Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Buildings and Grounds blog, Lawrence Biemiller flags a reappraisal of MIT's Stata Center by James Russell of Bloomberg News. When it opened in 2004, the Frank Gehry-designed building came in for its share of criticism; John Silber, formerly the president of Boston University, even went so far as to put it on the cover of his book Architecture of the Absurd: How "Genius" Destroyed a Practical Art.
But, says Russell, Stata's unusual design and intellectually driven layout seems to look better and better as time goes on. Money quote:
Is Stata frivolous? Walk with me through the ground-floor “student street,” a popular campus shortcut with ramps circling overhead, lit with shardlike skylights. You are likely to see people talking over laptops or scribbling on blackboards. Symposia often spill into the hallway as passersby stop to see why the chatter is so animated. Up a level or two, Gehry all but banished hallways. You move past lounges, open two-story seminar spaces, and eddies of whiteboard-equipped space often occupied by impromptu collaborators.
Stata’s beehive quality is intentional. At the furthest edge of research, working within the old disciplines no longer makes sense. Gehry’s team designed a building of laboratory “neighborhoods” to support communities of researchers. At Stata, linguistics, artificial-intelligence and computer scientists work together, but more boundaries need to be crossed. Stata throws people together so that every researcher has a shot at encountering the person he never thought of who turns out to have a skill that’s needed.
The construction of the center was detailed meticulously in Nancy Joyce's Building Stata, and Russell's description dovetailed nicely with a quote from Gehry that shows up early in the book:
The building reflects the culture of the groups inside it. They are all going to be colliding with each other intellectually over time. That's what gives it strength. That's what it's all about. For the rest of their lives here they are going to discover things because of nature. The sun and the light change and when they do, with these cracks and spaces where light comes in, that's going to change the people. There are going to be some miracles here.