Firms vie to design an east MIT gateway
Visions of a livelier Kendall Square
“BUILDING + BUILDING + BUILDING ≠ CAMPUS,” reads the text overlaid across images of Simmons Hall and the Stata Center in a document suggesting that whatever the individual merits of buildings on MIT’s campus, many designed by esteemed architects, they do not form a coherent combination.
MIT has a chance to change that now, at least on the east side of campus. The document, prepared by a faculty design committee led by School of Architecture and Planning Dean Adèle Santos, also presents several visions for MIT’s chunk of Kendall Square, emphasizing open spaces and indoor and outdoor connections between buildings. The different layouts include expansive lawns, or perhaps a “Grand Canopy,” surrounded by a mix of academic buildings and commercial labs to be leased out to companies, some of which may replace existing buildings like Eastgate.
Pamela Delphenich, staff to the design committee, hopes that with a metaphorical eastern “gateway” to MIT, fewer people will ask her where MIT is when she gets out at the Kendall T-stop.
The images produced by the design committee are meant to give direction to the five architecture firms vying to help revamp a 26-acre swath of MIT’s easternmost parts that underwent a major rezoning approved by Cambridge in April. The rezoning allows up to 1.1 million square feet of new development.
The five firms are required to submit proposals to MIT by Aug. 28, according to the request for proposals. Then, in the remainder of the year, the chosen firm and MIT Facilities will flesh out three alternative plans for the development of labs, offices, and retail in the next 10 years and of academic research buildings in the long term.
The process will include four workshops with the MIT community and two with Cambridge residents.
The plans will have to balance many competing interests in the space MIT has to work with, and the design committee certainly doesn’t have all the answers yet.
Commercial buildings and lab space will both bring in tens of millions of dollars each year to MIT and contribute to Kendall’s “innovation cluster,” which already includes big names like Microsoft and Novartis as well as dozens of tech and biotech companies, executives of MIT have argued. Others want the valuable space to be saved for new academic facilities MIT might need in the future.
“Active streetscapes,” with “basic retail services and places to entertain, meet, and assemble,” as the design committee puts it, are another goal of the Kendall initiative, which must, in addition, take into account the city’s concerns about preserving what have been classified as historical buildings, such as the MIT Press building. Employees in the area will still need someplace to park after the existing lots are gone (underground garages are expected). And minimum square footages for low- and middle-income housing found their way into the zoning ordinance, but some have pushed for more graduate housing in particular.
A group studying the housing needs of MIT’s graduate students is expected to announce their findings in October, according to urban studies professor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, who chairs the group.
Delphenich said that the campus layouts produced by the design committee in their document were just possibilities for what MIT might look like in 30 years, and that they do not necessarily meet all of the requirements of the zoning ordinance, though they do fall within overall density limits.
It will be up to the chosen design firm and an MIT working committee to take into account zoning requirements, financial feasibility, local traffic, Clay’s housing study, and community input.