List of Massachusetts Institute of Technology undergraduate dormitories

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This article describes the undergraduate dorms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a focus on student culture and dormitory life (including meal options). All undergrad MIT dorms are officially coed and reserved for unmarried students, except McCormick Hall, which remains women-only. Because living conditions are strongly affected by architecture, there is some coverage of that topic here. For a more aesthetic architectural focus, see the article Campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dormitory cultures[edit]

Over the years, MIT undergrad dormitories have developed a diverse range of cultures and traditions. With occasional local exceptions, the West Campus dorms (Maseeh, McCormick, Baker, Burton-Conner, MacGregor, New, Next, Simmons) have tended to be more mainstream in their outlook, while the East Side dorms (East Campus, Senior House, Random, Bexley) have been the home of many different subcultures, such as LGBTQ, Goth, counterculture, and anarchist.[1] Since 2002, MIT has required all first-year undergrads to reside in dormitories, to control irresponsible abuse of alcohol in some fraternities, which had resulted in the death of a freshman.[2] The shared living experience is regarded as an essential component of undergrad education by students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as evidenced by extensive coverage of living groups in campus media.

The MIT administration has both worked to foster and actively opposed some subcultures, occasionally resorting to mandatory breakup of living groups or even closing and dispersing entire dormitories. Some faculty housemasters have adopted positions favoring the administration, while others have advocated for greater consideration of the views of students. Some alumni have voiced strong support for the culture of their former residences, even diverting or withholding their annual donations to their alma mater. The closure and demolition of Bexley (2014) and the conversion of Senior House to graduate housing after a century of undergrad residence (2017) brought these tensions to local, national, and even international media attention.

As of 2019, a large new 450-bed undergrad dormitory is under construction at 129-169 Vassar Street (Building W46), scheduled to open in 2020.[3] Burton-Conner is scheduled to close for two years (June 2020 to August 2022) for a complete renovation. These major changes pose both a challenge and opportunity to the evolution of traditional MIT undergrad dormitory cultures. The complex and sometimes confusing process of "mutual selection" of new students and living groups during and after Residence/Orientation Week will undergo considerable change for some dormitories.[4]

Design goals[edit]

In 2016, the MIT administration published its guidelines for design of new and renovation of older undergraduate dormitories.[5] An ideal size of 350 students per dormitory, organized into "clusters" of 30 students was proposed, consisting of 30-40% singles and the remainder double-occupancy rooms. Each room is to be equipped with furniture made of durable oak wood, designed to be modular and somewhat reconfigurable by the residents. Three bathrooms (allowing flexible gender designation) would be shared by each cluster of rooms, equipped with shared sinks and individually enclosed toilets and showers.[5]

The report viewed shared cooking and dining facilities as essential parts of MIT student life and education. Some dorms would contain dining halls, and others would be designated as "cook-for-yourself" residences. Both types would also have some accommodations for larger group dining and individual or group cooking, including large "country kitchens" for groups of students working together. Informal and formal teaching about diet and cooking would be encouraged, in response to the expressed interest of many MIT students in learning how to cook. Dining halls would be structured for ease of access by other members of the MIT community, including students, faculty, and staff not residing in the host dorm, to facilitate wider social interactions and events.[5]

A number of rooms and facilities should be shared dorm-wide, such as spaces for music rehearsal, games, media viewing, studying, exercising, meeting, and other individual or group activities. Makerspaces are increasingly emphasized to support MIT's founding mens et manus ("Mind and Hand") ethos and participation in the arts and athletics. A large enclosed exterior space or courtyard should be provided, gated for security while permitting wider community access for special occasions, and protected from solar glare and excessive wind.[5]

Dormitories should be designed to qualify for LEED gold certification, including central air conditioning to discourage improvised window air conditioner installations and to enable year-round use of the buildings.[5] The new Vassar Street dormitory (Building W46) was specifically designed with these guidelines in mind.[3]

Dining options[edit]

The MIT administration has emphasized incorporation of shared dining facilities into several larger undergraduate dormitories, as places where daily informal social interactions can occur. After discontinuation of "mandatory commons" in 1970, MIT continued to operate dining halls in several dormitories on an opt-in meal plan basis. Required meal plans were reinstituted in fall 2011 for residents of several dormitories, despite the vigorous objections of some students.[6][7][8] As of 2019, the MIT meal plans offer a mix of choices, required for residents of some dorms, and optional for all other undergraduates and all grad students.[9]

Five MIT undergrad dorms have dining halls, and require a "mandatory house dining meal plan program" for all undergraduate residents. However, upperclassmen living in these dorms have the option to sign up for fewer meals on a plan (at reduced cost), giving them more flexibility in arranging for some of their own meals.[10]

As of 2019, the mandatory meal plan dorms are:

  • Baker House
  • Maseeh Hall (the only meal plan hall which is also open for lunch)
  • McCormick Hall
  • Next House
  • Simmons Hall

The other dorms are designated as "cook-for-yourself" communities, and have kitchens on each floor, or in each suite of apartments. Residents of these dorms may also opt to sign up for a meal plan at another dorm with dining facilities, or may eat at any dining hall on a "cash" basis. Groceries and prepared food can be bought on-campus or at nearby stores, and free shuttle service is available to selected grocery stores further off campus. In addition, there is a fresh produce market on campus open one day per week throughout most of the calendar year.[11]

Late-night restaurants and clubs are located in Central Square, located 0.5 miles (0.80 km) up Massachusetts Avenue from the main entrance to MIT.

Baker House[edit]

Front facade of Baker House

Baker House,[12] located at 362 Memorial Drive, is a co-ed dormitory at MIT designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 1947–1948 and built in 1949. Its distinctive design has an undulating shape which allows most rooms a view of the Charles River, and gives many of the rooms a wedge-shaped layout. The dining hall features a "moon garden" roof that is also very distinctive. Aalto also designed custom furniture for the rooms. Baker House was renovated for its fiftieth anniversary in 1999, modernizing the plumbing, telecommunications, and electrical systems and removing some of the interior changes made over the years that were not in Aalto's original design.

The dorm was named after Everett Moore Baker, an MIT Dean of Students, who died in a plane crash in India in 1949.[13][14] The dormitory houses 318 undergraduates in single, double, triple, and quadruple rooms. Baker's dining halls are open to all MIT students every day of the week.

Dropping an old worn-out piano from the roof was started by former Baker resident Charles Bruno in 1972 and was resumed as an annual tradition in 2005. The piano is dropped on drop day—the last day MIT students can drop a class with no penalty.[15]

Notable Baker House alumni include Kenneth Olsen (Electrical Engineering, 1950), co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation; Amar Bose (Electrical Engineering, 1951), founder of the Bose Corporation and inventor of numerous audio technologies; Alan Guth (Physics, 1968), astrophysicist and professor of physics at MIT; Timothy Carney (1966), former US Ambassador to Sudan and Haiti; Gerald Sussman (Mathematics, 1968), professor of computer science at MIT; Geoffrey A. Landis (Physics and Electrical Engineering, 1980), NASA scientist and science fiction writer; Ronald T. Raines (Chemistry and Biology, 1980), professor of chemistry at MIT; Cady Coleman (Chemistry, 1983), NASA Astronaut; Wes Bush (1983), former Chairman and CEO, Northrop Grumman; Warren Madden (1985), Weather Channel meteorologist; Jonathan Gruber (Economics, 1987), healthcare economist and political advisor; Charles Korsmo (Physics, 2000), actor in movies such as Hook and Can't Hardly Wait; Ed Miller (Physics and Electrical Engineering, 2000), noted poker authority; and Katy Croff Bell (Ocean Engineering, 2000), National Geographic ocean explorer.

In the summer of 2009, Baker House alumni held a reunion to celebrate Baker's 60th Anniversary, which received a Great Dome award from the MIT Association of Alumni and Alumnae.[16] Another such reunion occurred in 2019 for Baker's 70th Anniversary.

Bexley Hall[edit]

Bexley courtyard during the Blizzard of '78

Bexley Hall, formerly located at 46-52 Massachusetts Avenue, was an early twentieth century brick building, consisting of four four-story walkups surrounding a central courtyard. It was almost directly across the street from MIT's Building 7; old MIT official directories described it as being "just a stone's throw from the Institute's front door".[17] As former apartments which were renovated in the 1970s, Bexley suites had full kitchens and bathrooms. The stout, soundproof walls of Bexley were extensively painted by students and were plastered with murals and graffiti, some of which dated back to the 1960s.

Long known for its alternative culture, Bexley was among the first MIT dormitories to officially become coed, housing 120 undergrads. It was also one of the first MIT dorms to be co-species, as residents used to let their cats roam free around the building decades before MIT officially adopted a cat-friendly policy in 2008.

Well known alumni of Bexley Hall include Dan Bricklin, co-inventor of the computerized spreadsheet, and Jeff Sagarin, a sports computerized ratings guru who first became known through his ranking and odds (betting) lines in USA Today, but who later was hired by the NCAA to help with computerizing the basketball tournament selection process. Also among best-recognized former Bexley residents were Institute Professor Jerome Lettvin and his wife Maggie who were Bexley "houseparents" in the 1970s and early 1980s.[18]

The dorm had a tightly-knit community where people shared their suites' halls with the rest of the Bexley residents to form a network of rooms and living spaces. The main lounges (all, except for the "lounge" at the front desk, created in the 1990s) included the "FU$K" lounge located on the third floor on the north side of the building next to the 305 suite. There was also the Coke lounge located on the south side on the fourth floor. In addition to its alternative culture and anti-rush ideas, Bexley was also notorious for alleged LSD manufacturing in the infamous BEXMENT in the 1970s.[19]

Sometime in the early 1970s, following leads in the phone hacking case of Cap'n Crunch, the FBI paid a visit to Bexley. Twenty to thirty Bexleyites filled a living room on the first floor of 46 Mass. Ave. and were "interviewed" by two FBI agents. "We shared popcorn, and asked them more questions than they asked us; the spirit was boisterous."[20]

A graffito on the inside of a closet door at 50 MassAve said, simply, "2.361". To an MIT student the decimal notation could only identify a course number—in this case, for a Mechanical Engineering course (Course 2). "A perusal of the current (1970s) catalog showed no such course. At the time, I worked in the stacks at MIT's library. They had old course catalogs, so I looked in one from the '60s, and, sure enough, there it was: 2.361 Friction and Lubrication."[21]

The May 1970 Grateful Dead concerts at MIT were sponsored by Bexley's housemaster.[22]

On May 7, 2013, MIT announced that Bexley Hall would be closed for up to three years, due to significant water damage inside the building's exterior walls that rendered the dormitory unsafe to live in.[23] Bexley residents and others expressed considerable concern about the sudden disruption of student housing plans, and possible loss of the unique student culture that had evolved over the years.[24][25][26]

On October 17, 2013, MIT's Department of Facilities recommended that Bexley be demolished. It was considered too expensive to repair and bring up to modern building code.[27] As of October 2015, the building had been completely removed, and a small park has been established in its place. The closure reduced the number of available beds by 100; with the suspension of two fraternities at the same time, other dorms were able to absorb some students, but the incoming class in 2014 was reduced by 60 students.[28]

Burton-Conner House[edit]

The three "Burton" wings of Burton-Conner House, viewed from Memorial Drive

Burton-Conner House,[29] (shortened to Burton-Conner or BC), is located at 410 Memorial Drive, on the north bank of the Charles River. At maximum uncrowded capacity, Burton-Conner officially holds 344 students. The building is five stories high, plus a ground floor.

Burton-Conner is a combination of two major sections of the former "Riverside" hotel and apartment building, which MIT acquired and reopened as a dormitory in 1950. "Burton House" consists of the 3 western-most wings, while "Conner Hall" comprises the remaining 2 wings of the extended E-shaped structure. The two sections of the building are physically separated by a firewall above the ground floor; to pass from Conner 4 to Burton 4, a resident must first descend to the ground floor (or first floor through the Porter Room, if it is open). In the 1960s, a dining hall was added at the rear of Burton-Conner, on the side away from the river. Some years later, the dining hall was shut down, and the space was renamed the Porter Room,[citation needed][when?] a shared meeting and student event space. (As of September 2015, the kitchen remains, though unused.) The entire building underwent a complete restructuring during 1970–1971, when the internal layout was changed from a floor orientation (with floor-wide bathrooms and gang showers) to a suite orientation (introducing kitchens, suite lounges, and semi-private bathrooms).

In the dorm, nine floors (2 through 5 on the Conner side and 1 through 5 on the Burton side) are used for student housing. On Conner 1 are the housemaster's apartment, a library with Athena-network computers, a study area, and the Residential Life Associate's apartment. On the ground floor, notable features include an electronics lab and darkroom (unused for over 10 years), music rooms, a game room, weight and exercise rooms, and a lounge with a snack bar.

Most residents name their floor by their section name followed by a cardinal number denoting their floor, such as "Burton 2"; however, Burton Third is the only floor that is often named by an ordinal number. Burton 2 has a large Jewish population because of the presence of two Kosher suites (a men's and a women's suite, both with designated Kosher kitchens). A group of Hillel students gather on Burton 2 after Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) services and sit around a table to sing lively z'mirot (Jewish songs) in an event they know as "Tisch" every Friday evening.

In January 2011, current and former residents celebrated the 60th anniversary of Burton-Conner with a reunion gathering in the Porter Room. A special commemorative history[30] was compiled for the occasion, along with enhancement of an ongoing website for residents and alumni.[31]

In February 2019, the MIT administration announced that Burton-Conner would be closed from June 2020 to August 2022 for a complete renovation. Dorm residents expressed concerns about interim housing and the effects this might have on dorm culture.[32]

East Campus Alumni Memorial Housing (Buildings 62 and 64)[edit]

Aerial view of the two parallels of East Campus Alumni Memorial Housing (northerly ends are at left of photo)

Variously known as East Campus, Fred the Dorm, and East Campus Alumni Memorial Houses,[33] East Campus is MIT's second oldest dormitory after Senior House. Located at 3 Ames Street, it is an undergraduate dorm formed from six "houses", each named after an alumnus of MIT:

  • Goodale (Charles W. Goodale, '75)
  • Bemis (Albert Farwell Bemis, '93, member of the MIT Corporation from 1914 to 1936)
  • Walcott (William W. Walcott, '01)
  • Munroe (James P. Munroe, '82, Secretary of the MIT Corporation from 1907 to 1929)
  • Hayden (Charles Hayden, '90, member of the MIT Corporation from 1907 to 1929)
  • Wood (Kenneth F. Wood, '94)

East Campus is arranged in two long north-south buildings, the east parallel (one house built in 1924, extended to full parallel in 1928) and the west parallel (built in 1931). Each is divided into three houses, which are connected by floor. There are 5 floors, plus a basement, in each parallel. The houses are architectural entities, but the social organization is by floor: students can more easily walk to other rooms on the floor than go up or down stairs to another floor. Students typically think of themselves as residents of Fourth East (fourth floor, east parallel) rather than as residents of Bemis House. Floors with distinctive cultures often have additional names such as "First East" (First East), "Beast" (Second East), "Tetazoo" (Third East), "Slugfest" (Fourth East), "Jack Florey" (Fifth East), "Stickman" (First West), "Putz" (Second West), "Floor Pi" (Third West), "41 West" (Fourth West) and "Fifth West" (Fifth West).

The dorm celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2014. Due to the dorm's age, sturdiness, and tradition, the 350-400 undergrads living there are allowed to paint and alter rooms and floor common spaces, up to the limits of what the Cambridge fire code will allow. Students frequently use technology to customize their rooms, building projects such as an Emergency Pizza Button to have Domino's deliver a cheese pizza,[34] a disco dance floor,[35] and an automatic door-unlocking system.[36]

Notable alumni of East Campus include NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and George Smoot, co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics.

MacGregor House[edit]

MacGregor House, viewed from Briggs Field, looking towards the Charles River (not visible)

MacGregor House,[37] located at 450 Memorial Drive, was designed by Pietro Belluschi, built in 1970, and named for Frank S. MacGregor (SB 1907, Physics).[38] It consists of a 16-story high-rise tower, connected to a four-story low-rise surrounding a paved courtyard. Both parts consist of suites grouped into "entries" of three to four floors each. The entries are named by letter: A, B, C, D, and E entries are located in the tower and F, G, H, and J entries are located in the low-rise. There is no I-entry, because (in true MIT style) i is imaginary.[39] The ground floor consists mostly of dorm-wide common areas.

Each suite in MacGregor houses six to eight people, usually coed; the entire dorm houses 326 undergrads. Almost all rooms in MacGregor are singles; the three doubles in F entry are an architectural anomaly. Each suite comes equipped with a bathroom and a kitchen area with a 4-burner electric range-top; in addition, one suite in an entry also has an oven.[39]

MacGregor features various amenities, including a music room, game room, and weight room. A convenience store (MacCon) was located inside MacGregor on the first floor, but closed in 2017.[39]

The building and its surroundings are well-known on campus for fierce winds and gusts during stormy weather. A computational fluid dynamics (CFD) study examined the causes of this phenomenon in detail, but did not propose any specific measures to ameliorate it.[40]

Maseeh Hall[edit]

Maseeh Hall (formerly Ashdown House), viewed from the Harvard Bridge

The building at 305 Memorial Drive, since 2010 named after Fariborz Maseeh (ScD 1990, Civil Engineering), predates MIT's move to Cambridge in 1916. It is located at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Massachusetts Avenue, across the Avenue from MIT's Building 1. It was originally operated as the "Riverbank Court Hotel" from 1901–1937. In 1938, MIT reopened it as "Graduate House", later renaming it "Ashdown House" after its first faculty housemaster, Avery Allen Ashdown. By the beginning of the 21st century, the building had become run-down and in need of renovation. Graduate students were moved out, to a new Ashdown House (NW35) located much further away, a controversial decision justified by a desire to house all undergrads as close as possible to MIT's central campus.[41][42]

The exterior of the emptied building was immediately repaired to stop water leaks and further deterioration, but there was no funding to renovate the interior of the structure. In 2010, Maseeh donated $24 million for the purpose of increasing MIT's undergraduate enrollment by 270 students (an increase of 6%).[43][44] To enable this, the number of undergraduate dormitory beds needed to be increased, since MIT now requires all undergraduate students to live in dormitories on campus for at least their first year. Upon its re-opening, Maseeh Hall was the largest undergrad dormitory on campus, with 462 beds; in 2013, Maseeh's occupancy was further increased to 490.

The Phoenix Group, named for the mythical phoenix bird and its ability to rise from ashes, was a group of 50 undergraduates who lived in NW35 for three years prior to Maseeh's opening.[45] They influenced decisions made about Maseeh's furniture, student government and culture, and shaped the undergraduate community that was to occupy Maseeh Hall. Maseeh Hall's mascot is the phoenix.

Maseeh Hall was first opened to undergrad residents in August 2011.[46] As of 2019, housemasters are Jack Carroll and Susanne Flynn (a professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy).

The lobby of Maseeh Hall is architecturally notable for its spacious vaulting and mosaic decorations made of Guastavino tile.

McCormick Hall[edit]

McCormick Hall, viewed from Memorial Drive

McCormick Hall,[47] located at 320 Memorial Drive, is a women-only dormitory housing 237 undergrads. It consists of two 8-floor towers (the east tower and the west tower) and an annex converted from two adjacent brownstone buildings. The three sections are connected on the ground floor. Each tower has a penthouse on the top floor that looks out on the Boston skyline. The funds for building McCormick Hall came from Katharine Dexter McCormick (SB 1904, Biology), a leading biologist, suffragist, and philanthropist in the early twentieth century.[48]

New House[edit]

New House, as seen from Memorial Drive

New House,[49]closed access sometimes referred to as New West Campus Houses, houses 291 undergraduates at 471—476 Memorial Drive. The dormitory is a series of six joined five-story buildings arranged in a zig-zag fashion, each (like East Campus's sections) named after alumni. A main hallway on the first floor (known as "The Arcade") connects all the houses, and pairwise upper-floor connections also exist between houses 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6. (All of the smaller buildings comprising New House are also referred to as "houses".) There are kitchens and common areas scattered throughout the dormitory. There is a tunnel connecting New House and neighboring MacGregor House, allowing residents to have easy access to MacGregor's convenience store (which has now been closed).

Instead of having elevators as an amenity as in other newer dorms, air conditioning is available in the rooms of New House (limited funding forced a choice to be made between those two options).[citation needed] This feature becomes quite useful at the near-summer beginnings of fall terms and ends of spring terms, when local temperatures can reach up to 95 °F (35 °C). New House's facilities include a weight room, an Athena Cluster, a newly renovated study lounge, and a game room.

New House is made up of nine strong communities: iHouse, Chocolate City, House 2, House 3, La Casa (Spanish House), House 4, De5mond, French House, and German House. More information on the House at large can be found on the New House Website.

Next House[edit]

Next House, as seen from Amherst Alley

Next House,[50] located at 500 Memorial Drive, is five stories tall and houses about 350 people. Patterned after the success of Baker House, it opened in September 1981. The "Next House" designation was unofficial and thought to be temporary until a sufficient donation had been received to name the dorm. As a result, the Institute has nearly always referred to the building as 500 Memorial Drive, while students have always called the dorm "Next House".

The dorm is divided into east and west wings which are connected at the center, and similar to East Campus locations are referred to by "(ordinal number) (wing)" when spoken, or "(cardinal number) (wing initial)" when written, such as "5 west" or "5W". When Next House first opened, the hallway directly ahead of the elevator opening was referred to as "central," so one could live on "4th Central" (aka "Epsilon Lambda") as well; however, the lounge is now considered part of the west side[citation needed]. Its second name is a cheeky satirical shot at fraternities across campus; the letters EL reference "elevator lounge", another common name for central lounges near the elevators. Each floor contains a large main lounge that faces the river, along with several smaller lounges, colloquially named in accordance to their location (e.g. "elevator lounge" or "deep lounge"), or nicknamed by their residents (for example, the far 4W lounge was dubbed "The Shire" for the 2012-13 year). Each wing also tends to nickname itself (3W is nicknamed SafetyThird). The 5th floor also features skylights placed in various areas.

The first level is home to the "TFL" (Tastefully Furnished Lounge, also the site of the annual "Next Act" theatrical production), along with music practice rooms, Next Dining (open daily to all MIT students for breakfast and dinner), Athena computing cluster, and workout rooms. The TFL was so named at the first Next House governance meeting, ironically when this space still contained very few furnishings, after a sarcastic suggestion was offered by a group of upperclassmen who had moved from MacGregor House, which contains its own Tastefully Furnished Lounge; the newer TFL nowadays contains a number of armchairs and sofas as well as a piano. (The words "Tastefully Furnished Lounge" originally appeared in an official brochure distributed at the dedication ceremonies for MacGregor House, and were ironically adopted because the space was initially barely furnished at all). The Next House basement level offers a laundry room, game area, and the Country Kitchen, where students are often seen cooking up various meals.

Random Hall[edit]

Random Hall, viewed from Massachusetts Avenue

Random Hall[51] located at 290 Massachusetts Avenue, was created by the joining of two old, identical buildings, a process known to some residents as "siamization". Random Hall is not actually named after anybody, but the fictional benefactor "J. Arthur Random" has been adopted by the residents.

Random Hall is the oldest building owned by MIT, and lacks elevators. Originally built in 1894 and converted to a visiting students and overflow dormitory in 1968, in the spring and summer of 1977 it was quickly remodeled for undergraduate use to accommodate the unexpectedly large matriculation of the class of 1981. The four physical floors of the building are divided by the firewall which runs down its middle, with openings between the sides on the first and third floors, creating eight logical floors which each have distinct personalities and names. The two sides of Random Hall are known as the "290 side" and the "282 side", after the street addresses of the two entries. From first to fourth floor, the 282 side consists of Destiny, Loop, Clam, and Bonfire; while the 290 side consists of Foo, Black Hole, BMF, and Pecker.[52]

Random Hall is the smallest of the MIT dorms, housing only about 93 undergraduates, and is located about a block past the northern border of the main campus. Random Hall was known for its early implementation of bathroom[53] and laundry machine[54] online servers, which allowed people to determine remotely whether bathrooms and washers or dryers are in use. It is also home of The Milk, a carton which has been stored in a dorm fridge since 1994, for which MIT received an undergraduate admissions application in 2014.[55]

Senior House[edit]

Senior House entrance on Amherst Street

Senior House[56] is the oldest dormitory at MIT and was the first self-governing college dormitory in the United States.[57] Since its construction in 1916, it has served as the Institute's first dormitory and on-campus fraternity, a mixed undergraduate and graduate dorm, an all-graduate facility, a seniors' dormitory, and military housing during World War II. It is currently a co-ed residence housing 100 graduate students. The building is an L-shaped building directly adjacent to the residence of the President of MIT. A tower at the center of the North side features neo-classical columns that reflect the architecture of the original MIT Cambridge campus. After major renovations, Senior House had been one of two MIT undergrad dorms with air conditioning (May through September).

The building's street address is 4 Ames Street, but the mailing address is 70 Amherst Street, because the main entry was moved to what originally was the back of the building. Before implementation of the current single-entry building layout (ostensibly for security reasons), Senior House had six entries, named for people from MIT history:

Each entry has four floors, except for Runkle, which has six. The entries are arranged in an L-shape around a central courtyard. Each leg of the L is referred to by the initials of the three entries it contains: "WAR" and "HNC". The fifth and sixth floors (existing only in Runkle) are collectively referred to as "Towers". Floors with a particularly strong student culture are often given unofficial names, such as: "Freshman Ghetto" (1WAR), "3 qWARe" (3WAR), "State School" (3HNC), "WW4" (4WAR) and the "Oval Orifice" (suite 433).

Senior House alumni include Janos Pasztor (Nuclear Engineering, 1979), former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations; John Brusger (Chemistry, 1978) founder of Newbury Comics; Lawrence Summers (Economics, 1975), former president of Harvard University and former Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration; Bruce Morrison (Chemistry, 1965), United States Representative for the 3rd Congressional District of Connecticut, 1983–1991; Moshe Arens (Mechanical Engineering, 1947), former member of the Israeli Knesset, defense minister, and ambassador to the United States; Gordon S. Brown (Electrical Engineering, 1931), former Dean of Engineering at MIT and a pioneer in the development of automatic-feedback systems and numerically controlled machine tools. Additionally, John B. Goodenough, awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of the lithium-ion battery, lived in Senior House as faculty resident in the 1950s and 60s when he was part of an interdisciplinary team responsible for developing random access memory.

On June 12, 2017, news reached the MIT community that Senior House, as it had previously existed, would be replaced with "Pilot 2021".[58] This move was seen as a response to what the administration described as failures relating to a previous 2016-2017 turnaround program. This turnaround period, claimed to be in response to a low graduation rate and possible drug-related problems in Senior House, included the banning of new first-year students that term, and the implementation of other changes related to mental health and supervision.[59][60] The Pilot 2021 program was to house first-years and a small number of students in other years, and was described as being "founded on three principles: career exploration, food and cooking, and mind&body wellness". It would no longer allow cats, murals, or other elements connected with "East-side" dorm culture. Many members of the East-side MIT community viewed the erasing of Senior House culture as a possible attack from the administration on their community values, and some current students and alumni of the Haus were organizing to withhold donations from the Institute.[61] The continuing controversy received coverage well beyond the campus, including articles in the business magazine Forbes, the commentary magazine The Atlantic, and the student edition of the French newspaper Le Figaro.[62][63][64][65]

On July 7, an MIT administrator abruptly announced that the building was to be completely emptied of undergraduates after 100 years of such occupancy; it was to be repurposed as a grad student dorm.[66] This announcement triggered a new round of controversy and discussion among the MIT community.[67][68][69] An article in Wired magazine described the MIT dorm closure as part of a wider trend among American universities.[70]

Simmons Hall[edit]

Simmons Hall, viewed from Briggs' Field

Simmons Hall[71] located at 229 Vassar Street, was designed by architect Steven Holl and dedicated in 2002.[72] At the cost of $78.5 million, it is MIT's most expensive dormitory built on campus since Baker House.

The building is 382 feet (116 m) long and 10 stories tall, housing 344 undergraduates, plus faculty housemasters, visiting scholars, and graduate resident tutors (GRTs, MIT's equivalent of an RA). The structure is a massive reinforced concrete block, perforated with approximately 5,500 square windows each measuring 2 feet (0.61 m) on a side, plus additional larger and irregularly shaped windows. An 18-inch (460 mm) wall depth is designed to allow the winter sun to help heat the building while providing shade in summer, without air conditioning. An average single room has nine windows, each with its own small curtain.[73]

Internal design consists of one- and two-person rooms—some in suite-like settings with semi-private bathrooms—and lounges with and without kitchens, roughly arranged into three towers (the "A", "B", and "C" towers). Simmons Hall is one of the five dormitories that have dining halls; the dining facility is open for breakfast and dinner Monday through Friday and brunch/dinner on Saturday and Sunday. Simmons also has a late-nite cafe which is open Sunday through Thursday (9 pm to 1 am) to undergraduates and members of the MIT community. The building also has some esoteric facilities, such as a large ball pit, an electronics makerspace, and a woodworking shop.

The building has been nicknamed "The Sponge", because the architect consciously modeled its shape and internal structure on a sea sponge.[72][74][75] Opinions on the aesthetics of the building remain strongly divided. Simmons Hall won the 2003 American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Architecture, and the 2004 Harleston Parker Medal, administered by the Boston Society of Architects and awarded to the "most beautiful piece of architecture building, monument or structure" in the Boston area. On the other hand, the building has been criticized as being ugly,[76] a sentiment echoed in James Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month catalog.[77]

Many of the residents of Simmons complain that aesthetics came as a higher priority than functionality.[74] For example, residents in the "A" tower must take two different elevators, or must walk the length of the building twice (more than an eighth of a mile) to reach the dining hall because neither the "A" elevator nor "A" tower staircases reach the first floor, where the dining hall is located. Other oddities include staircases that do not offer access to every floor. Furnishings for dormitory rooms are custom-designed, modular, and made from plywood; they have received mixed reviews, garnering praise for their modularity, and criticism for their excessive weight and lack of durability.[75]

Due to the architectural attention given to this building, architects are sometimes found trying to observe student life in the building,[75] an occurrence that the students strongly resent (notices are sometimes sent out by e-mail when architects do enter the building, alerting residents to escort them out).

Additionally, as part of the MIT List Visual Arts Center's Percent-for-Art program, a piece was commissioned for the building by American artist Dan Graham. The sculpture, titled Yin Yang Pavilion, consists of a partially reflective, glass-walled, gravel-paved area in the shape of half of the yin-yang symbol in plan, while the other half contains a shallow pool of water.[78] This pool is often populated by rubber ducks, the unofficial mascots of Simmons Hall. The art piece is located on a small terrace on the second floor of the building and is often used as a "jail" of sorts for unwanted guests, due to the fact that both entry and exit require MIT card access.

Simmons Hall was featured in the exhibit Inside the Sponge — Students Take on MIT Simmons Hall at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal in the fall of 2006.[79]

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External links[edit]