At last Thursday's open forum to discuss new student housing, almost 100 MIT students, faculty, staff and alumni/ae heard and discussed "start-up assumptions" for the new undergraduate residence hall and mechanisms for community involvement in the planning process.
The event, sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and the Officer of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education (ODSUE), was the first of a number of planning activities which will take place this fall to elicit broad community input into the organization and design of the new residence.
The undergraduate residence, which will open in 2001 and is MIT's first new undergraduate residence in almost 20 years, is one of a series of improvements to the residential system and to West Campus and surroundings. These improvements include the renovation of Baker House, new graduate and faculty housing, new athletic and recreational facilities, and significant improvements to Vassar Street.
The undergraduate residence will house approximately 300 to 350 undergraduates, said Chancellor Larry Bacow and planning consultant Richard Dober. It will also provide space for a housemaster, associate housemaster and graduate resident advisors, and probably accommodations for guests such as visiting artists and scholars who would enrich community life.
Chancellor Bacow emphasized that a primary goal of the residence is to develop in the building "a community responsive to the recommendations of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning" and "an outstanding example of campus housing at the beginning of the 21st century."
Beyond these basic project assumptions, Mr. Dober noted, lie questions for the community to answer. The "intensive, participatory planning effort" through December 1998 should address such issues as the number and type of rooms, configuration of social spaces, type and design of amenities such as dining and game rooms, and features like courtyards and parking. The architectural design will then evolve over the following year with continued community input.
Mr. Dober described the location of the building in the context of the planned improvements to Vassar Street and other development on the west side of campus. The site, between Vassar Street and the rail corridor across from what is now the Westgate parking lot, is part of what he called "an emerging MIT community" in the neighborhood from West Campus to Fort Washington Park to University Park.
Shaping that community is the planned transformation of Vassar Street into a tree-lined residential boulevard, new athletic facilities and extension the athletic fields westward, and new graduate and faculty housing in the neighborhood. MIT and the City of Cambridge have already agreed to the Vassar Street improvements, which will be completed simultaneously with the new residence hall.
In addition, new MBTA light rail service under the existing rail corridor is being planned. The Urban Ring Circumferential Transit System will provide cross-town public transportation, with proposed stations near Fort Washington Park, at Massachusetts Avenue and at Kendell Square. According to MIT Director of Planning Robert Simha, while the service may be some 15 years off, critical decisions are now being finalized related to route and station locations and transportation technology.
In a spirited session following the presentation, many of those in attendance offered their suggestions and asked detailed questions about the design and organization of the residence. Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind Williams and Chancellor Bacow reiterated their commitment to a consensus-building process open to everyone through small group meetings, on-line discussion forums and public meetings. A web site with current information on the planning of the residence, a calendar of events and discussion forums is at http://web.mit.edu/buildings/residence2001>.
After the initial planning phase, they noted, a smaller group of student and faculty "founders" would be assembled to design the programs, organization, and governance for the new residence as well as provide input during design and construction.
"Over time the planning process should become a settlement process, as people who get involved develop a sense of ownership of the building," Dean Williams said. Chencellor Bacow concurred, and closed the session by inviting the entire community to take advantage of the "opportunity to do something tremendously important to the future of MIT."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 30, 1998.