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Building 46 Lights Up the Brain

By Hannah Hsieh

Who knows how the natural lighting, bold colors and bamboo forest of the newly-minted Building 46 will affect the research of MIT’s leading cognitive scientists.

The building, due to receive its new inhabitants beginning next week, will bring together three previously separate groups of researchers into a space designed to facilitate intermingling. The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the Picower Center for Learning and Memory will live under a single roof, creating an intriguing potential for collaboration.

Lost? Just follow the colors

MIT’s newest addition is nearly finished and looks about ready to hit the ground running. Following in the footsteps of my tour guide, Ruth T. Davis, communications manager for Facilities, I first discovered the central hub of the building, a magnificent atrium. Located on the third floor of the main flight of stairs of the Vassar Street entrance, the hub includes two seminar rooms and a conference room that will be shared among the three departments.

The new building has many of the “same qualities as the Stata Center, with space for intermingling,” Davis said.

The atrium leads into a maze of maroon-painted halls, known as the McGovern wing. The entire building is color-coded according to department; the Picower halls are blue, and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences walls are bright orange.

Each wing contains state-of-the-art laboratories, wireless access, conference rooms, student reading rooms, and clinical space. The Brain and Cognitive Sciences classrooms are located on the second floor, although classes will not be held there until later in the semester.

The building is designed in a “racetrack style,” with the halls forming a loop around the building. It was fairly easy to find our way around, and if I were ever to get lost I could just look at the color of the wall.

Glass, anyone?

One of the major aesthetic features of the building is the amount of sunlight flooding through the large windows on every floor. The atrium itself is also bathed in natural light from its glass ceiling, which reaches 90 feet up through the seventh floor.

From a third floor office overlooking Main Street, Davis pointed out that many of the window panes are held together with metal pins. Known as glass fins, this architectural method maximizes the amount of light and avoids the usual large hefty support columns that can obstruct the view.

I was surprised to discover that the new building is also environmentally friendly. The building is equipped with a water recovery system similar to that of the Stata Center, which uses runoff from the roof to supply the toilets.

The building even has its own bamboo and palm tree forest in the conservatory on the fifth and sixth floors that directly faces the Stata Center. Vines will eventually clamber up the vertical cables that line the left wall.

The railroad tracks running through the building are another unique feature, one which posed a real MIT architectural challenge. The architects conducted vibration studies to assure that trains running through the building would not disrupt the laboratories. However, the trains travel so slowly that “when they run through the building, you can walk faster than they go,” Davis said.

The building, which has a capacity of 700 people, was co-designed by Boston’s Goody, Clancy and Associates, which also created MIT’s Building 18. The exterior of the building was designed by Charles Correa Associates; Correa is a professor of architecture here.

The staggered move-in process is slated to begin Sept. 21, with completion of the move expected by the end of October. There will be a formal dedication on Dec. 2, and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences is also holding a symposium on Dec. 1 to celebrate its fortieth year as part of MIT.