Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences

Gehry Partners LLP with Cannon Design, 2004Landscape: Olin Partnership, 2004

A splashy megabuilding replaced temporary World War II laboratories demolished in 1999. Building 20, built to develop radar that was critical to the WWII war effort, was also famously the site of Noam Chomsky’s linguistics theory revolution and many scientific discoveries, including electronics, atomic clocks, and underwater cameras. The freewheeling spaces imposed no restraints on researchers inclined to poke holes through walls or remove windows as needed.

Such casual adaptations are unthinkable in the status symbol that replaced it, though the architecture tries hard not to be serious despite its enormous price tag. Windows appear not to fit—projecting out or angling awkwardly in—articulating the mundane to give it significance. Three acres of jumbled, folded, falling planes of stainless steel, multicolor enamel, titanium, and brick form the chaotic façade of two eight-story U-shaped towers. The building houses the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.

Behind the showy skin it is not all sheetrock, plywood, and concrete floors. There are tricks here, too. Walls are canted or appear to dangle in midair. Some deviant elements are so convincing that they induce vertigo in students. Excessive transparency provoked goldfish syndrome in researchers engaged in demanding scientific work at the bottom of chimney-shaped laboratories with unknown observers peering down four or five stories above them. Despite these complaints, the Stata Center has created excitement among undergraduates. MIT’s detailed architectural program, which stressed accidental cross-pollination and spontaneous collaboration between different disciplines, was realized in the winding internal “student street” with its gigantic blackboards, study nooks, and open seminar areas.

Images: ©Peter Vanderwarker. Final image below, ©Richard Mandelkorn / Esto.