Note a separate walking tour provides an introduction to the MIT Campus.
Founded in 1861 by William Barton Rogers, MIT was first located in downtown Boston. In 1863 it moved to the Back Bay, next door to its near twin, the Museum of Natural History (today, Restoration Hardware). By 1902 the school had outgrown this and several other buildings it had built in Boston. With no possibility of expanding in the built-up Copley Square district, and following a failed proposal to have MIT absorbed by Harvard University and relocated to the current site of the Harvard Business School, an extensive search for a new site was conducted. This area of marshlands had been filled for real estate development in the 1880s, and was chosen in 1911 when the Gridley Dam transformed the Charles from tidewater to freshwater.
In contrast to Harvard, the original organization of MIT in sprawling, interconnected buildings reflects the founder’s philosophy of having all disciplines under one roof, to encourage easy intellectual exchange. Bosworth's academic buildings were designed to resemble a neo-classical city facing Boston across the newly-created Charles River Basin, with formal courts dramatically illuminated and highlighted by powerful sculptures.
Over the past century, MIT has expanded its campus with buildings by architectural luminaries including Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Jose Luis Sert, Eduardo Catalano, Frank Gehry, Stephen Holl and Kevin Roche, some of which are outstanding. In parallel, the Art on Campus project, launched in the 1960s, has assembled an extraordinary university collection of twentieth-century artists, among them Bertoia, Burton, Calder, Graham, Lipschitz, Moore, Nevelson, Noland, Pardo, Ritchie, Picasso, Stella, and Witkin.
The next and big test for MIT's campus planning and design chops will come in a major makeover of its east campus in and around Kendall Square, where the Institute plans to build four new commercial buildings, two new graduate student residences, and a park atop a large underground garage. The 2016 addition of the Volpe Transportation Center site to MIT's development portfolio puts the Institute in virtually complete control of Kendall Square’s destiny – and its own.
O. Robert SImha, MIT's Director of Planning from 1960 to 2000, contributed his extensive knowledge about the MIT campus to the entries in this guide. Those seeking a deeper dive should find Douglas Shand-Tucci's comprehensive "MIT: A Campus Guide."