The University as Patron of Cutting Edge Architecture (Part One)

moderator: Charles M. Vest, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Jane Farver, List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: James S. Ackerman, Harvard University
author: Kimberly Alexander, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Aug. 13, 2010,   recorded: May 2004,   views: 4020

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The opening of The Ray and Maria Stata Center, MIT’s latest innovative building, inspires this panel’s historical review of collegiate architecture projects. James Ackerman provides the longest lens, focusing first on the earliest, national trends, when buildings served as both residences and classrooms. In the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson housed different disciplines in different pavilions. The Gothic style came next, cloisters and all, to promote “monkish learning closed from the community.” Signature buildings started popping up in the late 19th and 20th centuries, driven by “the patron demanding distinction rather than blending in.” Kimberly Alexander notes that throughout MIT’s history, its architecture has always embodied the institute’s mission. On its original Boston campus, the Rogers Building housed the first instructional physics laboratory. Students of this land-grant college were treated to European teachers and their vision. When MIT landed in Cambridge, its classical buildings “embraced new technologies” such as poured concrete and factory sash windows. After World War 2, the campus welcomed projects by international stars Eero Saarinen, Alvar Aalto and I.M. Pei (‘40 MIT) to embrace all aspects of community life. Charles Vest describes both the difficulties involved in completing the Stata Center, and the opportunity he saw “to create things of historical importance in the development of MIT”-- buildings that would somehow reflect not just academics and research, but the community itself.

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