As work on west campus residential planning continues, a committee of students, faculty, and staff formed by Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson has released a document with academic, social, and dining ideals for future residence halls. Since August, the Architectural Principles for MIT Undergraduate Residences Committee has been synthesizing information from various sources — including MIT reports and surveys, regulations, and industry standards — and gathering community feedback in order to develop a roadmap for the design, construction, and programming of new undergraduate residence halls.
“I am grateful for the contributions of everyone who took part in this process,” Nelson said. “Typically documents like this take much longer than three months to complete, but everyone committed themselves to reviewing MIT’s existing extensive research, gathering new input from our community, and sharing what they learned. The result of this hard work is a solid set of recommendations aimed at ensuring that new dorms support a vibrant student life and learning experience.”
The compressed timeframe was possible, in part, thanks to the conceptual work done for the Metropolitan Warehouse project. Additionally, the committee reviewed freshman housing surveys, a 2015 housing capacity review, and input from the Student Housing Advisory Council convened by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart in 2015 to establish ideals for future MIT campus housing.
Individual committee members met with upward of 10 separate stakeholder groups — such as heads of houses, the Office of Sustainability, and Dean of Undergraduate Education Dennis Freeman — to gather input on the existing research and their suggestions on what would make for an ideal residence hall. Additionally, student members of the committee shared insights and ideas submitted by about 100 students across campus.
The resulting architectural principles are just that: concepts to guide the design of an ideal residence hall. It is possible, however, that some principles will be adapted out of necessity as architects begin to work on schematic designs. “To get the most out of the space being designed, architects may have to make some changes,” Nelson said. “For example, the committee recommended that the building contain only double and single rooms. But, it’s possible that a particular space would be used more efficiently as a triple.”
Some key recommendations in the document included designing residence halls around a “cluster” of 30 students and one graduate resident tutor in a mix of single rooms, double rooms, and shared space. Additionally, “critical paths” — or the path each resident must take to get to their room — should be considered when creating community-building spaces such as artist studios, fitness areas, lounges, and multi-purpose rooms. The committee recommended that a limited number of community-building spaces be “hard-coded” for specific purposes, leaving them available for a wide range of uses, from social events to academic gatherings.
Another major topic is dining, and how eating together is a central aspect of the student residential experience. The document offers principles for both dining- and cook-for-yourself communities. The committee also voiced a desire for building “country” kitchens in each dormitory that would allow students to prepare a meal for a larger group of friends or to take a cooking class. The Architectural Principles do not suggest which new residences should incorporate a dining hall. “That decision was outside the scope of our work, and will be considered by subsequent groups as we go through the design and development process,” Nelson said.
The document covers many other topics, including makerspaces, entryways, staff spaces, and sustainability. The latter is especially important given MIT’s pledge to create sustainable, high-performance buildings and responsible site strategies.
The next phase will utilize these architectural principles in testing design ideas. A new residences working group that includes students, faculty, and staff is being formed by the Office of Campus Planning to work with architects to see how buildings that meet these principles will fit in locations on west campus. “Facility planners and architects will use this document to create a detailed space plan,” said Dennis Swinford, director of campus planning. “Then with this plan, conceptual design options incorporating key physical attributes and regulatory requirements are created to fit potential building sites.” That work is expected to take an additional three months, after which the detailed space plan and preferred architectural concept is handed off to the building architects to continue the design process and prepare for construction.