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Stata Center followup

rcp posted a comment deriding my praise for the Stata Center. I imagine others will or already do share her viewpoint, and as aesthetics are a matter of personal taste, it's rather difficult to debate. A vote could give some credence to right or wrong, but I don't have a poll feature, so here is my response:

rcp: we have agreed to disagree on our definitions of art :) but i think it makes our already hideous campus look all the more heinous. i would have been happy if they had kept the 77 mass ave or killian court architecture. in their attempts to be innovative, i think they've made a mess. who cares if there's a building that's a 30-60-90 triangle or 1/8th of a sphere? with the recent addition of an oddly colored simmons and this drop of demented-looking metal, i think we have won the award for the most eclectic and yet, most uncoordinated campus ever. now, i will prepare myself to be flamed by you :).

We already had the award for most eclectic and uncoordinated campus ever. If MIT had stuck to the Killian Court look throughout, then my response would differ, but no other buildings on campus match that look, not the Green Building, Media Center, hospital, Sloan, bio building, NE43, or any of the other building numbers too numerous to list. The building that the Stata Center was built over was a fifty-year-old "temporary" building that had five coats of hideous blue paint on it, none of which matched, and none of which seemed to make it all the way around a full window frame. The building that the Stata Center replaces (NE43) could easily be mistaken for a boring office building, which its twin across the courtyard in fact is. Coordination was never a virtue of the MIT campus after its initial construction. About the only common trait they share is that most of them use lots of concrete.

If we assume that it's too late to tear down the MIT campus and rebuild it in a new image, then we have to accept the fact that nothing can be done to improve the "regularity" of the campus. That doesn't mean that we should build horrendous buildings like Simmons, where the only design consideration seems to be making the windows inconvenient for suicide attempts, but it does mean that MIT can, and should take risks in its building design to demonstrate innovative architecture.

Whether you like or dislike Gehry's designs, he is a leader in architectural design. His designs would be impossible without the leading-edge CAD tools he promotes, and his buildings are marvels that fly in the face of the principle of interchangeable parts; they demonstrate that technology now affords us the capabilities to dismiss assembly-line manufactured designs. Too many buildings resemble the parts that made them: rectangular blocks. If you look at the Disney Center in LA, you will be immediately struck by the fact that they had to individually bend each sheet of metal that covers it; no two are the same. The fact that this can be done without astronomical costs is additionally impressive. At the very least, the Stata Center will be a case study in modern design and construction technologies for architecture students.

Go into any other building on the MIT campus, and go to any floor. Take a look around. Then go up or down the stairs, and take a look again. Look familiar? Other than the bathroom layout, which alternates each floor, nearly ever floor in an MIT building is a replica of the floor below, save the dreaded catacomb basements.

The Stata Center will break this tradition. It will offer the largest variety of spaces available in the entire campus, from large lecture halls, to individually shaped tutorial rooms. Each floor, room, and stairway will have the opportunity to make unique impressions. At the very least, it will make it very challenging for the AI lab to program their robots. When I wandered around the Disney Center, each vantage point revealed something different about the building; you never got the same view as you walked around. From the photos of the Stata Center I have seen, I believe the exterior and interior will offer a similar variety.

I believe this unconventionality will be useful, because one of the things that impresses me about PARC, now that I work at SRI, is how important the building is for the culture of the lab. SRI's building, I'm told, is a former hospital, which has the consequence that there are no common spaces, and all the hallways and stairways are in the interior of the building. At PARC, much of the building faces the outside. Anywhere in PARC, you're never more than a hundred feet away from a patio or a courtyard. The building is also subdivided into pods, so and each pod is centered around a common space. All of this fosters social communication at PARC at a level that far exceeds that of SRI. Pixar had a similar approach in their building design: the bathrooms are all placed at the center of the building, so that people are encouraged to run into each other during their bathroom breaks. Neither PARC's or Pixar's building designs are responsible for their culture, but they are consonant.

I do not know if the Stata Center will encourage social communication on campus, though I do think that the amphitheater might be only large outdoor social gathering point in the entire East Campus. I am fairly certain, though, that the unique design of the Stata Center will make an impression on the research culture. It is hard to predict cultural shifts, but my prediction is that this impression will be a positive one.

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This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on May 9, 2004 11:52 PM.

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