Stata Center Gets Respect

One of my very first blog posts, back in June of 2007, was about MIT’s Stata Center, a striking building designed by architect Frank Gehry. People either loved it or they hated it; that blog post was titled “the building that threw up on itself.”

Now an architecture critic, James S. Russell, has written a glowing review in Bloomberg News, saying that the critics were wrong. He went back to interview the scientists and administrators who had been working in the building all these years, and “all deemed the building a success.”  Here’s what else Russell said:

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.

In my 2007 blog, I was also enthusiastic about Gehry’s building, and for the same reasons–it was designed to foster collaboration. I’m glad to read that its occupants have experienced that.

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