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Citizens Voice Concerns At New Dorm Hearing

By Efren Gutierrez
STAFF REPORTER

MIT and the Cambridge City Planning Board met this past Thursday with concerned Cambridgeport residents about MIT’s new dormitory.

Cantabridgians expressed concern about the appearance of the building as well as how it will fit in with the rest of the Cambridgeport community. One citizen said, “In art, if it’s ugly it could be covered and never seen, but in architecture, if it’s ugly, it’s a failure as a building.”

Meeting part of permit process

Because of the size of the planned new dorm, MIT filed an Interim Planning Overlay Proposal permit last week. Sarah E. Gallop, Co-Director of the Office of Government and Community Relations said, “As part of the requirements of the permit, a meeting must be made with the community. Then the input from that meeting will then be reviewed by the City Development Board.”

At the hearing, O. Robert Simha, Director of the Planning Office at MIT, displayed various views of the new dorm from different locations in Cambridge. Simha also talked about the “master plan” for Vassar St. “As of right now, Vassar St. is an industrial street, but other dormitories will follow to make it more residential,” he said.

Height, appearance are concerns

Most citizens questioned the height of the new dorm and wondered why it could not be as tall as the shorter dorms along Memorial Dr.

Tim Baines, Designer and Project Coordinator for Steven Holl Architects, which is designing the dorm, said, “Along Memorial Drive, MIT bought the wider piece of land than they used in order for future expansion, but along Vassar St., the train tracks hamper the amount of space to be taken, so to have enough room for 350 people, then the height must become a factor.”

Simha said that as future construction approaches Ft. Washington Park, the average height of newly constructed buildings must drop. The projected view from Ft. Washington Park made some upset, but there was a suggestion that with a square of buildings around the park the sight of the dorm would disappear.

Charlie Sullivan, Deputy Director of the Historical Commission, said that the original plan for Ft. Washington Park was for it to be surrounded by a rows of houses.

In response to questions about the appearance of the new dorm, Baines displayed the dorm’s floor plan and a sheet of the aluminum that will cover the facade of the new building. The new dorm is to include a midnight cafe, a dining hall, and a miniature park. Holes cut through the building provide sky views and continue to offer vistas to Cambridgeport residents instead of a solid aluminum wall.

Citizens were also concerned that the new dorm would add parking problems in the nearby parking lot. Simha said that since most MIT students do not own a vehicle, there would not be a significant change in traffic.

Jeff C. Roberts ’02, Chairman of the Committee on House Government, said, “Most of the questions I got were how students would react to live in the new dorm. Citizens thought that the dorm was too dark for students.”

Housing forum planned

Construction of the new dorm is scheduled to begin this March.It will be located at 229 Vassar St. and house approximately 350 people, including housemasters and advisers.

The Dorm’s Founders’ Group will host a community forum on Monday, February 7th, to discuss both the progress of the new dormitory and larger residence issues. Tim Baines and Project Director, Deborah Poodry, will be presenting. The forum will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Room 10-250.