As one who is particularly fascinated by the synergistic relation between people and architecture (how architecture affects people and how people interpret and affect architecture), I find the plinths in Lobby Seven to be one of the most endearing and defining aspects of MIT. What many may not know is that William Welles Bosworth, the architect of MIT’s main academic buildings, also intended to erect a three-story statue of Minerva in front of Building 10. However, such an enormous idol was vetoed by Richard Maclaurin, President of MIT, during its transition from Boston to Cambridge, and it soon became a running joke between the two (Bosworth was adamant about the Minerva, but President Maclaurin would have none of it). As such, when one enters Killian Court nowadays, he or she is greeted by the overwhelming mass of the buildings themselves, topped by the imposing dome of Barker Library —much more representative symbols of the Institute than a literal and figural (not to mention gargantuan) representation of wisdom.
I should like to think that the reason the Lobby 7 plinths have remained empty to this day stems from President Maclaurin’s vehemence towards Bosworth’s Minerva; namely, that the Institute was conceived, as many affectionately call it, as an “idea factory.” The Infinite Corridor, the tunnel systems, the exposed pipes, and the generally austere and functional nature of MIT’s architecture all stem from this idea that higher education should be productive and not a “collegiate retreat.” MIT has always been about the larger issues and moving forward. In this sense, the buildings should be tools for its inhabitants and stimuli for the production of new ideas, not temples of wisdom.
Thus I find it strange that the current proposal to “fill” Lobby Seven’s plinths has been “enthusiastically received by the administration.” I should like to think that the empty plinths are the most apt symbols of what MIT stands for: its students. On any given day, you will notice students reading, sleeping, waiting for friends, or coding on laptops atop these pedestals. It fills me with great happiness to walk through and see not a dead philosopher or work of abstract art but a real, living student (many times someone I know) atop one of Lobby Seven’s plinths. It makes me feel that MIT is proud enough of its students to let them sit atop the pedestal and greet newcomers and tourists instead of a cold statue of a person who has already been enshrined in the annals of history. It’s these kind of idiosyncrasies that give the Institute its character and distinguishes it from other schools.
This is not to say that I am unappreciative of the Class of 1954’s efforts to contribute to the Institute. Their generosity and willingness to solicit ideas from the current student population are admirable and representative of the kind of consideration, communication, and transparency that ought to be encouraged. I merely recommend that their resources and efforts be directed at other portions of campus in more desperate need of “improvement,” such as the Stratton Student Center.
Ken M. Haggerty is a member of the Class of 2011.