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Simmons Opens to Student Tours

By Tom Kilpatrick


For as long as freshmen have been on campus, the monstrosity has been there. In fact, ground was already broken in time for last year’s Campus Preview Weekend. It rose quickly in the fall months, and everyone gawked at its “waffle” exterior. Rumors circulated that aluminum foil would cover the outside, creating a chrome sheen in the sunlight.

Simmons Hall continues to be a mystery to most students, as questions of who will live there, when it will be open, and why it looks so funny abound.

Wednesday, I had the opportunity to take a peek inside Simmons, on a tour organized by steering committee co-chair Vikash Gilja ’03 and the Casali Group, a liaison between MIT and those directly involved in the building’s construction.

The first thing I noticed when arriving for the tour was that Simmons is actually on the far side of Vassar Street; I had thought it was at the edge of Briggs Field. After a 15-minute wait out on Vassar, five other students, including a Tech photographer, and I were led into a one-story building the size of a small house on the Briggs Field side of Vassar. The on-site construction coordinator, Phil Vance, was our guide.

A taste of what’s to come

I thought the small building was an office at first, but upon entering I noticed that it was set up like a dorm room. Vance explained that it is a prototype room for the dorm across the street, complete with the exterior waffle design and full interior furnishing.

The room was nice; one wall contained all windows. Each square window is two feet by two feet, and three of them fit from floor to ceiling. The sample room was a double, so that wall contained 18 windows, all operable. The other walls were concrete, with the ceiling around nine feet.

The room as a whole gave the effect of being on a spaceship: the metallic trim along the exterior of the windows, the light cove’s green glow against the ceiling, the loft bed’s frame with its randomly placed holes, the compact, fluorescent lights in the corridor, and all the little holes in the wood ceiling. The bathroom had a mirror in the shower and the sink resembled those found on commercial airplanes, small and stainless steel.

In fact the feeling of being in outer space did not subside when we entered the actual dorm itself. As the tour guide explained, perforated aluminum will be a “feature of the building,” present along the dorm’s stairwells, exterior, and various terraces.

The aluminum had not been installed inside yet, as all the ventilation and water pipes were still visible in the ceiling, and temporary incandescent lights illuminated the corridors.


However, the first floor lobby area still felt somewhat like a lounge on the Starship Enterprise. The floor is long (more than 100 yards) and open, with concrete walls and high ceilings. It will contain a dining hall, a “night cafe,” a loading dock, and an amphitheater which descends down from the floor level. The amphitheater will be used for concerts, movies, and dorm-wide meetings.

A windy staircase cuts up through the middle of the corridor to the second floor, half of which will be open to the public. An MIT Card will be required to gain entry to any areas beyond that point on the second floor.

Most of the rooms we saw were organized into two-room suites, sharing one bathroom. No more than three people will share a bathroom, I was told. Every room I saw had one wall of the square windows, a light cove with its green glow, and the cold, concrete walls. Simmons is ten stories high, but we did not see above the second floor. I heard the weight and exercise rooms would be up on the eighth and ninth rooms, which I found strange. Won’t that make more noise than having them in the basement?

Simmons worth a second look

For students living in dormitories, I would certainly recommend giving Simmons a look. It cannot be known what Simmons’ character will be, but the building, which will house roughly 350 students, is definitely interesting. Only time will tell whether that will translate to interesting residents.

The steering committee is offering more tours in the coming weeks, which are open to interested students. Contact Gilja if you are interested. The deadline for filling out a housing request form is April 10.

Simmons is not just a freshman dorm; the steering committee hopes only about 125 first-year students will live there.