Living in the Stata

“The Ray and Maria Stata Center [comprised of the Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. and the William H. Gates Buildings] is at first sight astonishing. The design includes few rectangles and predictable shapes.”

So begins the comprehensive report put together by Chris Terman, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and chair of the Stata Center Client Committee.

On viewing the Stata, more descriptions of its astonishing appearance come to mind: the color inside and out is vibrant, varied and audacious; many walls and windows are offset at non-perpendicular angles; whole sections appear from the outside to be toppling to the street. Nothing is predictable. How did this happen and how is it working for its users?

“We spend a lot of time here at MIT thinking about things, but it’s seldom about the spaces we occupy,” said Terman. “So when Frank [Gehry] tried to engage the users of the building, we had to scramble a bit to hold up our end of the design conversation. Space—how it shapes what we do and how we feel—suddenly became a hot topic. It was fascinating (and a bit scary at times) to watch the design evolve as Frank and his team worked to respond to our inputs within the constraints of the site, budget, and schedule. It was a lot of hard work, hardly the capricious or whimsical exercise skeptics imagine. The result is literally a remarkable building: everyone who sees it has a remark.”

View of the Stata Center from Vassar Street. Above: Looking east on Vassar from the entrance to the Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. Building; below: the north face of the William H. Gates Building and the (silver colored) section called “Lucky”.

View of the Stata Center from Vassar Street. Above: Looking east on Vassar from the entrance to the Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. Building; below: the north face of the William H. Gates Building and the (silver colored) section called “Lucky”.

Planning for the Stata Center began fifteen years ago when MIT completed the Master Plan for the development of the northeast sector of the campus. The design of the complex was governed by MIT’s major planning principles, which call for buildings that are generous in spirit, have the flexibility to meet the changing needs of an academic environment, and are durable in materials and in assembly. The Stata Center replaces MIT’s Building 20, a “temporary” timber-framed building constructed in World War II to house the Radiation Lab. This “magical incubator” was finally demolished in 1999 to make way for the Stata construction. After a thoughtful and thorough selection process, MIT chose Gehry Partners, LLC in January 1998 to design the new center.

The Stata Center was designed to reflect the advanced nature of the work done within the building by members of the MIT community in the areas of computer science, artificial intelligence, communications, control, linguistics and philosophy. The broader context of the campus’ Northeast Sector and how it would engage the city around it was also considered. The intersection of Main St., Vassar St. and Galileo Way offers the opportunity to create a powerful urban and civic space to serve as the main gateway to campus from Cambridge Center and its retail shops, transportation hub, and high-tech R&D office space. The center was also designed to include materials and features that would qualify it as a “green building.”

“To me, MIT is beautiful. Not beautiful in the sense of homogenous red brick buildings and well-groomed lawns; nor in the sense of a homogeneous, well-groomed student body. Rather, it is a beauty by accident. And the Stata Center fully captures this haphazard beauty — at once, diverse, unrestrained, brilliant and magical. From the swish auditoriums to the perpetually yellow-tinged toilet water, I am privileged to be a resident of this magnificent symbol.” — Guy Weichenberg, graduate student at LIDS working on the 6th floor of the Dreyfoos Tower with Professors Vincent Chan and Muriel Médard.

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