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In MIT Construction Boom, Campus Gets New Buildings

By Kevin R. Lang


Newly arriving freshmen have undoubtedly heard much about Simmons Hall and its ongoing construction, and many new graduate students are aware that the Sidney-Pacific Street dormitory is open for business, but these are hardly the only projects on campus right now.

MIT is in the midst of its biggest construction boom since the 1950s. If you have been wondering what that crooked mess on Vassar Street is, or when the shiny glass building next to the student center will open, read on.

Ray and Maria Stata Center

Jutting up from Vassar Street in every imaginable direction, the Ray and Maria Stata Center will stand on the former site of MIT’s famous Building 20, a “temporary” space for some fifty years.

Frank O. Gehry, the world-renowned architect of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, designed the complex of buildings that will house the Laboratory for Computer Science, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Laboratory for Information Decision Systems, and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.

The building’s namesake, Raymond S. Stata ’57, donated $25 million to start the project. Microsoft co-founder and chairman William H. Gates gave $20 million to fund a tower of the building bearing his name, and Alexander W. Dreyfoos ’54 donated $15 million for a similar naming opportunity.

Currently, the Dreyfoos Tower is being erected, and exterior brickwork is underway. Utility work such as air handling units, fire protection, and plumbing is also continuing. The Stata Center is scheduled to open in Fall 2003.

Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center

Planning for the Al and Barrie Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center began years ago, with the original seed money an $8 million donation from Albert L. Zesiger ’51 and his wife.

With more varsity sports than any other U.S. university except Harvard -- 41 in total -- MIT is always in need of more and better space for athletics. The “Z-Center,” as it is quickly becoming known, will house an Olympic-size swimming pool, a training pool, and an 11,000 square foot fitness center. In addition, when it opens later this fall, it will feature a 5,000-square foot court facility with volleyball, aerobics, basketball, and six squash courts. The Zesiger Center will also host a 3,700-square foot sports medicine center, administrative offices, and locker rooms.

The building is currently being outfitted with fitness equipment, much of which visible through the windows of the Student Center. Interior finishing work is continuing as well.

Building 18 renovations

Repair work on the east concrete faÇade of the Dreyfus chemistry building (Building 18) continues, adding to the general construction mess on campus.

The building was designed by I.M. Pei ’40, whose works include the Hancock tower, the entrance to the Louvre, and MIT’s own Green Building (Building 54). Building 18 is home to the Department of Chemistry, and the project will renovate laboratories, replace mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire safety systems, and restore the exterior facade. One major change is the increased use of natural light to illuminate lab spaces.

Vassar Street utility work

For all the tilted confusion of the Stata Center and dusty drilling in and around Simmons, perhaps the most intrusive project for many students is the Vassar Street utility work. Vassar is now one-way from Main Street to Massachusetts Avenue, and will be until January. Pedestrians can only use sidewalks on the north side of the street, but access to all buildings on both sides of Vassar is still available.

The work will upgrade the vast array of systems buried beneath Vassar Street, including electricity lines, telecommunications lines, water lines, sewer lines, storm drains, steam pipes, and cooling systems. MIT has undertaken the project in cooperation with the City of Cambridge because of the heavy burden new MIT construction -- Simmons, 70 Pacific Street, and The Warehouse graduate dormitory (Building NW30), not to mention the Stata Center and Zesiger Center -- has placed on local utility lines.

Renovations abound

Aside from the major projects on campus, renovations to Baker House, Building 3, and the Hayden Library are underway. Baker House is having new windows installed as a final phase of the long-running renovations to Alvar Aalto’s modernist masterpiece. Building 3 is having some masonry work done, and the Hayden Library (Building 14S) circulation desk is being renovated and expanded to include the Reserve Book Room collection and 24-hour study space.