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Ugly Enough For You?

Ken Nesmith

Starting in 2002, all of MIT’s incoming freshmen, still halfway ignorant of their imminent four-year damnation to a hell of problem sets and other unpleasantries, will be housed in a building that gives new meaning to the word “ugly.”

The Simmons Hall dormitory answers the question, “Can MIT’s campus become any more aesthetically unappealing?” with a resounding, “Yes, and would you like coffee with that?”

The “Sponge” -- as the dorm has been nicknamed for its resemblance to the bacteria-filled cleaning implements that most people replace every few weeks once they become too disgusting to touch -- will soon be the dwelling place of many young souls who cross the Charles and hence the Rubicon on some fateful August day. Now, instead of facing a stressful choice between such architectural monstrosities as New House or Next House, with their uninspired designs reminiscent of a kindergarten building-block project, or Baker, an odd design of unnatural curves and strange stylings, freshman will be left to ask themselves more important questions like, “Do we eat that?” or, “Where should I transfer?”

Perhaps students won’t be driven to leave MIT immediately. After all, orientation lasts a good two weeks. By the end of that period, maybe the freshmen will have lost enough of their common sense and instincts of self-preservation to have some sort of deluded desire to subject themselves to four years or more of legalized torture.

Simmons Hall is only the most recent dropping amidst MIT’s apparently incurable case of architectural diarrhea. The disjointed, irregular campus seems to resemble the doodlings of a bored architect under the influence of one or, more likely, several mind-altering substances. A walk across MIT’s campus is almost enough to depress and confuse one about the very existence of architectural beauty. Gems abound, like the imposing, top-heavy cement Student Center, the long-term temporary trailer park around “The Dot,” or the malignant tumors that grow along the decrepit back roads of East Campus.

The soon-to-be-built Ray and Maria Stata Center will do nothing to stop the madness. This frightening beast, which will serve as a new computer science facility as well as the home of the linguistics and philosophy department, might be mistaken for a pile of discarded building scraps, except that trash would eventually be collected. The photographs posted on the Stata Center Web site depict structures that look as if they have been hit by a vicious combination of natural disasters. Once the construction is finished in fall 2003, barring merciful divine intervention, tour guides will need to be retrained to deflect the question, “So when was the earthquake?” with some sort of clever lie.

It’s nearly impossible to correct the errors of the past, and the errors of the future will be manifest in the next few years. Still, some have expressed hope that things could be made better with careful landscaping. This is probably true, and it is unfortunate that little has come of these hopes. While the importance of campus aesthetics to the school as a whole is considerably less than monumental, like any other living environment, the look and feel of the campus has genuine effects on us.

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to leave MIT for the weekend to bask in all the glorious scenery New England has to offer. Boston itself offers a plethora of incredible sights, and plenty of stunning countryside panoramas lie within an easy day trip of campus. It is very much worth your while to find a weekend to do a bit of exploring and relaxing away from school, if only so you will not later regret failing to do so.

Even if you’re stuck at MIT, there is a diamond in this roughest of roughs. Killian Court, looking out over the Charles River onto Boston, enclosed on three sides by soaring, classical pillars and paned windows, and lined with fresh grass and tall trees, is consistently cited as the campus’ saving grace for good reason. Magnificent in all seasons, the court provides a pleasant, if brief, escape from the daily MIT madness. It might soon make a great trailer park, but for now we can be thankful for it.