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Architectural Design Class Creates Models of New Dormitory

Dan Rodriguez
Andrew L. Hsu '99 points out a possible plan for the new undergraduate dormitory.

By Carina Fung
associate news editor

A group of 11 juniors and seniors in Architectural Design: Level I (4.126) will be creating possible models for the new undergraduate dormitory which will be built to increase MIT's on-campus housing capacity.

The 21-unit design studio is held three times a week. Students are required to have taken at least one other design studio course.

"Students who live at MIT, especially those who come to this set of problems [of improving housing] with the background that this group of 4.126 students have, are well positioned to make a substantial contribution to the fabric of this new undergraduate house," said Director of Administration and Operations Stephen D. Immerman.

Wampler initiates novel idea

"The design studio is a major component of the architectural curriculum," said Professor of Architecture Jan Wampler, who is one of the three professors instructing this studio. Wampler has taught for 28 years at MIT and is a professional architect.

Though this class is not new, the idea of building a scale model of a new MIT dormitory as a final project for the class is a novel one, Wampler said. "This is a very exciting design project, and will be very helpful to MIT students and the Institute," he said.

Wampler has been deeply interested in "building joyful, livable living places." He believed that undergraduates are best at this task because most of them live in dormitories. "I believe in architecture which responds to the site, the people, the culture, and the building materials." He said that this project will be very helpful in determining what future dormitories will look like.

Thus far, students in the class have been asked to draw a floor plan of their own rooms and to discuss the positive and negative qualities, Wampler said. This past weekend, students traveled in pairs to look at dormitories at other colleges and universities on the East coast, such as Columbia, Harvard, and Boston University. Today, students will report on the dormitory quality they feel is most important.

Students will first design an ideal room. They will eventually construct a scale model of a dormitory subset, which will house about 50 students. This final design project will be finished at the end of the term, when the students will each display their unique models.

Students contribute views

"The students in the design studio can contribute substantially to articulating a vision of how students want to live, what they need, what currently works, and what currently does not work," Immerman said.

Shelly L. Irving '99, a student in the class, said that she feels "many dormitories aren't open enough and seem almost sterile because the architecture doesn't allow for easy interactions between people."

Another 4.126 student, Gene C. Pyo '99 said that the most important quality in a dormitory is a comfortable setting. "A dorm should not be just a long corridor with rooms on both sides. It should have many different spaces to suit many different needs," he said.

"I believe it would be a misconception to suggest that the students in the design studio will be designing the house, per se," Immerman said. The process of design is "much more elaborate and involved" than what can be developed in a term project. However, Immerman said that one should not diminish the value of what the students will be contributing.

Williams speaks on dorm quality

"The most essential quality is to provide a safe, healthy, pleasing environment for students in their daily life at MIT," said Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams. "Beyond that, I would like a residence designed to encourage frequent but not necessarily planned social interactions, primarily among students but also connecting students with staff and faculty."

Williams said that she was also interested in an environment that defines new types of study spaces. For example, "ones where virtual space is truly well-integrated with physical space." This way, students can work both on-line and collaboratively while being tied into the larger world of MIT and beyond.

Also, Williams noted, it would be helpful to have space available for activities that are not strictly social or academic, but are a mix of the two. She suggested space for arts practices and small performances, a satellite site for the Writing Center, or some other type of tutorial space.

"If we do even a few of these things, we will have students clamoring to live in this residence. I also hope we could have donors lining up to support it financially," Williams said.

The new dormitory will be located on Vassar Street, directly across Briggs athletic field from MacGregor House. "That location is a bit out of the way right now . . . but the area will be vastly improved," Wampler said.

The general plan of "rimming" the playing fields with housing has been in place for many years, Immerman said. This location provides for "the maximum amenity within the shortest possible distance to the academic buildings," he said.

Currently, Immerman says plans are set for a single residence with 300-350 beds. "It is certainly the case that Vassar Street will someday be the site for additional undergraduate housing," he said.

"In building this next dormitory, we need to worry about the utilities infrastructure that will support additional development in the future," Immerman said. Improvements to Vassar Street, such as new lighting, landscaping, and overall street design will occur over time, he said.

Perhaps in twenty years, the green line of the T may be extended underground where the current surface rail line exists, he said. If this is implemented, it would allow the current rail to be converted to a boulevard, thereby enhancing east-west traffic. There would also be a subway stop very close to the newest dormitory.

The first thing on the tentative time line for the construction of the new dormitory are improvements to Vassar Street, Immerman said. Architects and builders would be selected during the early fall. It will then take a year to design and specify the building and another year to build it. Immerman said that the new dorm might open by the fall of 2000.

New dorm will be costly to build

Immerman said that "on average, this scale of building at the level of quality that MIT maintains usually suggests a rule of thumb which comes out at around $100,000 per bed

Immerman feels that the new dormitory will probably harbor new communications technology. Much more electrical capacity will be required. Meeting, event, and recreational space - both outside and inside - will also be reconsidered. "We need to look with a fresh eye at all the services that students require for their daily life and work," he said.