home. She once wanted to launch her own architecture firm, but after studying at MIT, she realizes that the field is much broader, including art, design, photography, and more.

“I realize architecture is interdisciplinary,” she says. “Now, my dream is to bring change into the world. I feel there’s something inside me burning to come out. The world is really open to me. And it feels great, because I feel I am doing what I am meant to do.”