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Glass, Bricks, and Angles: The Tech Previews the Stata Center

By JuliÁn E. Villarreal


Being a freshman, I have only recently been introduced to the eclectic architecture of the MIT campus. As I looked up at the partially-completed Ray and Maria Stata Center, I realized that “eclectic” was too inadequate a word to describe the enormity of this building that filled my field of vision.

The first question that popped into my mind as I stood outside, surrounded by disassembled scaffolding was, “Where’s the front door?” As I soon discovered, the answer wasn’t obvious.

With help from my tour guide, Christopher J. Terman, ’78 a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the layout of the Frank O. Gehry-designed edifice began to make some sense.

Part of the main entrance is flanked by a large retention pond designed to capture run-off water. When completed, the Stata Center will connect to the Alumni Pool and house a fitness facility.

With the future fitness area to my left, I entered the heart of the Stata Center’s ground level, a long, meandering corridor, called “Student Street.” The corridor is spacious and designed to be a public area equipped with chairs and tables.

“There’s a lot of hang-out space here,” said Provost Robert A. Brown. He said that when finished, the artery would be fifteen times the size of Lobby 10, and will extend from Vassar Steet to the Building 68 parking lot.

Technology-filled classroom space

I was then led to one of two experimental, 90-seat, tiered classrooms, adjacent to the main corridor. The classrooms’ desks have been designed to accommodate laptops and have walls outfitted with cameras for, as Terman called them, “long-distance” lectures. This technology enables joint lectures for the Singapore-MIT Alliance and the Cambridge-MIT Institute.

Other classrooms in the Stata Center have ceiling grids that are structured to allow the use and reconfiguration of multimedia technology. Terman said the classrooms were designed to make “chalk-talk” lectures a thing of the past. Also, all the Stata Center classrooms have natural lighting primarily from ceiling skylights.

We then proceeded to survey the cavernous 350-seat auditorium. Terman said that it is similar to other MIT lecture halls like 26-100, but the seats are built on a steeper incline to make the speaker and presentation displays more visible to all audience members.

As I walked along the central corridor towards the Vassar St. entrance, Terman pointed out the child-care center that will accommodate children from ages six weeks to three years. Terman said that it was not included in the original design, but space in the floor plan became available and the facility was added.

The Two Towers

According to Terman, the Stata Center’s two towers will be home to the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy.

The two prominent towers are named after two major donors, William H. Gates and Alexander Dreyfoos ’54.

As we walked through the research space of one of the towers, Brown directed my attention to the floor, which is elevated and can accommodate wiring in addition to being “modular and flexible.” Terman said that the space follows a “hub-and-spoke” system that will allow for an open working environment while at the same time keeping people just passing through away from the work area. The elevator and lobby area comprises the hub, with the offices fanning out from it.

Jones said that one of the requirements for the space was to have “a lot of natural light” so most of the offices have windows.

“We didn’t want any caves,” Brown said.

Dining focuses on community

As we continued touring, my guides and I scaled the uniquely-designed staircase that leads to the fourth level of the 430,000-square feet structure.

The fourth level will house the faculty lunch room and pub, which prominently jut out from the building along Vassar St. side. The 100-seat, two-level area is part of the Stata dining facilities that will replace Walker dining.

Adjacent to the fourth level are three large seminar rooms that enclose the large third-level terrace. Out on the terrace, I began to get a sense of what Terman and Brown described as the “village effect” that Gehry intended to create. As I looked up, I saw the other parts of the building around me, like houses in a village.

In the other tower, Terman pointed out the steel shingles, glass walls, and yellow aluminum siding that enclose or cover portions of the building. Brown also pointed out the “kiva,” a 100-seat conference room that will be covered in wood when completed.

As we stood outside the Stata Center in the exact spot where we had begun the tour, Brown said, “It’s uniquely MIT.”

Indeed, the Stata Center’s “unique charm,” as Brown called it, may very well endear it to the MIT community.

The Stata Center is slated to open in Spring 2004, according to the MIT construction Web site.