Green Building (MIT)

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Cecil and Ida Green Building
The MIT Green Building
Occupied spaces of the Green Building begin 30 feet (9.1 m) above ground level.
Alternative namesMIT Building 54
EtymologyCecil Howard Green (MIT BSEE and MSEE, 1924)
General information
TypeResearch labs, education
Architectural styleBrutalist
LocationMIT Campus - East
Address21 Ames Street
Town or cityCambridge, Massachusetts
Current tenantsMIT Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Department (EAPS)
Construction started1962
Architectural277 feet (84 m)[1]
Tip295 feet (90 m)
Technical details
Structural systemShear wall
MaterialReinforced concrete
Floor count18
Floor area130,502 square feet (12,124.0 m2)
Design and construction
ArchitectI. M. Pei (MIT BArch, 1940)
Araldo Cossutta
I. ^ Green Building at Emporis

The Cecil and Ida Green Building, also called the Green Building or Building 54, is an academic and research building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States and houses the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. It was designed by Araldo Cossutta and I. M. Pei.[3] Pei, among the world's most noted architects, had received his bachelor's degree from MIT in 1940. Principal donor Cecil Howard Green received a bachelor's degree and master's degree from MIT and was a co-founder of Texas Instruments.


The Green Building was constructed during 1962–1964, in reinforced concrete. It has 18 floors, equivalent to 21 stories or 277 feet (84 m) tall,[1] with a concrete facade that more or less matches the limestone and concrete of the older MIT buildings near it. The basement of the building is below sea level[citation needed] and connects to the MIT tunnel system. Three elevators operate in the Green Building. There are staircases at both the east and west sides, whose exterior facades present a vast windowless expanse relieved only by one-story tall concrete recessed panels.

On the "LL" level (the first occupied space above the ground level entrance), is Room 54-100, a large lecture hall. The second floor formerly housed the Lindgren Library, part of MIT's library system, but this separate facility was consolidated into another library in 2009.

From its completion in 1964, the Green Building was the tallest building in Cambridge, until it was surpassed in 2019 by another MIT building in nearby Kendall Square.[4][5] When it was built, there was a limit on the number of floors.[citation needed] Thus, it was designed to be on stilts, with the first occupied floor approximately 30 feet (9.1 m) above grade in order to "circumvent" this law.[why?][citation needed] The footprint of every floor measures only 60 by 120 feet (18 by 37 m), which research groups quickly outgrew, forcing some of them to disperse elsewhere on campus.[6]

The tower's height has some functional purpose, since its roof supports meteorological instruments and radio communications equipment, plus a white spherical radome enclosing long-distance weather radar apparatus. This technical equipment all requires a line-of-sight vantage point for optimum range and accuracy, and would have required construction of some kind of tower to function as intended. To minimize interference with radio signals, other buildings on MIT's central campus are less than half the height of the Green Building, and the dormitory towers of Eastgate, Westgate, and MacGregor House are at least 1,500 feet (450 m) away.[7]


The Green Building is the main facility of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science (EAPS), also known as Course 12. The departmental headquarters is on the 9th floor of the building. The lower floors of the building contain the Planetary Science section. The middle floors have the Earth Science section (Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry). The upper floors house the Atmospheric Science section (which also includes Oceanography and Climatology).


The open breezeway channels high winds in stormy weather.

When the Green Building was first opened, the isolated prominence of the building and its relative proximity to the Charles River basin increased wind speeds in the high open archway at its base, preventing people from entering or leaving the building through the hinged main doors on windy days, necessitating use of a tunnel connecting to the other buildings.[8] Large wood panels were temporarily erected in the open concourse to block the wind, and revolving doors were later installed at the ground floor entries to amend this problem somewhat.[8] Several windows cracked, and at least one large pane popped out on upper stories, at least in part due to the effects of wind, eventually requiring all the windows to be replaced.[8] A few years later, a similar-appearing problem was repeated in Boston's John Hancock Tower located in Back Bay across the river, a 60-story skyscraper which happened to be designed by the same architectural firm.

After the wind problems became obvious, aerodynamic model tests were conducted in MIT's Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel.[9]:17–20 In the 21st century, a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) study re-examined the complex airflow around and through the building.[9]

It is incorrectly rumored that Alexander Calder's monumental sculpture The Big Sail, was situated in front of the building to deflect the high winds. The sculpture is located too far from the building entryway to have much effect on wind velocities there.[10] This was confirmed by the CFD study conducted by Kalmikov.[9]:34


Because of its height and visibility from the Boston Back Bay neighborhood across the Charles River Basin, plus its rectangular grid of large 6-by-8-foot (1.8 m × 2.4 m) upright rectangular single-pane windows forming a crude 9 × 18 dot-matrix display, the Green Building has been the site of many hacks or pranks.[11] In 1993, one widely viewed hack repurposed the nine top-floor windows as an enormous digital VU meter for the traditional Fourth of July concert of the Boston Pops orchestra.[12] Several other simpler hacks have used the entire window array for stationary displays; this practice is sufficiently commonplace to have acquired the term greenspeak[13][14] (which should not be confused with the famously obscure pronouncements[15][16] of former Federal Reserve Bank chairman Alan Greenspan).

In September 2011, hackers installed 153 (= 9 × 17) custom-made wirelessly controlled color-changing high-power LED lights into every window above the first floor. They displayed a waving American flag throughout the evening of September 11, 2011 in remembrance of the September 11 attacks of 2001. For a short time in the early morning of September 12, the lights displayed a Tetris game, thus realizing a long-standing hack proposal, the "Holy Grail" of hacks. The display hardware had occasional glitches, and was removed as of September 13. The hardware and software designs were further developed and refined for better reliability. On April 20, 2012, MIT hackers successfully turned the Green Building into a huge, playable Tetris game, operated from a wireless control podium at a comfortable viewing distance in front of the building. Visitors to Campus Preview Weekend (a gathering for admitted prospective freshman students) were invited to play the game on the colossal 80-by-250-foot (24 m × 76 m) display grid, which was claimed to be the second-largest full-color video display in the US.[17][18][19]

Instead of a one-shot temporary installation, the hackers have designed and built a permanent facility that can be re-used repeatedly by the MIT community. An understanding has been reached with the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), which is headquartered in the Green Building, to allow the light display hardware to remain installed in each window. To avoid annoying the occupants and to allow late-working staff to "opt out", each light display is equipped with a manual override button, which will disable the pixel lighting for that window for several hours after it is pressed. In addition, the hackers have released open-source software tools used to develop new display patterns, so that others can design and deploy new stationary or animated images, in cooperation with the hacker engineers.[17]

On the night after the bombings of the Boston marathon of April 15, 2013, the Green Building lighting displayed an American flag pattern.[20][21] After the shooting death of MIT Campus Patrolman Sean Collier by the alleged bombers a few days later, a 250 foot (76 m) black ribbon pattern was displayed in his memory.[20]

As a prototype feasibility demonstration, the Tech Model Railroad Club (located in Building N52) had years earlier added a scale model of the Green Building to its HO scale model railroad layout. Passersby inside Building N52 can view the model building and railway layout through a large window and play a monochromatic version of Tetris via remote control, accompanied by authentic-sounding music, even when the facility is closed.[22]

Other hacks utilize the height of the building, such as a 1974 failed attempt to operate a giant yoyo from the roof of the tower.[23][24] Launching of projectiles from the roof is strongly discouraged, risking deflection by the unpredictable high wind gusts and posing a serious danger to passersby and to residents of nearby East Campus dormitory.

Pumpkin Drop[edit]

At midnight on the last Saturday of October, 1West (the smallest hall in the East Campus dorm) drops a large number of pumpkins (up to the low hundreds) off the roof of the Green Building. Students come to watch, but the area around the foot of the building is quarantined off, to prevent anyone from being hit.[25][26][27][28]


The Green Building faces McDermott Court (also known as The Dot).[29] This grassy area is flanked by the 33-ton metal sculpture La Grande Voile (The Big Sail), one of Alexander Calder's "stabile" artworks.[30][31]

In May 2011, a temporary artwork was installed in the arched "breezeway" at the base of the Green Building, to take advantage of its legendary wind gusts. Designed by Meejin Yoon, an Associate Professor of Architecture, Wind Screen was an array of wind-driven micro-turbine generators that would light up whenever there was enough air movement.[32] This installation was featured in the FAST (Festival of Art, Science, and Technology) celebration, part of the MIT 150 commemoration of MIT's 150th anniversary.

On May 18, 2013, a night-time projection on the radome on the rooftop of the Green Building by artist David Yann Robert beamed the image of Bengali polymath and biophysicist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose during a lecture-performance on plant signaling and behavior.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cecil and Ida Green Center for Earth Sciences - The Skyscraper Center". The Skyscraper Center. Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  2. ^ Green Building at Emporis
  3. ^ Shrock, Robert Rakes (1982). Geology at MIT 1865-1965: A History of the First Hundred Years of Geology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT Press. p. 166. ISBN 9780262192118.
  4. ^ Bushra B. Makiya (October 5, 1999). "This Week in MIT History". The Tech. 119 (47). Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  5. ^ "Tallest buildings in Cambridge". Emporis. Retrieved June 7, 2015.
  6. ^ Simha, O. Robert (2001). MIT Campus Planning 1960–2000: An Annotated Chronology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Office of the Executive Vice President. p. 32–34. ISBN 0-262-69294-5.
  7. ^ "Welcome to the MIT Campus Map". MIT Campus Map. MIT. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c Interviewer: Susan Crowley (February 9, 2005). "William R. Dickson Oral History Project" (PDF) (Interview). MIT Institute Archives & Special Collection. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  9. ^ a b c Kalmikov, Alexander (2013). "Uncovering MIT wind myths through micro-climatological CFD analysis". arXiv:1310.3538 [].
  10. ^ "List Curators Discuss Evolving Face of Public Art by Benjamin P. Gleitzman". The Tech. 126 (36). September 8, 2006. Retrieved May 29, 2014. Interview with curators Bill Arning and Patricia Fuller.
  11. ^ "Hacks on The Green Building (54)". MIT IHFTP Hack Gallery. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  12. ^ "The Green Building Sound (VU) Meter". MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  13. ^ Institute Historian T.F. Peterson (2011). Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT (Revised 2011 ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press / MIT Museum. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-262-51584-9. Greenspeak spoken here
  14. ^ "Red Sox Greenspeak". MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  15. ^ "Greenspeak". UVa Writing Program Instructor Site. University of Virginia. Archived from the original on July 28, 2011. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  16. ^ "Greenspeak". FRB Dallas [website]. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Archived from the original on February 12, 2012. Retrieved May 8, 2011.
  17. ^ a b Pourian, Jessica J. (May 1, 2012). "The 'holy grail' of hacks: The construction of one of the most anticipated hacks of all time". The Tech. 132 (22). Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  18. ^ Parker, Brock (April 24, 2012). "Hackers convert MIT building in giant Tetris video game". Boston Globe. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  19. ^ "Tetris on the Green Building". MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  20. ^ a b MIT News Office (April 21, 2013). "MIT's Green Building pays tribute to the week's events". MIT News Office. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  21. ^ Kennedy, Shred. "Famous MIT Green Building Displays American Flag Lights After Bombing". The Awesome Boston. The Awesome Boston. Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  22. ^ "Green Building". Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
  23. ^ Moore, Barb (January 16, 1974). "Unusual Activities" (PDF). The Tech. 93 (56). p. 3. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  24. ^ "Front page photo caption" (PDF). The Tech. 94 (5). February 22, 1974. pp. 1, 4. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  25. ^ Lydia K. '14 (October 31, 2011). "Pumpkin Drop". MIT Admissions. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  26. ^ Michael C. '16 (October 28, 2012). "MIT PUMPKIN DROP 2012!". MIT Admissions. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  27. ^ Hao, Ziwei (October 29, 2010). "How to get wicked this weekend". The Tech. 130 (49). Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  28. ^ Jared L. Wong; Mark Fayngersh; Miho Kitagawa (November 1, 2011). "Photo Gallery". The Tech. 131 (49). Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  29. ^ Matthew Palmer (April 28, 2000). "McDermott Building Plan Altered". The Tech. 170 (23). Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  30. ^ "La Grande Voile (The Big Sail)". MIT List Visual Arts Center: Collections. MIT Council for the Arts. Archived from the original on November 8, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  31. ^ "'The Big Sail (La Grande Voile)' by Alexander Calder". Virtual Globetrotting. May 10, 2007. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
  32. ^ "Meejin Yoon: Wind Screen". Arts at MIT [website]. MIT Council for the Arts. Retrieved May 8, 2011.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′38″N 71°05′21″W / 42.360431°N 71.089109°W / 42.360431; -71.089109