The Case for Space: A Critical Moment for Investing in MIT’s Campus

“On this one-hundredth anniversary of our campus, we can reflect on and work toward what the campus needs for the next hundred years. ”

Martin A. Schmidt SM '83, PhD '88,   Provost

MIT has always been a prime space for talent. Since it moved from Boston to Cambridge in 1916, the Institute has hosted thousands of the world’s most promising students and its most gifted faculty and researchers, all drawn by the opportunity to work, connect, and live in an exceptional community of peers committed to making the world a better place.

MIT’s mission remains the same today. But the world it strives to serve is vastly changed, with problems and possibilities that original campus architect William Welles Bosworth could never have predicted—despite his foresight, more than a century ago, in designing the Main Group as a series of connected buildings that would facilitate cross-disciplinary activity. We have seen shifts in the ways people create, discover, and interact, and we’ve seen an increase in the pace of change itself.

Now, MIT must consider how its campus will be best poised to meet its future. This is an exciting moment—an opportunity to accommodate the abilities and aspirations of our people today, and to join them in anticipating their needs for tomorrow and beyond. The ambitious MIT Campaign for a Better World includes plans for dozens of new and renovated structures, from cutting-edge laboratory facilities to dynamic residence halls. To help MIT address the world’s most complex problems over the next 100 years, we must reimagine and enhance existing spaces on campus and create new, flexible ones that support our faculty, researchers, and students in every aspect of their lives.

Spaces for Work

“A disease doesn’t know if you’re a biologist, a physicist, or an engineer. And the world of nanotechnology is moving so fast that no single researcher can keep up. ”

Sangeeta Bhatia SM ’93, PhD ’97,   John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Recent decades have seen a dizzying proliferation of new technologies, along with novel applications of existing technologies. They have also seen a transformation in the nature of research and learning. MIT’s people not only think across all scales—from the infinitely small to the awesomely big—but also across disciplines, in both formal and informal spaces. They require more spaces that foster the intermixing of people from diverse disciplines—from biologists and mechanical engineers to computer scientists and economists—and of their ideas, which is the true matrix of innovation. And they require a campus that meets the demands of 21st-century work.

One of the most exciting technologies to dictate change at MIT is nanotechnology—the study and manipulation of materials on an infinitesimally small scale. Research in nanotechnology could power solutions to current and future challenges in computing, health care, energy, manufacturing, construction, and sustainability. MIT is seizing the initiative by building MIT.nano, a new 200,000-square foot center to make, measure, and image materials at the nanoscale in the heart of campus, beside the Great Dome. Slated to open in 2018 and conceived to serve 2,000 researchers, this comprehensive shared laboratory and teaching facility will allow MIT researchers from many science and engineering disciplines to do more of what they do best—to discover astonishing new behaviors in matter, and to invent powerful ways to put those behaviors to work for the global good.

Nanotechnology is not the only research frontier to inspire changes on campus. The Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, America’s oldest university aerospace program, spent much of its existence in a three-story building originally designed for internal combustion research. In fall 2017, along with members of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, AeroAstro and its collection of drones and robots moved back into a vastly expanded space expertly fitted for research in autonomy, turbomachinery, energy storage, and transportation.

Many other MIT programs will benefit from enhanced facilities. Expanded headquarters for MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences will also become the home for the Environmental Solutions Initiative, a cross-disciplinary research project that strives to help humankind adapt to a rapidly changing planet. MIT’s burgeoning theater program—which until recently was scattered across several buildings—now has a dedicated home in Building W97, a 25,000-square-foot performing arts building artfully coaxed out of an industrial warehouse at 345 Vassar Street. The new facility, which opened in fall 2017, contains a 180-seat theater, costume and scene design shops, dressing rooms, and studios for classes that enable experiments with theater technology. MIT is also planning to centralize its thriving music program in a West Campus building. Containing a small performance venue, rehearsal and practice spaces, and administrative offices, the new music building will enable students and faculty to better explore the fertile intersection of music, technology, science, and linguistics.

Undergraduates working in 2.674, the Micro/Nano Engineering Laboratory. MIT now offers the Course 2-A Nanotrack for students who want to combine a foundation in mechanical engineering with emerging fields in micro- and nanotechnology.

In a design studio class, junior Wei Xun He (left) speaks with Teaching Assistant Kathleen Hajash about his prototype for a wearable device that captures a person's motion.

The courtyard of MIT.nano, rising on the former site of Building 12 and just steps away from the Great Dome.
This rendering of the MIT.nano courtyard shows spaces conceived for communicating the power of nano to the public: a Nano Gallery on the first floor and an Innovation Gallery on the second floor.
The 2,000-plus researchers using MIT.nano each year will conduct their work—from imaging to synthesizing to prototyping—entirely within the building’s protective environment, including state-of-the-art cleanrooms such as this one.
The new headquarters for MIT Theater Arts (W97) includes flexible rehearsal rooms.
The scene shop in the recently opened Theater Arts Building (W97) was designed to bring the department’s technical and performance activities under one roof.
A planned addition to Building 54, the headquarters of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), will include gathering spaces (first floor), coworking spaces (second floor), and a new lecture hall (third floor).

Spaces for Connection

“It is our hope that no one who emerges from the T stop at Kendall Square will ever again have to ask where MIT is. ”

Israel Ruiz SM ’01,   Executive Vice President and Treasurer

Set at the eastern edge of our campus, Kendall Square is an increasingly vital part of the MIT ecosystem. Once a desolate tract of empty factories and warehouses, Kendall today is host to a teeming colony of startups, biotech, high-tech, and multinational corporations fueled by their proximity and intrinsic connections to the wildly inventive minds of MIT. This center of innovation helps MIT transform exceptional research into effective services, products, and companies and is an important space for the convergence of academia, industry, and technology.

In the next few years, MIT will deepen its engagement with Kendall Square. Six new MIT buildings will rise there, including a spectacular 29-story tower (making it the tallest building in Cambridge) that will provide 450 housing units for graduate students as well as childcare facilities for the MIT community. Seven years in the planning, MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative also includes dedicated innovation and entrepreneurship co-working spaces and a modernized MIT Admissions Office to welcome the 40,000 visitors who come there each year to explore MIT. And it will create a new home for the MIT Museum, with greatly expanded gallery space, classrooms, and meeting areas where visitors—expected to exceed 250,000 each year—can engage directly with MIT’s ingenious approach to solving global problems. Conceived as the eastern portal to MIT’s campus, the Kendall Square Initiative also includes spaces for retail and restaurants, and ample open spaces for the broader Cambridge community.

MIT is also moving to adapt and amplify connection spaces on campus. We are working to expand our network of makerspaces—with plans for a new makerspace in the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse, the monumental brick landmark on Massachusetts Avenue near the center of campus. To make these spaces more accessible and productive, Martin Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00, recently named MIT’s “Maker Czar,” has developed an app called Mobius that tracks the usage of machines in different makerspaces, coordinates user traffic, and connects MIT students and faculty with the tools they need to build prototypes and models. On the cultural front, Kresge Auditorium—MIT’s largest, most central meeting place, which hosts more than 100 major events per year—has recently undergone a comprehensive restoration. Architect Eero Saarinen’s celebrated minimalist structure is now even better equipped as a space for students, faculty, and staff to connect with each other, and with the surrounding community.

The new Kendall Square will include plentiful open space where the community can gather (shown here, a rendering looking northwest toward the Marriott Hotel and the COOP).
Rendering of the south view of the Kendall MBTA station on Main Street.
The fourth-floor commons and kitchen in the soon-to-rise graduate tower (E37). See “Spaces for Living,” below, for more renderings of the new graduate residence in Kendall Square.
A rendering of the new Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub (E38) in Kendall Square shows a prototyping room on the third floor.
A gallery view of the new MIT Museum in Kendall Square.
The lobby of the new MIT Museum in Kendall Square, which is expected to host a quarter of a million visitors each year.
Architect Eero Saarinen’s celebrated minimalist Kresge Auditorium, MIT’s most central meeting place, recently underwent a comprehensive restoration.

Spaces for Living

“We are investing in the buildings that can sustain MIT’s phenomenal residential system. ”

Suzy Nelson,   Vice President and Dean for Student Life

Part brain trust, part support system, MIT residence halls have a profound effect on student wellness and success. Far more than an amalgam of bedrooms, study rooms, and activity spaces, these living communities are stimulating and familiar places where students return to unwind, to process what they’ve learned, and to share it with their peers. Such vibrant living spaces offer graduate students and undergraduates opportunities for growth and engagement available nowhere else on campus. They enable residents to get to know other students, as well as faculty and staff, from a range of disciplines and backgrounds; and they help them learn to lead, through residence hall governance and in building community.

For MIT’s graduate students, residence halls—with their active social and cultural programming—are a particularly valuable way to weave oneself more tightly into the fabric of MIT. For students with families, these buildings can become a nexus of academic and home life within a mutually supportive network of other parents, amid activities ranging from potlucks to playgroups. Those who move into the new graduate tower soon to rise in Kendall Square (see above) will find themselves in an ideal location: combining the living space, amenities, and common areas they require with immediate access to all the energy and opportunities of a neighborhood that has been called “the most innovative square mile on the planet.”


As for MIT’s undergraduates, the vast majority live in residence halls for all four years—and 40% remain in the same community they lived in their first year. These spaces promote and foster some of the strongest bonds they will experience at MIT, forged as they cook Thanksgiving dinner together in the kitchen, form impromptu p-set study groups, or rehearse full-length musical productions in the lounge.

With the value of these interactions in mind, MIT is planning and creating living spaces on campus for current and future undergraduates. Some of these plans are already in motion at New House (W70), where renovations began in summer 2017; the work includes new common spaces and the installation of a central corridor on each floor to connect the nine communities that live in the six-building complex. Plans have been drafted for a new 450-bed residence hall on the site of the West Garage parking facility on Vassar Street (W45) that will bring more students closer to the center of campus. Scheduled for completion in 2020, the Vassar Street residence will also create housing capacity that will enable future renovations to existing undergraduate residences.

Renovations on the undergraduate residence New House (W70) began in summer 2017. This rendering shows how the finished project will look from Amherst Alley.
A Central Arcade and game room will enliven the first floor of the renovated New House.
The bright lobby of the renovated New House will provide students with a gathering place and lead directly into a central corridor.
The first floor of New House will also include a computer room and makerspace.
The new graduate tower in Kendall Square (E37) will include studio units.
Two-bedroom units in the E37 tower in Kendall will provide new housing options for graduate students with families.

Current Capital Projects

The success of MIT’s mission today depends on the quality of the spaces where our community can work, connect, and live. We have attracted some of the world’s most fertile and nimble minds to campus—people who bring with them a boundless enthusiasm for problem solving and a deep dedication to “mens et manus.” For this next century, now is the time to reinvest in a campus that will galvanize, in facilities that will energize, and in spaces that will ensure that MIT continues to lead in creating and sharing the solutions that will make our world a better place.

To learn more about individual projects, including how to help MIT invest in these spaces, contact Julia Topalian at topalian@mit.edu or 617.324.7580.