MIT’s Simmons Hall dorm building at dusk

MIT’s Simmons Hall dorm building at dusk

Image by Chris Devers
Quoting from Wikipedia: List of Massachusetts Institute of Technology undergraduate dormitories: Simmons Hall:

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Simmons Hall, located at 229 Vassar Street, was designed by architect Steven Holl and dedicated in 2002. At the cost of .5 million, it is MIT’s most expensive dormitory built on campus since Baker House.

It is 382 feet long and 10 stories tall, housing 350 undergraduates, faculty housemasters, visiting scholars, and graduate resident tutors [GRTs, MIT’s equivalent of an RA]. The structure is concrete block perforated with approximately 5,500 square windows each measuring two feet (0.60 meters) on a side, and additional larger and irregularly-shaped windows. An 18" (0.46 meters) wall depth is designed to provide shade in summer while allowing the winter sun to help heat the building, without air conditioning. Unfortunately, the efficacy of such a design is yet to be proven and temperature problems plague parts of the building throughout the year. The students complain that the very small metal window frames and screens create a faraday cage which make it difficult to receive wireless telephone signals. An average single room has nine windows, each with its own small curtain. [4]

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 four dormitories that have dining halls; the dining facility is open Sunday through Thursday evenings to members of the MIT community.

The building has been nicknamed the "sponge," but opinions on the aesthetics of the building remain strongly divided. On one hand, 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,[5] a sentiment echoed in James Kunstler’s "Eyesore of the Month" catalog [6]. Many of the residents of Simmons complain that aesthetics came as a higher priority than functionality. 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. Furniture for dormitory rooms are custom-designed, modular, and plywood and have received mixed reviews, garnering praise for their modularity and criticism for their excessive weight and lack of durability.

Due to the architectural attention given to this building, architects are sometimes found trying to observe student life in the building[citation needed], 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 "Ying Yang Pavilion," consists of a glass-walled, rock-filled area in the shape of half the ying-yang symbol in plan, while the other half contains a shallow pool of water[7]. This pool is often populated by rubber ducks, the unofficial mascot of Simmons Hall. The 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.

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