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Baker House community spirit marks celebration for renovated dorm

The party to celebrate the restoration and renovation of Baker House, Alvar Aalto's wave-shaped dormitory built in 1949, offered attendees a chance to form a version of the free-flowing yet intimate community the Finnish architect sought to foster in his building design.

The event -- attended by students, former Baker House residents, and faculty, administration and renovation team members, including architects and donors -- began with student-led tours of the dormitory. It culminated in remarks by President Charles M. Vest, Baker housemaster and Associate Professor William B. Watson, former Baker House resident Mark Gorenberg (SB 1976) and Nicole Balli, the current president of Baker House and a senior in civil engineering.

The speaker portion of the event was held on the stairway rising from the dining room. It was illuminated directly by new fixtures and indirectly by Aalto's ingenious Moon Garden.

"This restoration offers a visible reminder that we have recommitted ourselves to enhancing the MIT undergraduate experience and to meeting our responsibility to bring architectural excellence and adventure to elements of our campus that will rise in the opening years of the new century," said President Vest.

He acknowledged the "hard work, dedication, creativity and generosity" of those who contributed to the Baker House restoration project, beginning with former Senior Vice President Emeritus William Dickson, "who moved this project to the head of the queue and convinced me -- easily, I might add -- that it belonged there."

President Vest thanked Housemasters Watson and Myra Harrison, a number of former Baker residents (including Adam London, SB 1995, who represented the student client teams) and the "terrific trio" who led the design and construction work. This team included Susan Personette, senior project manager in the Department of Facilities, who "saw that everything got done right, on budget and on time;" architect David Fixler of Perry Dean Rogers & Partners, the firm's director of historic preservation; and project executive Tom Comeau, vice president of Kennedy & Rossi, contractors.

Professor Watson welcomed the festive crowd and gave a brief history of the renovation project. At one point, when concern about the poor condition of student furniture was running high, "we could have bought regular furniture, but that would have been sacreligious," he said.

He also expressed gratitude to the "hundreds of workers who came to this building in the heat of summer. I wish they were here tonight to see the magnificent outcome of their work!"

Mr. Gorenberg returned last summer to visit Baker House and found it "felt like home again," despite the grime and rubble of construction.

"Baker House is a special place in a special place," he said, reminiscing about his role on the social com-mittee and about "roof parties, piano drop parties, elevator parties, and Thursday night primal screamings." Noting that his class "followed the Baker House Vietnam protest era and wanted to have fun," Mr. Gorenberg also challenged his generation to stay involved in the stewardship of the building. "Ask yourself: if ex-residents don't give back to Baker House, who will?"

Ms. Balli's comments comprised an enthusiastic endorsement of the restoration and renovation process. "The fabulous outcome far outweighs the details of aggravation. This was a great union between student requests and the original design," she said. She and President Vest unveiled the plaque honoring the rededication.

President Vest also cited the contributions of several donors who "made especially generous gifts" to the restoration campaign: Peter Sexton (SB 1965), who provided support for the First Floor West lounge; Mark and Debbie Gorenberg, who contributed funds for the restoration of the lounge and lobby; and a group of donors from the Classes of 1985-1990 known as the Brockmen, who "gave us the Tom Murray '88 Lounge on Fifth Floor West." The Brockmen were represented by Giovanna Fazzari Casey (SB 1991).

"Not joining us in person, but certainly in spirit, is an anonymous donor, an alumnus who has provided support for the enhancements to Maihaugen Terrace on the rooftop," said President Vest. Each of the donors had a plaque with names inscribed beneath the signature Baker wave shape.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 6, 1999.

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