GRID Exterior walls of Simmons dorm, which support
the building and the architecture, were tricky to assemble.
(Photo courtesy of MIT/Andy Ryan)
Loners no longer
wanted. Nerds take notice. Bookworms be on alert. The Massachusetts
Institute of Technology is on a $1-billion building campaign
to soften its edges--from streetscape to study cove. And it's
doing so by building audacious architecture that stands out,
fits in and nurtures community, socialization and even amusement.
The goal is to show that good living is good for learning.
Standards of flexibility, compatibility,
economy and accessibility are still in force, but MIT's design
principles now mandate comfort, communication, connectivity
and a sense of place. A new dormitory has nooks and crannies
to draw students out of their rooms for communal lounging,
snacking and studying. A computer science building is designed
with internal neighborhoods, villages and pedestrian streets
to foster human interaction. A fitness center is meant to
encourage letting go.
"I think we are going to change
to some degree the nature of this institution," says Victoria
V. Sirianni, MIT's chief facilities officer. Her department,
which maintains nearly 12 million sq ft of buildings on the
school's 154-acre campus in Cambridge, Mass., is charged with
managing the metamorphosis. "The big picture is pretty profound,
pretty scary," she says.
MIT's president, Charles M. Vest,
views the physical transformation as a giant discovery tour
and learning exercise for the 143-year-old research university,
best known for science, engineering and architecture programs.
And he has not wasted local talent to help chart the school's
course. William J. Mitchell, dean of the School of Architecture
and Planning, has the president's ear and sits on the building
committee. He was involved in setting ambitions, shaping the
"social" tone of the program and in selecting architects,
among them three Pritzker prize winners. Mitchell also uses
the program as a teaching tool.
PACK Program includes: (3) Pacific Street dorm
(Photo courtesy of MIT)
After a virtual construction hiatus
of nearly 15 years, the facilities department has eight projects
with a combined construction cost of nearly $500 million coming
on line within about four years of each other. "It's been
a wild ride," says Sirianni.
MIT gives 2000 as the official
kickoff year of the 10-year campaign. But work began several
years earlier on the $212.5-million flagship, the Frank O.
Gehry-designed Ray & Maria Stata Center for computer science.
Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center (Photo courtesy of MIT)
The 703,000-sq-ft building, which
includes a two-level underground parking garage that gobbles
up 300,000 sq ft, ranks both as the program's and the architect's
largest project to date. In true Gehry fashion, the 10-story
building, 65% complete, is almost indescribable. Columns slant
this way and that, edges curve and cantilever, and multiple
appendages and facade treatments make the single building
look like a collection.
(5) Dreyfus Chemistry Building renovation (Photo courtesy
The $68.2-million Simmons Hall
undergraduate dormitory, designed by Steven Holl Architects,
New York City, is considered the next-most audacious in the
line-up. The dorm opened to students in August, but workers
are just finishing up the common areas. The $42.2-million
Albert and Barrie Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, designed
by Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo & Associates, Hamden, Conn.,
opened in September. The $76-million 70 Pacific Street Dormitory,
designed by Steffian Bradley Associates Inc., Boston, opened
last August. The $21.8-million 224 Albany Street Graduate
Residence, designed by S/L/A/M Collaborative, Glastonbury,
Conn., opened a year prior. The $47.1-million Dreyfus Chemistry
Building renovation, designed by Goody, Clancy & Associates,
Boston, is scheduled to end by summer. A 376,000-sq-ft brain
and cognitive sciences project, designed by Goody, Clancy
and Charles Correa Associates Architects, Bombay, is scheduled
to begin construction this year and be completed in 2005.
Albany Street dorm (Photo courtesy of MIT)
The list goes on. A 197,000-sq-ft
media lab extension, designed by Fumihiki Maki/Maki Associates,
Tokyo, has not been priced or scheduled. The same goes for
the 450,000-sq-ft East Campus Project, designed by Moore Ruble
Yudell Architects and Planners, Santa Monica, Calif., primarily
for the Sloan School of Management. A $53-million project
to bury utilities under Vassar Street, the school's mile-long
"infinite corridor," is under way. It will be followed by
a $17.5-million streetscape project. The capital program also
includes renovations of the MIT Museum, Hayden Library and
The program reportedly is running
"pretty smoothly," all things considered. Projects are mostly
on schedule and within the overall budget set in early 2000,
says Paul R. Curley, director of capital construction.
(7) brain and cognitive sciences project (Photo courtesy
When Curley arrived at MIT in January
2000 from the General Services Administration, he had his
work cut out for him. The fledgling department had no budget
or schedule controls in place. That didn't last long. Curley
and his colleague, Deborah Poodry, director of capital project
development, now steer a staff of 28. There are typically
two senior project managers assigned to each job. One leads
from schematics through design development and the other through
commissioning. The arrangement assures continuity and provides
accountability, says Curley.
Media Lab (Photo courtesy of MIT)
Project management systems reportedly
are working well, though there is a lot to track. And keeping
to the budget has not been easy. For example, the big projects
went to market right in the middle of Boston's mammoth Central
Artery/Tunnel project. Finding bidders, let alone good prices,
The phased renovation of the chemistry
building has been the most challenging because it remains
occupied, says Curley. But Simmons Hall has been likened to
building a concrete watch. And Stata isn't a busman's holiday
either, except for Gehry. That's because it offered the opportunity
to work for a client that spells technology with a capital
"The entire process has been a
joy on all fronts," says Jim Glymph, Los Angeles-based Gehry
Partners' principal in charge and techno-guru. "There was
less finger-pointing and more problem-solving" than on most
Gehry jobs, he adds.
Glymph and others attribute that
to the collaborative tone set by MIT. For example, the construction
manager, Beacon Skanska Inc. (renamed Skanska Inc. on Jan.
1), was hired in 1998 during schematic design to advise on
costs and constructibility. The CM has a staged fee based
on cost of the work and is reimbursed for personnel time.
MIT establishes guaranteed maximum prices as the design progresses
and approves all costs prior to incurring them. "It's an open
book process done in real time," says Paul Hewins, project
executive and a vice president in Skanska's Boston office.
There is no fee on change orders
so there is no incentive to go over the budget, Hewins says,
adding that Stata has the least amount of conflict of any
job in his experience. He finds that amazing, considering
the project's complexity.
WAY Doodles become physical models, which become
digital models. (Images courtesy of Gehry Partners)
Two Skanska people spent a year
in Gehry's office to get up to speed on CATIA, the sophisticated
three-dimensional CAD system Gehry uses on its more complicated
jobs. In addition, two architects from Cannon Design, Boston,
the project's associate architect, spent two years in Gehry's
office learning CATIA before moving back East to be at the
site full time.
The CATIA training was helpful.
Still, Stata--primarily a structural concrete building with
structural steel for the most unusual shapes--was not a paperless
job, as Glymph had proposed. "We can't get the world out of
paper," says Glymph. "But it will come."
At Stata, the structural engineer
used the 3-D model to visualize and review the more complicated
steel connections. But approvals and record-keeping were done
the old way, says Ron Lee, project manager for structural
engineer John A. Martin & Associates Inc., Los Angeles.
Stata is using technology in another
waythrough a Web-based project management system. All
agree the technology is still "clunky." But it is a "fabulous"
communication tool that is going to get better, says Nancy
Joyce, an MIT senior project manager on Stata.
David T. Lewis, MIT's senior project
manager for Stata's construction, says the facilities department
will keep the system to handle warranty claims and the like.
THROUGH Digital models help
contractors visualize wild shapes. (Photo courtesy of
Andy Ryan, image courtesy of Gehry Partners)
MIT is using a lower-tech tool
to keep Stata on course. Redicheck North, Hampton, N.H., is
reviewing Gehry drawings for variances. The review is costing
MIT $96,000, but Lewis thinks it is saving millions of dollars
in fixes and lots of time. "We have virtually no changes,"
he says. And if not for Redicheck, there would be almost double
the 1,400 requests for information, he says.
A big challenge for Skanska was
to find ways to reduce the fear factor that would inflate
bids. Skanska held prebid meetings, even with the architect,
to explain the design and increase the comfort level. Still,
bids for the core and shell came in at $198 million, at least
$12 million over the amount budgeted.
Concrete work took a year or about
30% longer than it would have for an equivalent-size repetitive
structure. "Every floor is different and some are very different,"
says Hewins. The trades were unaccustomed to a job like this
and "never established any momentum or any speed," he adds.
Hewins says the concrete work was
critical. If it was less than perfect, it would throw off
everything down the line.
COLOR CODE Rebar drawings
became building colors. (Graphic courtesy of Simpson Gumpertz
& Heger Inc.)
Another trick MIT used on Stata
was to negotiate rather than hard-bid the two most challenging
subcontracts--the structural steel and the metal skin. The
subcontractors were selected using a request for proposal
process, which allowed both subs to offer suggestions during
design regarding details that would increase efficiency and
economy in fabrication.
In the RFP phase, the skin fabricator,
A. Zahner Co., Kansas City, Mo., offered a price. During the
design-assist phase, the firm produced early shop drawings,
which were integrated into Gehry's contract documents. Zahner
then, in essence, bid against its own documents. The price
came down 10 to 15%, says the architect.
The building has been on schedule,
for the most part, for about two years. There was a hiccup
when the garage was added during the design process, says
Concrete and steel work are 95%
done; mechanical, electrical and fire protection work are
70% done and the service level is 75% complete. Completion
of the building is scheduled for the end of this year, but
Skanska expects to turn over the garage in March.
Hewins is most concerned about
the 50%-complete building envelope, given the geometry and
many interfaces of brick and metal and glass. "It's going
to be a trick to get it done on time," he says.
CAVES Crews scratched their
heads over atria shapes. (Photo courtesy of MIT/Andy Ryan)
Stata's CATIA model will likely
have a long life beyond the building's completion. Gehry agreed
to joint ownership of the model with MIT for purposes of visualization
and mapping research. In what would likely be a first, MIT
plans to create a CATIA-based as-built record for facility
management. Toward this end, MIT is photographing building
systems that get covered up. For example, photos of a pipe
chase can be placed in the model with information tags to
identify each pipe and duct. MIT also hopes to create 3-D
panoramas of the more interesting spaces to assist students
who will be studying the building's construction. These would
show not only the finished condition but a backward time record
of construction. Finally, the school is creating a full photographic
record that will appear as a tagged 3-D model through digital
processing. The model is for use by the building operators,
but visitors will be able to go on "virtual tours" of private
For Simmons Hall down the street,
occupied by 355 students since August, the hard stuff is in
the past. Still, memories are fresh of the job's headaches.
"Maintaining structural integrity during construction of the
exterior-bearing walls was the most challenging aspect," says
Dennis A. Fitzpatrick, president of construction manager Daniel
O'Connell's Sons, Holyoke, Mass.
The precast units that form the
exterior walls had extremely tight tolerances, Fitzpatrick
says. In addition, each unit had two dozen or more points
of connection. Although similar in looks, the units were not
LOOK-ALIKES Simmons' precast
units looked the same but were not interchangeable. (Photo
courtesy of MIT/©Daniel O'Connel's Sons)
The 105-ft-tall rectangular solid
with recessed windows resembles a shoebox with exterior cutouts,
carve-outs and cantilevers. It is 385 ft long and 53 ft deep.
Exterior walls are gridded and perforated, resembling 3-D
graph paper or the cells of a sponge. Each dorm room perimeter
wall has a tic-tack-toe pattern of nine operable windows.
On the faces of the building, it is difficult to tell where
the floors are.
A standard, exterior beam and column
system would have resulted in beams that were too deep to
maintain the architectural grid. Instead, structural consultant
Guy Nordenson and Associates, New York City, made the exterior
wall into a giant concrete Vierendeel truss. The wall carries
gravity loads over the large openings and cantilevers, and
provides lateral resistance. In the building's short direction,
cast-in-place shear walls and elevator cores work in conjunction
with end walls to provide lateral resistance.
A decision was made to use precast
units because it would have been a daunting task to field-consolidate
the concrete in the 10-in.-square columns and beams, considering
the jungle of reinforcing steel.
The 291 units were prefabricated
as a single story, five columns wide. Each averaged 5 tons,
including a half ton of rebar. The ends of cast-in-place floor
slabs connect the panels vertically. Horizontal connections
also are cast in place, using mechanical connectors for the
reinforcing. The precaster provided the concrete to match
the color and texture of the precast panels.
The units differ because of different
rebar sizes to deal with various stresses on the wall. Amy
T. Stern, project engineer with structural engineer of record
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., Waltham, Mass., decided
to color-code the structural drawings to indicate the different-sized
rebar locations. Red represents No. 9 bars; orange, 8; yellow,
7; green, 6; and blue, 5.
Originally, the aluminum skin of
the building was not supposed to have color accents, says
Stern. But the architect was so impressed with Stern's drawings
that a decision was made to replicate the color scheme on
the perforated wall by coloring the aluminum cladding.
Inside, Simmons' amorphous nooks
and crannies, all with cavelike walls and some four stories
high and skylit, also were eye-openers. "None of the contractors
had seen anything shaped or formed like this in their lives,"
Establishing templates for the
amoeba-shaped cutouts in the concrete floor slabs was trying.
Laying out light fixtures, switches and electrical plates
on the slopes and curves was not easy, either.
At first, the trades, accustomed
to orthogonal construction, could not get their arms around
the work, says Fitzpatrick. Finish plaster work took two crews
Through the job, "we certainly
worked together as a team," Fitzpatrick says, though at times
nerves were somewhat frayed.
Fitzpatrick calls Simmons one of
the most challenging pieces of architecture in his more than
a quarter century of experience. That's fine with MIT, which
was not looking for easy street on Simmons or any of its other
projects, especially at the expense of audacious architecture.