MIT: Designing a Campus for the Twenty-First
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007
153 pp., illus. 83 b/w, 125 col., Trade,
ISBN-13: 978-0-262-13479-8, ISBN-10: 0-262-13479-9.
Reviewed by Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou,
London W14 0AU
Mitchell presents an in-depth, critical
account not only of the outcomes but also
of the complex processes, debates, ideologies,
and aims of the highly ambitious MIT building
programme during the 1990s and 2000s.
The outcomes of this programme are Kevin
Roches Zesiger Sports & Fitness
Center, Steven Holls Simmons Hall,
Frank Gehrys Stata Center, Charles
Correa's Brain & Cognitive Sciences
Complex, and Fumihiko Makis unrealised
design for the Media Laboratory. Mitchell
also introduces the context of such dynamic
architectural growth through methodically
presenting the evolving and highly complex
discourses on the notion of the "American
Campus" (p. 2) since the 1800s and the
overall development of the MIT campus
since the early 1900s.
Imagining MIT is highly recommended
to those interested in gaining invaluable
insights into the history and vision of
MIT, the real-time planning and management
of university campuses, the conceptual
and cultural frameworks of research universities
growth, architectural creation and construction,
innovation, meaning and site-specificity
Mitchell succeeds in presenting an
in-depth, behind-the-scenes review of
the MIT building programme, as he has
served as the A.W.Dreyfoos Professor of
Architecture, Media Arts & Sciences
and the architectural adviser to MIT president
Charles Vest (who has written the "Afterword"
to Imagining MIT and has researched
the development of the US research universities).
Mitchell reveals the complexity of the
multi-layered arguments and realities
that drive the MIT building programme
of the 1990s and 2000s. He exposes the
productive tensions and the non-linear
processes of realising the programme,
the opportunities, risks, cultural concerns,
unsettling re-evaluation of strategies
and priorities, the responses to the programme
by the architects, governors, sponsors,
academic staff, students and the public.
The purpose of the programme
has been the invention of new architectural
types for representing the core values
of MIT. These values and priorities include
MITs internationally acclaimed excellence
and leadership of innovative research,
enhancing the sense of community among
students and staff (as contrasted to distant
learning), and supporting the emerging
types of research across information technology,
brain and cognitive sciences, engineering,
communication, architecture, design and
art. Important changes to the MIT campus
have been introduced by the modernist
architects Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen,
through their much-debated, anti-pragmatic
and anti-classical designs for "inverting"
the traditional types of campuses (p.
29), and by Gehrys and Holls
innovative designs that reflect the changing
values of MIT in relation to emerging
research and cultural conditions and the
1990s growth of information technology.
Most importantly, Mitchell stresses the
advantages of "real-time planning strategies"
as the "art of the not obviously possible"
(p. 121) which has enabled the realisation
of the MITs building programme.
"Real-time planning" supports
a " precarious balance of co-operation
and conflict" (p. 122) necessary
for creatively supporting MITs current
& future growth, through taking advantage
of emerging conditions, enabling "architectural
distinction" (p. 120), and new notions
of site-specificity through responding
to the existing buildings and site.
Mitchell thoroughly explains the ways
in which a new type of architecture is
created for the MITs rapidly expanding
and decentralised campus through destabilising
the assumptions on campus typologies.
Each architect has demonstrated an active,
original and imaginative contribution
to the programme through using the latest
technology. Rigorous consultation with
staff and students has been essential
for realising this programme, as can be
seen in Gehrys project. The resulting
buildings have ambiguous and permeable
boundaries with adjustable spaces that
may be transformed by their occupants.
Social spaces are increased, unexpected
encounters with researchers and the public
are encouraged for making research visible
and fostering new collaborations. The
MIT Media Lab is created primarily for
"complementing" the specialised research
of MIT (p. 102) through enabling cross-disciplinary
research that involves visual art and
other creative disciplines, and
expanding the development of successful
existing research areas. Mitchells
review of the Media Lab building project
is particularly revealing of the rapidly
changing conditions and unpredictable
adjustments to the MIT building programme
and research strategy, sponsorships, and
the Media Labs relationship to the
other MIT departments.
Mitchell's significant expertise in urbanism,
city-building, visualisation, digital
technology and methods for architecture,
enables an advanced and comprehensive
review not only of the architectural outcomes
of the MIT building programme but also
of the relationship between contemporary
architectural tools and methods to idea
development, architectural creation and
construction. Mitchells argument
is well-supported by a rich variety of
high-quality illustrations and rare archival
material including images of the MIT campus
since 1910, Aaltos telegram explaining
his rationale, interview extracts,
site-plans, diagrams, massing, shadow
and structural studies, sketches and models.