Perfect Mile: Architecture Walking Tour of MIT

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In this installment of our Architecture Walking Tours, we head across the river to MIT’s campus.  We upped the distance to 1.5 miles this time! MIT has an incredible collection of architecture, from contemporary structures to mid-century modern innovations so this will be a fun walk!

I invite you to walk along the line of the map I provided, and you will get to see some interesting hidden streets and buildings along the way and encounter many more sites than I pinned on the map. The yellow pins are buildings over the 1.5 mile distance, but not by far! MIT also has a remarkable collection of artwork; green pins are outdoor sculptures.

You can print out the map, or use it on your smart phone. Using Safari to get access to Google Maps on your Android or iPhone will be the best way to follow the map on your phone.

It looks like I may need to make a second MIT walking tour so please let me know if I missed any of your favorite sites!
Start at MBTA Bus Line Route 1 at 77 Massachusetts Ave

MIT Chapel: Designed by Eero Saarinen in 1955, this is one of my favorite structures in the Boston area because the space is absolutely breathtaking. The MIT chapel was created as a non-denominational place of worship to reflect. The building has a beautiful metal sculpture that filters light down from the skylight in the center of the Chapel.

Kresge Auditorium: This structure was also designed by Eero Saarinen in 1955. The design was a thin shelled concrete structure. This design allows the structure to be supported on only 3 points. Did you know that the green copper cladding on the roof is not original? The copper was applied to the structure during a renovation in the 1980s. The copper was actually what Saarinen wanted, but no one at the time could figure out how to attach the material to the structure.

Baker House: Designed by Alvar Aalto, the Baker House sits along the shore of the Charles River. Every dorm room has a unique view to the river and the Boston skyline.  The “flexible standardizations” are created by the angling of the façade walls. This term was coined by Aalto to describe his methodology for designing site specific buildings.  He would analyze and investigate solar orientation, views, terrain, and other site forces that make every site unique. The mortar joint illustrates at fine detail how the building bends to create unique site specific views.

Simmons Hall: Steven Holl was commissioned in 1999 to design a new dormitory for MIT. Simmons Hall becomes a “slice of the city”, composed of 350 dorm rooms, a theater, café, and dining hall. The dorm rooms are well-lit with natural light from the grid of perforations in the façade. Did you know that the design was inspired by a sponge? It was intended to be a “porous structure” that would connect gathering spaces embedded within gaps of the building through light and views. Due to fire and code restrictions, the design was unable to connect as many open spaces together, but the design still incorporates five massive voids in the structure.

MIT Stata Center: Your last stop on this tour is one that you will spend the most time exploring.  This is an extremely controversial building, that the architect himself once said, “looks like a party of drunken robots got together to celebrate.”  The building appears to be balancing precariously on itself, a metaphor for the “freedom, daring, and creative research occurring inside”. Did you know that Frank Gehry works with the computer program CATIA, software originally designed for aerospace engineers, to bring his designs to life? Sadly the software didn’t help prevent a disaster. In 2007 MIT sued Gehry’s firm and associated construction firms for deficient design services leading to leaking, masonry failure, mold, and drainage issues.  Gehry’s firm paid out $15 million in the end. Love it or hate it, the building is an extraordinary structure.  We Love Beantown tip: Photograph the building in black and white, and make sure you explore the outdoor amphitheater area.

Genzyme Building

MIT Media Lab

End at Kendall/MIT (Red Line)