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Media Lab Seeks Permit for Expansion

By Katie Jeffreys

FEATURES EDITOR

MIT officials are scheduled to go before the Cambridge Planning Board on September 12, to present plans for a Media Lab extension.

The Institute hopes to obtain an Interim Planning Overlay Permit for the new building, the Okawa Center for Future Children. However, changes in local zoning regulations may delay the permit approval process until January.

“The city is trying to replace the current interim IPOP legislation with permanent legislation,” said Susan Personette, Senior Project Manager in the Department of Facilities. The current regulations expire in early October, after having received several extensions.

“If we do not go ahead on September 12, we will have to wait until January, because there is a three month moratorium” on IPOPs after the old rules expire, said Personette.

Construction of the building is slated to commence in January 2001 and finish in 2003. Since the building plan meets current zoning regulations, the IPOP review will not affect the construction schedule.

One of the main issues under review is a traffic study conducted by the MIT contractors. The study examined the effects of the building on pedestrians, parking, and traffic. The study concluded that the new building will not impact traffic. “We are not adding new people,” Personette said. “We are just moving them around.”

An additional concern is the aesthetic appearance of the building to passing pedestrians. Personette said that the city is worried that the building will look like a plain white wall, but she dismissed this concern. “Part of the building’s design is to make it transparent,” so that passers-by can observe what goes on inside.

The preliminary designs have been shown to the Planning Board. “They essentially gave us the nod,” Personette said.

The Planning Board has already approved several aspects of the construction plan. The height of the structure will not exceed 120 feet, but it does not need to be set back from the street. Buildings E10 and E20, which will be torn down to make room for the Okawa Center, were found to have negligible historical and architectural value.

The seven-story, 169,000 square foot building will be home to laboratories, offices, and meeting spaces. This includes the proposed LEGO ® Learning Lab which will expand the Media Lab’s 15-year relationship with the toy company. The lab will explore how children learn and develop new child-friendly technologies.

The center was designed by the Tokyo-based architectural firm of Maki and Associates. The lead architect, Fumihiko Maki, is a world renowned designer, having received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1993.

A $27-million donation, given by Isao Okawa, chairman of CSKCorp. and Sega Enterprises Ltd., provided the initial funding for the center.