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Physical Plant Should Repair Unattractively Dripping Arch

Column by Erik S. Balsley
Sports Editor

Ah, the signs of spring. The chirping birds, blossoming trees, warm breezes, and the sounds of Physical Plant working busily to try to hide the fact our campus is made of over 90 percent impervious material. So as preparations for Commencement continue, I hope that the time is used to help correct a pretty visible physical problem - the leaking arch by the Media Laboratory.

You know what I'm talking about. As you walk from the Medical Center toward the main campus there's that big arch to the right of the Media Lab. Reading from left to right, using a corner of the building, the arch spells out MIT. Isn't that just damn swell.

To my understanding, when that part of east campus was constructed in the 1980s, it was the result of a planning process that tried improve the experience of campus as you moved from the Kendall Square T station. The firm I worked at this past summer helped write a piece of this - the Northeast campus master plan.

The arch is something called a gateway amenity. The theory goes something like this - you see the arch, you walk through the arch, you've entered MIT. The problem is that since the beginning it has been leaking. The one thing that is supposed to say welcome to MIT is dripping upon passers-by. Welcome to MIT.

MIT, unlike many other campuses, is open, meaning that we do not have gates and fences surrounding our academic buildings. For schools with these gates, they indicate arrival points. The arch is our attempt to create a similar amenity. The dripping is akin to having these other institutional gates rusted shut. It just looks bad.

There are two reasons I'm somewhat disturbed by the falling arch. One, it's been dripping for a long time. Every now and then, some blockades have gone up to prevent people from getting a shower as they walk under it, but I have yet to see someone working to fix the problem. During this time however, all the curved glass on the first floor of the Media Lab has somehow managed to have been replaced.

As I look at it there are many possible reasons for the drip. It is possibly some Media Lab experiment, though I think this falls somewhat outside their field of inquiry. Or the drip is coming from a pool of water on top the arch. Or there's a pipe going through the arch. Now if this is the case, what the hell is the point of pumping water up the arch only to have it come back down?

Anyway, all of these problems appear to be somewhat fixable. My concern is why the leaking just hasn't been fixed. I will be graduating in June and my relatives will be coming to watch. Now what will they get at the end of their over $100,000 investment? A chance to see me graduate and to get dripped on by leaky infrastructure.

I'm sure that will make an impression. I would like to show them the whole campus, but perhaps we'll bypass the arch if it is still dripping. I would much rather show them some less attractive parts of campus that are not broken rather than show them broken gateways.

Besides being an unattractive problem, it's hazardous as well. I really don't want to see my relatives injured if they slip in the puddle under the arch. I just hope that in the four weeks before Commencement the drip is fixed. If not, I've got some spackle and a caulk gun ready. Somebody's got to fix this thing.

Erik S. Balsley is a graduate student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. If you had time to read this column, you've got time to write a chapter of his thesis. Erik is going to Japan next year, so you can be sports editor next term, too. Offers can be sent to balsley@the-tech.mit.edu.