A daring and elegant structure, MIT’s Kresge Auditorium was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed the MIT Chapel. In the six decades following the May 1955 dedication and opening of both buildings, Kresge has provided the campus and community with a valuable gathering space.
In February, a substantial restoration of Kresge commenced as part of MIT’s Capital Renewal Program. The project’s overarching goals are to replace aging equipment and systems, renew and upgrade key building elements, and improve visitor comfort. The target completion date for the restoration is April 2016, and the building will remain open during nearly all of the work.
Shared by the community
As a well-loved and active gathering space, Kresge plays an important role at MIT, providing a welcoming forum that brings together diverse people and groups to share ideas, art, and experiences.
Kresge provides performance facilities, and practice and classroom space for MIT Music and Theater Arts programs. The auditorium is also a venue for the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and the New England Philharmonic. In addition, the building serves as a space for MIT events, symposia, student performances, and other community activities. The main concert hall can seat more than 1,200 people, and the lower level contains a smaller theater, two rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, and offices.
In recent years, people have gathered at Kresge to explore ethics with the Dalai Lama (2014), discuss architecture with Pritzker Prize Laureate Toyo Ito (2013), and listen to President Barack Obama speak about clean energy (2009). They've also attended free Science on Saturday presentations for K-12 students, and enjoyed Beethoven's music performed by the MIT Symphony Orchestra. Whether serving as a location for a lively student dance production, a celebration of a beloved faculty member’s life, or the launch of MIT’s annual Mystery Hunt, Kresge has been a valued community resource.
Renovation project manager Brian Healy is taking steps to be sensitive to Kresge's users and visitors during the restoration. “We have been meeting with constituent groups to talk about how the project will impact them,” Healy says, “and we will do our best to be responsive to their needs.”
Restoring an iconic building
A notable mid-20th century architectural achievement, Kresge — which draws visitors from all around the world — was one of the first large-scale buildings in the United States to employ thin-shell concrete technology. Its restoration will be managed carefully to maintain its landmark features and architectural integrity.
Rising to a height of 50 feet and supported by just three primary footings, Kresge's distinctive dome is one-eighth a sphere in shape and weighs 1,200 tons. The reinforced concrete roof varies in thickness from 3 to 7 inches, and encloses approximately one-half an acre of space. Beneath the dome’s curving sides, the structure is completed with sheer glass curtainwalls.
“Kresge is an early Saarinen creation, and it is informative of his later work,” says Gary Tondorf-Dick, a program manager in MIT’s Department of Facilities. "It is seminal in that respect, which makes this a high value restoration.”
According to Tondorf-Dick, the team working on Kresge possesses special expertise in historic restoration and flexible problem solving. “With a building such as this,” he says, “you want a team that can adjust and cope with any issues they discover — and that’s the team we have.”
Healy says his plans include taking measures to mitigate temporary changes in the iconic building’s appearance. “We are exploring options for maintaining the visual appeal where we can,” he says. “We are also considering ways to embed information for visitors, such as using a temporary interior wall to hold posters that would explain Kresge’s history and outline the steps we are taking to preserve this exceptional space for the community.”
Improved experience, greater efficiency
While Kresge's appearance will be carefully preserved and maintained, the management and efficiency of its systems will be much improved. The building will also achieve greater energy conservation and efficiency through new mechanical equipment, new lighting, water-saving bathroom fixtures, and curtainwall materials that offer more thermal protection.
Exterior work will include:
- Removing and replacing the brick plaza around the building
- Replacing signature glass curtainwalls
- Structural upgrades and repairs
- New waterproofing measures
- Minor roof repairs
Each step of the process will involve meticulous planning and multiple design exercises. For example, the team’s goal when replacing the curtainwalls is to replicate the existing look using the same profiles and sections, but with a different glazing solution. Full laser measurements have been taken, and the team is considering a variety of different materials. The original glass will most likely be replaced by laminated glass, to provide thermal assistance and better safety properties, and the mullion system will be rebuilt in stainless steel, conforming to the original profile and aesthetic, but providing better protection against corrosion.
Inside the building, the restoration team will undertake the complete replacement of all HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) equipment and controls, currently housed in two massive rooms in the basement. In addition to installing new electrical distribution panels, the team will also install a new electronic building-management control system to improve the monitoring and management of mechanical and electrical systems.
Additional interior work will include:
- Renovating and significantly enlarging the two basement-level restrooms, replacing all the fixtures, and nearly doubling the capacity of each facility
- Refinishing the lobby’s brick floor
- Cleaning and modifying existing ductwork and other mechanical components
- Upgrading the existing chair lift
- Upgrading lighting, fire protection, and alarms
- Upgrading accessibility features, including installing new handrails in the main aisles of the auditorium, and cane rails in the lobby to alert sight-impaired users to the location of low hanging beams
According to the current plan, all of the interior spaces in Kresge will be open and available for use during the restoration process, except during an eight-week period this summer (between Commencement and Orientation). The majority of the work will take place overnight, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., with the exception of some outside work that will require daylight.
At times throughout the process, portions of the construction site will be surrounded by protective fencing. The outside brick plaza will not be available for use, but temporary covered walkways will be maintained to allow pedestrian access to the building.
Healy is working closely with building managers, users, and event planners to coordinate activities in the building during construction.
Questions about this project can be directed to Brian Healy at firstname.lastname@example.org.