The MIT Welcome Center opened this month in Building E38, just steps from the Kendall/MIT MBTA subway station in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visitors and MIT community members can stop by the center for wayfinding and other information about campus and the local area. Later this fall, prospective students and their families can attend in-person information sessions in the center’s 200-seat auditorium, which will also be made available for use by the Cambridge community.
“This open, bright, and welcoming space allows us to craft an even better visit experience for our prospective students and their families,” says Stuart Schmill ’86, dean of admissions and student financial services. “Being in the heart of Kendall Square and sharing the space with MIT InnovationHQ, MIT Open Space Programming team, the Office of Sustainability, and others in E38 will enable visitors to experience the dynamic, open, and community-minded nature of MIT.”
A gift of Tina Moghadam and Hamid Moghadam ’77, SM ’78, the center was originally slated to launch in summer 2020, but the opening was delayed due to the pandemic. The center is the result of an iterative process guided by a working group made up of representatives from across the Institute, including the Innovation Initiative, MIT Admissions, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer (EVPT), Open Space Programming, the Institute Office of Communications, Campus Construction, Campus Planning, Institute Events, the MIT Museum, and the MIT Press.
“It’s exciting to see the center and open space come to life as part of MIT’s Kendall Square gateway,” says EVPT Glen Shor. “Visitors will quickly come to see what MIT is all about, and how to make their way around our vibrant campus.”
“Only at MIT”
In creating the center, a goal was for visitors to know right away they had entered MIT’s campus. The artwork, lighting, and interiors are inspired by the concept of “only at MIT,” evoking MIT’s eclectic culture.
The lobby’s “Welcome Wall” features a photo of MIT’s Great Dome, overlaid by the colorful doodles of artist Lydia Krasilnikova ’14, MEng ’16, who also illustrated the MIT Admissions website and the first-year application.
The first floor’s rotating story wall currently showcases the work of the student group Borderline, which created art representing what it means to be an MIT student. When viewed with the Artive app, the mural is transformed into dynamic, animated images.
Also on display is Arthur Ganson’s delightful kinetic sculpture Margot’s Cat. Stepping on the foot pedal springs the sculpture to life, as a dollhouse-size chair moon-bounces over a cat figurine, evoking the convergence of engineering, creativity, and playfulness—a familiar triad at MIT.
The fabric frieze above the auditorium will soon feature a lighting installation by Soso Limited, an interactive agency founded by MIT alumni, that runs on Processing, a graphical programming language developed by MIT researchers.
And for visitors wanting to snap a photo of their visit to campus, a selfie wall with a three-dimensional MIT sign provides an Instagram-ready backdrop.
A community green space
Beyond the center’s large glass windows are two acres of open space with trees and plantings—a space for visitors to eat lunch, take a break from the urban environment, and enjoy the nature around them.
The area acts as an extension of the Infinite Corridor, connecting Kendall to the rest of campus. “We’ve already seen people running into each other, like they do in the Infinite, exchanging ideas and reconnecting,” explains Jessie Schlosser Smith, director of open space programming.
Since launching the space in August, Smith and her team have organized nearly a dozen free, public events, including movie nights, a Tuesday “Lunch Breaks” series with performances, talks, and hands-on activities, and Saturday morning programs geared toward families.
The programming brings activity into the public space and shows the MIT community’s wide range of experiences and interests, telling a fuller story and providing a window into an MIT that local community members might not know.
“Having this beautiful outdoor space has been amazing, precious, and useful during Covid times,” says Smith. “Partnering with local artists and nonprofit organizations, we are developing programs that foster inclusive interactions and community connections. Our Cambridge neighbors are encouraged to enjoy our public spaces. We want to create a welcoming and inclusive environment through our programming and broaden the reach of MIT.”
Earlier this month, local artist Silvia Lopez Chavez led a community art project where participants were asked to reflect on experiences, challenges, and hopes of the past year. Their reflections will be incorporated into a temporary mural that will be displayed on the building’s glass façade on Main Street that will be unveiled on October 27.
“With the opening of the welcome center, open space, the MIT Press Bookstore, and later, the MIT Museum, the gateway area will soon live up to its promise of advancing Kendall’s trademark bump-and-connect vibe—with a focused emphasis on welcoming all from MIT, Cambridge, the region, and beyond,” says Sarah Gallop, codirector of MIT’s Office of Government and Community Relations.
The MIT Welcome Center is open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 am to 6 pm, excluding MIT holidays. Visit openspace.mit.edu to learn about about upcoming MIT Open Space Programming events.
This story was written by Jennifer Burke and was published on MIT News on October 1, 2021. Photo credit: Jake Belcher