The Infinite Corridor is the hallway, 251 meters (825 feet, 0.16 miles, 147 smoots) long, that runs through the main buildings of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, specifically parts of the buildings numbered 7, 3, 10, 4, and 8 (from west to east). The corridor is important not only because it links those buildings, but also because it serves as the most direct indoor route between the east and west ends of the campus. The corridor was designed as the central spine of the original set of MIT buildings designed by William W. Bosworth in 1913. The Infinite Corridor is slightly longer than that of the University Hall building at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, which measures 800 feet (240 m) long.
Twice per year, in mid-November and in late January, the corridor lines up with the plane of the ecliptic, causing sunlight to fill the entire corridor, events that are celebrated by students and staff.
On occasion, students in the Transport Lab of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) have studied foot traffic in the Infinite Corridor, as a safer, more accessible model of highway traffic. One student report made the following observations about the informal rules that seem to apply to Infinite Corridor traffic:
The rules of the road for the Infinite Corridor include: stay to the right, limit group size, pass on the left, form a line at bottlenecks, don't stop/slow down, no tailgating, traffic within corridor has right of way, no physical contact and no eye contact.
Because the heavy pedestrian traffic in the Infinite Corridor guarantees a large audience, it is a setting for some "hacks" (practical jokes), especially those of a serial nature such as a series of "Burma Shave" style signs. The "Mass Toolpike" hack in 1985 involved placing traffic signals, lane markings, and highway-like signs along the length of the Infinite Corridor. An April Fools' Day post from Slice of MIT suggested that the corridor floor would be replaced with a self-powering moving walkway made of piezoelectric tiles.
The physical layout of the Infinite Corridor is much easier to understand by referring to the MIT map, in online interactive, or downloadable printable form. There is also an MIT Accessibility Campus Map available for download, which is useful for mobility-impaired visitors, or anyone wheeling a heavy load. This last map shows the different floor level corridors paralleling the first-floor Infinite Corridor.
An outside grand stairway leads up from Massachusetts Avenue to Lobby 7, the main entrance to the Infinite Corridor. This location is often called "77 MassAve", an abbreviation of its official street address; the street itself forms the western boundary of the main or central campus. The MIT Student Center (Building W20) is located directly across the street, at 84 Massachusetts Avenue.
Nearby bus stops serve MBTA buses from Harvard Square, and from Back Bay across the Charles River via the Harvard Bridge, as well as various shuttle buses. Food vendor trucks often park in designated spaces near the entrance.
Lobby 7, so named because of its location in Building 7 (formally named the Rogers Building), is a large 100-foot (30 m) vertical space open all the way up to the interior of the Little Dome. A carved inscription circles the space just below the base of the Little Dome, and has been the subject of a hack. Four empty pedestals occupy the corners of the square lobby; they were originally intended for large Neoclassical figural sculptures, but are instead often occupied by students studying, or occasionally playing live music. The Infinite Corridor begins straight ahead through the lobby, on the opposite side from the street.
During the 1970s, two large pillars flanking the entrance to the Infinite Corridor were partially wrapped in paper and used by the liberal "Alternative Advertising" and somewhat less liberal "Pillar Productions" where students would scrawl responses to issues of the day such as nuclear power or whether disco sucked. A display of Air Force art was once withdrawn after vandalism in the lobby.
Lobby 7 is frequently used for formally scheduled or impromptu concerts, as well as dance performances. Occasionally, "performance art" hacks or installation art hacks are sited in Lobby 7. Banners advertising campus events are often hung from the upper levels of Lobby 7, including the occasional hack banner such as "Don't let the Grinch steal your Christmas" (in reference to complaints about the campus Christmas tree). The cavernous interior space of Lobby 7 is frequently the site of hacks that require a large volume of unobstructed indoors space.
Memorial Lobby (Lobby 10)
A two-story atrium space at the half-way point of the corridor, informally known as Lobby 10, is part of the MacLaurin Buildings in Building 10, underneath the Great Dome. In this space, it is quite common to find several booths or tables advertising upcoming events, or students engaged in other public activities and demonstrations, such as juggling or dancing. Often, there are fund-raising activities, such as selling used books, tickets for shows or concerts, artworks made in the MIT GlassLab or Student Art Association, or Chinese pastries and other snacks. On November 18, 2013 a formal dedication ceremony was held to rename the space Memorial Lobby. The travertine walls bear the engraved names of MIT alumni who died in each of several wars, and these inscriptions have been re-gilded to make them more readable.
The Infinite Corridor has five levels: the basement, and floors 1 through 4. Elevators in Lobby 7 and in Lobby 10 provide access to each floor, as do numerous stairways. The elevators in Lobby 10 also provide access to the Barker Engineering Library, via the 5th floor. In accordance with its US location, MIT buildings usually use the American floor numbering scheme.
The first floor (called the "ground floor" by some) is the most traveled level, and is often the only one referred to as the Infinite Corridor. It is half a floor above ground level at Massachusetts Avenue (the west end, Building 7), and in areas is a full floor up, with a parking lot entrance passing underneath (this entrance crosses the basement-level corridor at grade between Buildings 7 and 3). At its east end in Building 8, it is also about half a floor up, with nearby stairs going up to the second floor and down to the first floor of Building 16 (an adjacent, newer building, which was built with lower ceilings). An elevator allows these connections to be made by people who use wheelchairs: the elevator has stops in the basement, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors of Building 16, as well as the 1st and 2nd floors of Building 8.
The Basement Infinite Corridor mirrors the first floor passage, but connects to the extensive below-grade system of tunnels connecting many buildings. The basement connects via a short staircase to the basement of Building 16; a bypass ramp allows wheelchair users to make the connection. The 2nd floor of Building 8 has a few steps leading up to Building 16. The 3rd and 4th floors of Building 8 have ramps that allow accessible connections to the 4th and 5th floors respectively of Building 16.
Building 8 is the official eastern terminus of the Infinite Corridor. However, on the first floor at the Building 8 end, there are stairs leading down to the first and up to the second floors of Building 16. A ground-level corridor through Buildings 16, 56, and 66 forms an eastern extension of the Infinite Corridor, ending at Ames Street across from a ceremonial archway designed by I. M. Pei, next to the MIT Media Lab.
"The Point" of Building 66 (so-called because the building tapers to a wedge-shaped point) is the easternmost point that is accessible at ground level while remaining indoors. By taking stairs down to the basement of Building 66, one can head further east via a tunnel under Ames Street, which connects to Buildings E18, E19, E23, and E25, in the eastern section of the campus.
Since the Infinite Corridor is part of a campus-wide network of interconnected buildings, it contains junctions with other buildings, connecting to buildings to the north, south, and east (almost none of the buildings west of MassAve are connected).
Lobby 7 is the western end of the Infinite Corridor. To the south, it connects to Building 5 directly at all levels (Basement through 4th floor). To the north is a continuation of Building 7. It connects to Building 9 via stairs and ramps: the 1st floor of Building 7 has stairs leading up to the 2nd floor of Building 9. The 3rd and 4th floors have ramps providing accessible connections to the 4th and 5th floors of Building 9. An elevator in Lobby 7 provides access to every floor (Basement through 4th) of the main group of buildings (1-8 and 10). An elevator in Building 9 provides access to every floor in that building. Wheelchair users must use the 3rd or 4th floor of Building 7 to make the connection.
The next junction to the east is with Buildings 7, 3, and 11. Since building 3 is an L-shaped building, this junction provides access to the east and south to Building 3, connecting directly at every level (Basement through 4th floor). To the north is Building 11. The basement connection provides access to the Copy Tech center, and the 1st floor connection provides access to the Student Services Center. Stairs and an elevator in Building 11 provide access to the upper floors.
Further east, the midpoint of the Infinite Corridor is Lobby 10. An elevator provides access to all floors of the main group of buildings (Buildings 1-8 and 10) as well as the Barker Engineering Library, whose entrance is on the 5th floor. Stairs and an elevator within the library provide access to the upper floors of the library (6 through 8), as well as a portion of the 4th floor. To the north of Lobby 10, Building 10 connects via stairs and ramps to Building 13. The basement of Building 10 has a ramp leading down to the basement of Building 13. The 1st floor of Building 10 has stairs leading down to the 1st floor of Building 13, known as Lobby 13. The 2nd floor of Building 10 has stairs leading up to the 3rd floor of Building 13. The 3rd and 4th floors of Building 10 have ramps providing an assessable connection to the 4th and 5th floors of Building 13 respectively. The elevators in Lobby 13 access Floors 1 through 5. Wheelchair users can only access the basement of Building 13 via Building 10 or Building 9.
The next junction to the east is with buildings 4, 8, and 12. Since building 4 is an L-shaped building, this junction provides access to the west and south to Building 4, connecting directly at every level (basement through 4th floor). To the north is Building 12, which connects only via the 1st floor.
The eastern end of the Infinite Corridor is Building 8. To the south, Building 8 connects directly to Building 6 at all levels (basement through 4th floor). At the north end of Building 8 is the connection to Building 16 and the eastern extension, described above, as well as a connection to Building 26.
The walls lining the Infinite Corridor were painted stark "Institute Gray" with black doorway trim until Spring 1970, when a number of wall murals appeared. With two notable exceptions, the paintings were soon replaced by bulletin boards and enclosed display cases which remained largely unchanged for several decades. A Summer 2010 renovation installed more-durable boards, and more clearly marked many portions of them as reserved for exclusive use by one specified student activity or another.
The Cashier's Office wall was painted as a giant dollar bill for over 25 years (and was the subject of a number of non-destructive hacks), but the mural was eventually removed and replaced with a glass wall when that space was converted to a community lounge. A picture of the old wall mural is etched into the glass, as a historical marker. The oldest remaining wall mural (near the Admissions Office) is an early-1970s style colorful painting of a "multicultural" group of people walking quickly. Having survived many renovations and repaintings of the Infinite Corridor, the mural now is a carefully preserved relic of that era.
Some adjacent laboratories, notably those of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE, Course 3), now have floor-to-ceiling glass walls and large posters or display cases explaining some of their research activities. This is a natural result of the DMSE's facilities location surrounding the eastern end of the Infinite Corridor.
On several days each year, the sun sets in alignment with the Infinite Corridor and shines along its entire length. This is known as "MIThenge", a reference to Stonehenge's alignment with the sun (although the type of alignment bears a closer relationship with that of Newgrange and Maeshowe in that the sunlight passes through the mass of the buildings rather than through the standing stones of Stonehenge). These alignments occur on several days around January 31 and November 11. The phenomenon was spotted, calculated, and popularized in 1975-76 according to a Sky and Telescope article. The MIThenge site has more information and predictions for when the phenomenon will next occur. A less-known alignment with the moon also occurs, but it is more subtle and harder to observe.
On occasions when clear skies are predicted, there is literally "standing room only" at the eastern end of the Infinite Corridor, where viewing conditions are optimum. Many published pictures of the phenomenon do not show any people, but this is because most passers-by in the Infinite Corridor are polite enough to get out of the way of serious astronomical photographers on the upper floors. A campus newspaper, The Tech, has published etiquette and viewing suggestions for first-time observers. Several online videos offer different perspectives on the phenomenon and on the observers.
During the 1960s, a common Technology Day demonstration used the unobstructed length of the corridor to demonstrate the speed of light in a simple, direct way. A strobe light, photocell, and oscilloscope were positioned at one end of the corridor, and a mirror at the other. The round-trip time was about two microseconds. The photocell picked up both the direct and reflected flashes. The flash duration being well under a microsecond, the result was two nicely separated pulses on the oscilloscope screen, which could be measured to compute the speed.
In popular culture
- Hapgood, Fred (1993). Up the infinite corridor: MIT and the technological imagination. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-08293-4. 203 pp.
- MIT Infinite Corridor Astronomy - MIThenge, Northeastern University Press, 2004.
- Nancy Eleanor Joyce and Frank O. Gehry (2004). Building Stata: the design and construction of Frank O. Gehry's Stata Center at MIT. MIT Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0-262-60061-3.
- Mark Jarzombek, Designing MIT: Bosworth's New Tech, Northeastern University Press, 2004.
- University of Lethbridge campus map, Retrieved 2013-12-08
- Bill Coyle (1998). "Massachusetts Institute of Technology". In Carol J. Summerfield, Mary Elizabeth Devine, and Anthony Levi. International dictionary of university histories. Taylor & Francis. p. 262. ISBN 978-1-884964-23-7.
- Wright, Sarah H. (August 27, 1997). "Students study MIT's central artery". MIT Tech Talk. MIT News Office. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
- Peterson, Institute Historian T. F. (2011). Nightwork: a history of hacks and pranks at MIT (updated edition). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. pp. 47–49. ISBN 978-0-262-51584-9.
- "Leaving ‘Zero Footprints’ in the Infinite Corridor". Slice of MIT. April 1, 2014. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
- "MIT Campus Map (interactive)". MIT Website. MIT. Retrieved 2011-04-19.
- "MIT Campus Map (downloadable)". MIT Website. MIT. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
- "MIT Accessibility Campus Map". MIT. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
- ESTABLISHED FOR ADVANCEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT OF SCIENCE ITS APPLICATION TO INDVSTRY THE ARTS AGRICVLTURE AND COMMERCE CHARTER MDCCCLXI [carved in all capitals without punctuation]
- "Changed Lobby 7 Inscription". MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
- "Hacks In Lobby 7 and the Infinite Corridor". MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
- Chandler, David L. (November 8, 2013). "MIT’s Lobby 10 to be renamed in honor of fallen veterans". MIT News. Retrieved 2014-05-17.
- "$10,000 Bill Mural at the Cashier's Office". MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
- "Teardrop on dollar bill mural". MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
- Eliasen, Alan. "MIThenge". Alan Eliasen -- Things I Made From Yarn. Alan Eliasen. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
- Hawkinson, John A. (November 6, 2009). "MIThenge is Fast Approaching Predictions for 2009–2010". The Tech. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
- Falk, Dan. "MIT-henge". MIT Video. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
- "Elemental MIT: MIThenge". MIT+150. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
- MIThenge and photo
- Alan Eliasen has lots of information about MITHenge solar and lunar events and predictions for future dates.
- How MIThenge Got Its Start, Slice of MIT blog 2011