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MIT Better World

By Joelle Carson

The Institute is entering the final fundraising stage for the transformative structure, which will be designed by Tokyo-based architectural firm SANAA and will provide a state-of-the-art performance space adjacent to Kresge Auditorium.

The primary goals for the building are to create a new, purpose-built performance space with world-class acoustics, designed by world-renowned Nagata Acoustics; expand and update resources for music technology courses; enhance spaces for the world music program and its instruments; and provide much-needed rehearsal and practice spaces, classrooms, and faculty and staff offices.

The building’s central location on campus reflects the important role that music studies and performance have at MIT. For decades, Institute leaders have recognized the arts as an irreplaceable component of an MIT education. The new music facility is the latest manifestation of that commitment, building on a renewed visibility for the arts heralded by the opening of the new theater and performing arts building in 2017.

Keeril Makan, the Michael and Sonja Koerner Music Composition Professor and section head of MIT Music and Theater Arts, says he is confident that the new building will enrich the music community. “For the majority of MIT students, the Institute’s combination of a world-class science, engineering, and humanities education with superb music training is one key to their creativity, success, and well-being,” he says. “Just as the theater arts building has rapidly transformed that discipline on campus, MIT’s new music building will be an active laboratory for what our music faculty have called the ‘synergies that arise from the confluence of great technical minds and extraordinary musical talent.’”

In fall 2018, a cornerstone gift from Joyce Linde, a longtime supporter of MIT and the arts, launched the music building into the architectural planning phase. Two important leadership gifts from Brit d’Arbeloff ’61 and Ray SM ’78 and Meredith Rothrock were made in the same year. These supporters join a group of earlier donors, who for many years have been dedicated to seeing this building project come to fruition.

“There is a tremendous community of music lovers at MIT who have made the music building possible,” says Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. “Through their generosity, we will have a center that better serves MIT faculty and students, as well as the Greater Boston community. We look forward to securing the final commitments needed to begin construction.” The building, which is currently scheduled to open in late 2022, will provide immediate benefits to participants in MIT’s innovative music program as well as to the wider performance-going community. In a typical year, more than 1,500 undergraduates enroll in MIT music classes—consistently making Music and Theater Arts one of the top-five highest enrolled departments—and music is among the most popular of the Institute’s 42 minors. Beyond the classroom, more than 500 musicians participate in one of 30 MIT ensembles, chamber groups, or advanced music programs every term.

The new building’s centralized, fully equipped group rehearsal and practice rooms should greatly improve the experience of music for all these students. The flexible, large-scale Performance Lab—its signature performance venue—will be the most advanced music teaching and performance space that the Institute has ever constructed. A recording studio offering professional-level recording for all types of instruments and ensembles will also be built.

Critically, the new space will provide a permanent home for larger and rarer instruments—such as the Balinese gamelan and Senegalese drums—part of MIT’s popular world music programming. The building will also feature two production labs, a dedicated classroom, collaborative research space, and makerspace for music technology—an area of increasing student interest in the music program.

“The building will be a true place of ‘mind and hand,’” says Makan, “where our students and faculty can experiment at the frontiers of music and share their discoveries with our community and the larger world.”