MIT has entered into discussions with Frank O. Gehry and Associates as the architect of choice for the replacement of Building 20 with what will be one of the world's leading centers of research and teaching in computer science, artificial intelligence, information science and related fields.
Mr. Gehry has received worldwide acclaim for his design of the sculptural, titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, completed in 1997. Other well-known designs of his include the American Center in Paris, the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "His buildings are among the most profound and brilliant works of architecture of our time," New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote.
President Charles Vest commented, "This is an exciting opportunity to engage Frank Gehry, a truly world-class architect and thinker, to work with MIT faculty to create the best possible facility for carrying out learning and research about computer, information and intelligence sciences.
"These fields will continue to evolve as a central force in society in the coming century, and MIT intends to remain at the leading edge of these developments. Frank Gehry, working with us, will meet the challenge of integrating our vision of this future into the design of a vibrant and effective working and learning space in the heart of our campus," Dr. Vest said.
The announcement marked the conclusion of an extensive six-month search process by a special MIT committee and leaders of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), the Laboratory for Computer Science and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Mr. Gehry, noted for his innovative use of high-tech materials and computer-aided design, has not designed a new structure in the Boston area. His lone Boston landmark is a redesign project in which he collaborated with a local architectural firm, Schwartz/Silver, on what is now the Tower Records Building at the corner of Newbury Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston.
The 300,000-plus-square-foot MIT project, to be named for Ray and Maria Stata, will unite the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with the Laboratory for Computer Science, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems. The complex will also provide space for linguists, cognitive scientists and others who work extensively with computing.
The structure will be adjacent to Building 36, the home of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, which grew out of the Radiation Laboratory. The "Radlab" occupied Building 20 during the latter part of World War II to develop the many versions of radar used by the US and its allies to help win the war. The complex will also be near Building 38, the home of EECS.
It will be the first time all these related fields will be able to come together in one place, and Dean of Engineering Robert A. Brown sees the complex as an extraordinary incubator for innovation and inventions to emerge as researchers, teachers and students sit down to discuss ideas over lunch or coffee.
"This complex of buildings is an incredible opportunity for MIT to bring together the faculty and students of the EECS department and to shape the physical structure of information science and technology in engineering for decades at MIT," Dean Brown said. "It's exciting to be working with Frank Gehry on this project because he will bring his enormous creative energy to bear on the challenge of creating the environment for faculty and students working at the frontier of information technology."
Mr. Gehry, design principal of his firm, is noted for his innovative use of interior spaces to make buildings lively, interesting places.
Professor John Guttag, EECS associate department head for computer science and engineering, was one of the faculty members who visited Mr. Gehry's office in California. He said he was impressed with Mr. Gehry's extensive model-making methods for determining how a building should go together. "As I walked around the offices of Frank O. Gehry and Associates, I was reminded of a laboratory at MIT," he said. "There were lots of enthusiastic young people working out design problems using a variety of models. This model-intensive approach provides tangible representations of different options and helps facilitate client-architect interaction."
"Gehry seems particularly appropriate for a building that is to house a collection of inventive, future-oriented laboratories and departments," said William J. Mitchell, dean of the School of Architecture. "In a great many important ways, his architecture is vividly representative of what MIT is all about."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 28, 1998.