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Students sit atop a plinth in the corner of Lobby 7 as pedestrians walk past on Nov. 5. The Class of ’54 will be holding a student contest for designs to sit atop the pedestals, which were left unfinished after Lobby 7 was built in 1939.
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Unnoticed to thousands of students, faculty, and tourists passing through Lobby 7 every day, MIT’s iconic William Bosworth-designed entrance has sat unfinished since its construction in 1939. Now, the Class of 1954 is preparing a student design contest to fill the four bare pedestals in the corners of the lobby.

The competition, which will officially open in May 2010, is open to MIT students and will award prizes of $10,000, $2,500, and $1,000 to the top three designs in both the undergraduate and graduate student categories. A joint venture of the Class of ’54, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the MIT Museum, the contest will be part of the upcoming “MIT 150” anniversary celebrations.

The four plinths were originally intended to support four sculptures of ancient Greek thinkers Aristotle, Ictinus, Archimedes, and Callicrates, but contest organizers are looking for more MIT-centric submissions.

“This is where we can ask the students — after 150 years — what is the Institute?” said Joseph P. Blake ’54 during yesterday’s kickoff meeting of the Design Competition Committee. “The requirements are very simple — we’re not trying to say what [the design] should be or look like, just that it represent MIT’s spirit of ‘Mens et Manus.’”

The competition will be divided into two phases. The preliminary round, stretching from May 7 to November 5, 2010, requires only the submission of concept drawings. A panel of MIT faculty, Class of ’54 representatives, and MIT-affiliated architects will select about 12 finalists, split evenly between undergrad and graduate submissions.

Each finalist will receive a $400 stipend to develop their concept for public display in the Elliot K. Wolk Gallery before the announcement of the three winning designs in each category on April 15, 2011.

According to MIT President Emeritus Paul E. Gray ’54, President of the Class of ‘54, the competition has been enthusiastically received by the administration, but contest organizers stress that there is no guarantee that a winning design will be erected in Lobby 7. Implementing a design would be at the discretion and pocketbook of the Institute.

A primary goal of the competition is engagement of the student body. “This is a competition for MIT students,” says Mark M. Jarzombek PhD ’86, Associate Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “No professional architects, sculptors, Harvard people — just MIT students. That’s what it’s all about.”