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Baker Renovations Restore Alvar Aalto's Design

By Song-Hee Paik

Contractors have completed the first summer of Baker House's $24-million renovation.

This summer, the common areas in the basement and the first floor were reconstructed. Next summer's focus will be on the upper floors of the building.

These renovations "are a stunning example of MIT's commitment to the quality of student life," said Stephen D. Immerman, director of project development.Other student facilities, including Senior House, the Chapel, and Kresge Auditorium, have been renovated recently, he added.

This summer, unused storage areas in the lower floors of Baker have been converted into study rooms, conference rooms, and game rooms. Other new features include replaced light fixtures, furniture, air conditioning, and an enlarged weight room.

In addition, a new ramp and new elevators have been built for front-door wheelchair access in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The dining room, the kitchen, and all major systems, including electrical, water, and fire protection, have all been renovated," Immerman said.

The residential upper floors of Baker will be the focus in next summer's renovation, when the dormitory again will be closed. Then, heat distribution, ventilation, and wiring systems will be upgraded. Flooring and roofing will be renovated, windows will be replaced, and all bathrooms on the upper floors will be made handicapped accessible.

Doors with two peepholes will be installed, with one peephole at the traditional height, and the other about a foot lower also to accommodate those in wheelchairs. New sinks with more modern faucets will also be installed into the facility.

However, despite these massive changes, most existing walls will remain untouched.

"Baker House is known architecturally around the world," said O. Robert Simha MCP '57, director of the Planning Office. "It is MIT's responsibility to preserve its historical integrity."

Dorm has colorful history

Baker was completed in 1949. The design, by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, is one of the earliest significant examples of post-war international modernism in the United States. When Baker was constructed, Aalto was teaching at the Institute. The dormitory is one of only two buildings he built in North America.

"Aalto had an enormous impact on all modern architecture," Immerman said. "His style and design were so remarkably intelligent in that he was able to create spaces that were beautiful as well as livable. He was a great humanist in that respect."

"To preserve Aalto's original design, chairs, tables, and furniture are all made Aalto-like," said Nicole A. Balli '00, one of Baker's rush chairs. "The only walls knocked down are those not originally planned by Aalto."

"Light fixtures were changed to be more architecturally consistent with the original design of the building," Immerman said. "All changes serve to modernize Baker and still maintain its architectural integrity."

Renovations aided dorm's rush

Amidst its newly finished enhancements, Baker was the most oversubscribed dorm during rush this year.

"Overall, [the renovations] had a significant, positive effect on rush," said Wesley S. Chao '00, the other Baker house rush chair.

"But at the same time, it was not the overwhelming factor of the residents choosing Baker. Freshmen met people they identified with, and found a social culture in which they would like to live," Chao added.