About 200 people joined in a lively ceremony in Kendall Square, Cambridge to break ground for the Institute’s new graduate student residence hall and to take a first look at the Community Art Center’s 400-foot “My Vision Mural” that stretches along Main Street in front of the construction site.
The event was the capstone activity of the Institute’s HUBweek showcase “MIT/Kendall Square: Innovation Playground” — an interactive open house with drone-racing, digital graffiti, LEGO art, virtual reality, a GIF booth, and augmented reality — which drew around 750 thrill-seekers during the course of the day. Now in its third year, HUBweek is a “festival of the future” that celebrates science, art, and technology. MIT is a founding sponsor, along with Harvard University, The Boston Globe, and Massachusetts General Hopsital.
The three components of the day — the groundbreaking, mural installation, and the Innovation Playground — were celebrated together because of their mutual focus on building community, bringing increased vibrancy to Kendall Square, and sharing the broader Cambridge community’s collective story.
Main Street mural
The Community Art Center (CAC), located in The Port neighborhood of Cambridge, runs a Teen Media Program that creates community-sourced public art installations. Previously, MIT has worked with CAC youth on a mural that was displayed at MIT’s construction site for the new Pfizer building at 610 Main Street and is now permanently located at the CAC.
A new 32-panel mural has been installed along Main Street and represents the first phase of the MIT-sponsored multi-year “Creative Current” initiative with the CAC. The joint MIT/CAC effort is designed to build artistic and professional skills in youth and create connections between Port residents, Kendall Square workers, and the MIT community.
MIT is focused on exposing Community Art Center youth to the work of the architectural and construction industries that make projects like the Kendall Square Initiative a reality. At site visits, students met with the architectural firm Perkins and Will, as well as Turner Construction to learn about those professions. In addition, youth visited the “Kendall Square Observatory” at the MIT Media Lab to learn about digital platforms dedicated to urban planning.
CAC Executive Director Eryn Johnson, who described the project in detail and introduced the audience to a young person who shared how the “My Vision Mural” process impacted her, offered her reflections during the program: “We thank MIT for its partnership and collaboration on this project; displaying the installation at such a prominent location in Kendall Square provides our artists with great visibility for their creations and will hopefully generate a lot of community interaction.”
The new MIT graduate student facility — which was designed by the architectural firms Perkins and Will and NADAA and is being built by Turner Construction — will create 450 new graduate student units and is the first of MIT’s Kendall Square projects to begin construction.
“We see the new graduate student residence hall as the anchor of MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative,” observed MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart during the program. “Our residence halls are really unique places. They are so much more than traditional dormitories. They are vibrant living-learning communities where people with diverse backgrounds and cultures come together to solve hard problems, to have fun, to contribute to the world at large and, through that process, forge bonds for life.”
Expected to be completed in 2020, the building will also include makerspace, retail, an innovation and entrepreneurship hub, and space for MIT’s Admissions Office to introduce prospective students and their families to the MIT student life and learning experience — and, like the youth from the Community Art Center — to showcase all that MIT is doing to make a better world. The public spaces at the street level of the building will welcome the broader community to shop, eat, attend events, and participate in innovative programs.
In thanking the many members of the project team, MIT director of construction Richard Amster noted that the multi-faceted facility will serve “the next generation of students, researchers, innovators, alumni, citizens, taxpayers, and residents.” Amster also observed that “visitors arriving on the MBTA will finally know where MIT is.”
MIT Graduate Student Council officer Krithika Ramchander shared her excitement about the new building and thanked the MIT administration for starting its construction before any of the other buildings and for involving graduate students in the planning process. “Kendall Square is a terrific location and the building is beautiful,” she added.
Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons reflected on the event: “This celebration is about positive things happening in our community.”
Regarding the new graduate student housing, she said: “Some of you might not think that’s much of a big deal, but let me tell you why it is. Placing more graduate students in campus housing relieves pressure on the housing market in Cambridge. That’s good for everyone. Thank you to MIT.”
The mayor also praised the mural project: “The youth from the Community Art Center have created another stunning work of art, and a good citizen of Cambridge — MIT — has brought the teens’ work out into the public to showcase their hopes, dreams, and desires for the world. Your work is creative, strong, inspiring, and impactful.”
Since the groundbreaking event took place across the street from where the new residence hall is being built, dirt was brought in from the actual site for the ceremonial shoveling — and the shovels and construction hats were all decorated by youth from the CAC’s Teen Media Program.
“I like the synergy,” Simmons concluded.