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Thread: MIT and Gehry's Stata Center [Broadband Recommended - Lots of Images]

  1. #1
          ablarc's avatar
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    MIT and Gehry's Stata Center [Broadband Recommended - Lots of Images]

    M.I.T. AND FRANK GEHRY’S STATA CENTER



    M.I.T. is a pretty ugly place.

    This is not for lack of big name architects. The great galumphing campus with its plethora of domes and megastructure buildings was first conceived by William Welles Bosworth in a style reminiscent of McKim, Mead and White on a bad day. Since then, such luminaries as Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen, Eduardo Catalano, I.M. Pei, Hugh Stubbins, Jose Luis Sert, Stephen Holl and others have added well-known and expensive buildings to no avail; the campus is still ugly as sin.

    The fault must lie with the client: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This great institution may teach architecture but it has never itself mastered its practice.

    For starters, it doesn’t seem able or willing to keep its surroundings in order. Such simple matters as picking up litter seem beyond its capabilities. Approaching from the northwest via Massachusetts Avenue is a truly dismaying experience. You will be greeted by seedy parking lots, bedraggled remnants of an industrial district, and on one side, not even a sidewalk:



    Industrial buildings are taken over by M.I.T. for its own quasi-industrial purposes, such as laboratories, but their effects on the townscape are not mitigated. Then they are often demolished for parking lots until-- sometimes decades later-- they are replaced by purpose-built M.I.T. buildings, often every bit as ugly and hostile as the former factories.

    How’s this for a gateway to a major university?:



    Looking west along what one hopes will eventually be a light rail line, a motley crew of grotesque structures makes no effort to be clean—let alone attractive. Looming at far left is Stephen Holl’s shockingly pretentious and misshapen new dormitory:



    Widely published by an architectural press that thrives on weirdness, this building is forbidding, scaleless, pretentious, ugly and unloved. On top of this, it was quite expensive. Its principal virtue is its newness. After this wears off it will have no virtues. Parking lots and visual chaos:



    Veering east off Massachusetts Avenue, Vassar Street has been selected by the Institute’s insight-challenged planners as the campus “Main Street”:



    Freshly rebuilt (couldn’t you tell?), this will be a Main Street without shops, without visual interest or transparent street walls. It will, however, boast a bicycle path:





    And it will have little suburban areas of plants fighting their way through the bark chips and the Dixie cups:



    It will also be well-supplied with service entrances and chipped concrete:





    Dull, grungy and old factory buildings sprout sympathetic additions that are dull, grungy and new. Look at that relationship to the sidewalk:



    Grim, dull, barren, sterile. T’ain’t fit out for man nor beast:









    Over the years, I have come to conclude that graffiti is a form of architectural criticism, direct and perceptive:



    Angles might liven things up a bit:



    This dreary townscape’s next building also believes in angles…



    …but with more conviction. If one or two angles are good, dozens of angles must be better. And you know what, he’s right!!!



    Even if the angles doubled the budget.



    It is better!!...as sculpture!!!



    It looks so fresh and new and exciting, even if the workmanship is bad:



    But is it better urbanistically?



    Or is it in fact exactly the same as its neighbors?



    Same buffered relationship to the street, same berm landscaping, same lack of ground floor retail. Fortress Gehry:



    Occupied sculpture. Just like CityHall or the State Services Building. Or the Carpenter Center.



    It looks so fresh and new, but it will age even worse than the buildings mentioned above. The metal will lose its luster, the seams will get bigger, dents will appear, and with M.I.T.’s idea of maintenance, the buildings will be allowed to get dirty.



    That white substance on the brick is called efflorescence. It is a calcium salt, and it comes from within the brick wall—carried to the surface by water that has entered the brick wall through the sculpturally desirable but technologically wrong ledge just above. This is the result of the architect’s desire to maintain pure sculptural form free of references to the details of waterproofing a building to make it last, such as flashing, coping or sills. The windows also have horizontal ledges in place of sills, and water is entering the wall there, too, as you can see. This building will be retrofitted in a few years when it gets really decrepit-looking, and it will emerge looking less like sculpture. The grudging control joints in the brick already work subtly to rob the building of abstraction:









    Urban Design?





    ”Damn!” he expostulated, “my camera batteries are out of juice.”

    And there isn’t a store in sight.

  2. #2
    Those angles are horrific, evrything is bland. This has to be MIT academic architects at work. MIT student body is pretty low (I think) so it seems integrating the school with the community in terms of a design standard shouldn't be that hard. I'm thinking continuity, not over regulating. I've never been so I don't know how dense the area is or what the uses are, residential, industrial, ??. It's raunchy design. In the picture just above, was the red brick building built long before the fancy stuff surrounding it?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    That is awful. Maybe they should let the students do design on a project. Couldn't be any worse. The buidlings don't relate to their surrounding space The architect, civil engineer, landscape architect, or campus planning people should re-evaluate their methods. The scope should include more than a 5' building envelope.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ChevyChaseDC's avatar
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    I walked around the MIT campus last Thanksgiving, when most students were gone (except for a few die-hards I saw through a classroom window dutifully writing equations on a chalkboard). These photos capture the campus very well - dull, utilitarian, sometimes downright ugly (I dislike Gehry's self-indulgent cartoon architecture, and this may be its worst application to date).

    MIT's planning department, ranked among the best in the U.S., would be well-served to emerge from its ivory-tower cloisters and work on fixing its own corner of Cambridge, Mass!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Achernar's avatar
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    I enjoy your posts, ablarc. Finally one I can respond to! I agree that MIT tends to place much less emphasis on aesthetics than pretty much anyone else. The University Park area especially is nothing to put on postcards. But it's not as bad as you suggest, and it's not as simple as their being in an oblivious ivory tower. Most universities pride themselves on looking exactly like every other university. So MIT allows the architects to get away with stuff they'll never get away with anywhere else. If not there, where? I think there's probably a fine line between innovative and bizarre.
    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Widely published by an architectural press that thrives on weirdness, this building is forbidding, scaleless, pretentious, ugly and unloved. On top of this, it was quite expensive. Its principal virtue is its newness. After this wears off it will have no virtues. Parking lots and visual chaos:
    I would say its principal virtue is its uniqueness. I know you can claim it's ugly, but you'd have a hard time claiming it's not eye-catching. When people visit MIT, they don't want to see Killian Court or the standard, bucolic Memorial Drive stretch. They want to see something distinctly MIT.
    Veering east off Massachusetts Avenue, Vassar Street has been selected by the Institute’s insight-challenged planners as the campus “Main Street”:
    I'm not sure why you think this is the campus "Main Street", as opposed to Massachusetts Avenue or even, well, Main Street. I know that they're putting a lot of work and hype into the renovation of the "Vassar Streetscape", but of course they have to talk it up, to make people put up with the construction.
    ”Damn!” he expostulated, “my camera batteries are out of juice.”

    And there isn’t a store in sight.
    That's too bad you couldn't find one. If you'd turned around you would have been on Main Street. Kendall Square is just a block down the road.

  6. #6
          ablarc's avatar
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    "In the picture just above, was the red brick building built long before the fancy stuff surrounding it?"

    Irish One, the red brick building is part of the fancy stuff. It is brand new, not a separate building. It is there to act as a foil. It is the bed of iceberg for the shrimp cocktail.

  7. #7
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