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    Gehry at MIT

    continued

    The variegated facades of brick, painted aluminum, and stainless steel are Gehry's own brand of contextual design. There is a lot of brick here because it is a common local material, and he believes it will give users something familiar to relate to. The staggered wall planes are meant to suggest, Gehry explains, a condensed view of buildings on the surrounding streets, as if you looked down the collection of facades through a long-range camera lens.

    Sculptural pieces of building are scattered around the complex and contain special program spaces such as lecture halls and common areas. Each one has a name — "nose," "kiva," "helmet," "heart," "Buddha," "star" — that suggests its shape, and also helps you find your way around.

    Laurie Olin was the landscape architect. On the building's south side he crafted cascading, landscaped plazas and gathering spaces of different shapes and sizes that should encourage full use.

    One of the most important of these spaces, an amphitheater, faces Main Street. This space not only responds to lunchtime use — it is situated not far from where lunch trucks pull up every day — but also offers a sunny place where teaching and discussion groups can take place.

    Unraveling the Spatial Complexity

    Conceptually, the plan and organization are fairly straightforward; the building just looks confusing. There are two nine-story towers, each containing two-story lounges and gathering areas, conceived as "neighborhoods" that encourage informal interaction and collaboration.

    "Warehouse" spaces between the two towers offer open space for labs that can be reconfigured as the project demands. There are also free spaces known as "town squares" on the forth and fifth floors to accommodate ad hoc research groups working together.

    On the ground level, the building is like a light-filled, colorful cavern from one end to the other, allowing students to walk through unimpeded on their way to other campus destinations. Here are found more common spaces, lecture halls, classrooms, and a daycare center. This public street functions as part of MIT's famous "infinite corridor," along which all the campus buildings are connected.

    The two towers are named Gates and Dreyfoos after their major donors. Former MIT architecture dean William Mitchell, who is now the architectural advisor to MIT's president, notes that Gehry's building is ideal for donor "naming opportunities" because of all its idiosyncratic pieces.

    Roughing It Inside

    The building was constructed for a reputed $300 million — about $415 per square foot, including an underground parking garage that was added after the building was designed. Yet Stata does not have the high-quality interior finishes that you might expect for such an investment.

    There is a lot of gypsum board and plywood, which is meant to communicate the sense of unfinished architecture that Gehry says he was looking for. The architect didn't want the occupants to think that the building was too precious to change. He wants scientists, students, and researchers to feel free to punch holes through partitions, commandeer spaces, and use the building in ways that could not be foreseen.

    The concept of "assigned space" seems counterproductive and alien to the work that goes on inside of Stata. Instead, there are numerous little lofts, corner pockets of space around a table, and open areas where one can readily plug into power outlets and computer networks.

    The idea is for people to constantly modify their working arrangements, and for them to occupy the space in ways that are always temporary, governed by the particular way they are working at the moment. As those arrangements and collaborations change and adjust according to the direction of the work, the open nature of the building allows new work configurations to emerge.

    Such an ad hoc, changeable, temporary approach to research should invite scientists and researchers to let go of old ideas and look for new connections. The Stata Center's many glazed walls inside, with views between spaces, and from work areas to circulation areas, are perfect for symbolizing such connections across disciplines. The hope is that great science can be facilitated by chance meetings on a staircase or casual observations and musing over a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

    Gehry's design succeeds in giving form to the notions of the "unformed" and the serendipitous exchange. Research that pushes the boundaries is a chaotic business, and it now has a building by Gehry to match.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.

     

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    ArchWeek Image

    The Ray and Maria Stata Center, on the MIT campus, by Frank Gehry, as seen from the grand staircase, with the Dreyfoos Building to the left.
    Photo: Andy Ryan

    ArchWeek Image

    The view from the raised terrace captures the mirror finish of the "nose" with its "whistle" in the foreground and the Gates Building beyond.
    Photo: Andy Ryan

    ArchWeek Image

    The yellow "kiva."
    Photo: Andy Ryan

    ArchWeek Image

    Stata Center landscaping plan.
    Image: Olin Partnership

    ArchWeek Image

    Looking out from the fourth floor of the Dreyfoos Building toward the Gates Building.
    Photo: Andy Ryan

    ArchWeek Image

    Skylights bring light into multilevel lab spaces and surrounding corridors.
    Photo: Andy Ryan

    ArchWeek Image

    The student street in the Dreyfoos Building near the entrance of the childcare facility.
    Photo: Andy Ryan

    ArchWeek Image

    One of many connective spaces between labs, offering areas for casual meetings, classes, impromptu conversations, and views to the rest of the Stata Center.
    Photo: Andy Ryan

     

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