Alvar Aalto with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn, 1947–1949
Alvar Aalto, while a visiting professor at MIT in 1946, was commissioned to design a new dormitory along the Charles on MIT’s west campus. He assembled a team from his Helsinki office to design the building and its furnishings.
Seeking to provide each student room with a view of the river, Aalto designed Baker House to undulate along the riverbank, in striking contrast to the rectilinear formalism of the main campus buildings. From the entrance pavilion there is a view through the building to the dining room and beyond. In the rear, a pair of linear staircases project from the façade and provide generous views of the MIT playing fields.
The use of clinker brick for the exterior cladding is an unusual touch. Aalto, when he visited the brick kilns to select brick for the building, noticed these burnt end clinker bricks and requested that they be gathered up for his inspection. He felt they gave a unique texture to the building, and supervised their installation on the exterior walls.
Inside, the single entrance, central dining area, and ample lounge spaces foster a strong sense of community; the dual stairs allow students to circulate vertically as well as horizontally. The furniture, including its “elephant” wardrobes, “giraffe” shelving units, and bent-plywood chairs, were designed by Aalto and his wife and partner, Aino, and built at the architect’s Artek factory in Sweden.
70 years after its construction, Baker house is the most sought after undergraduate residence hall on the MIT campus.