Senior Dormitory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also known as the Baker House


Senior Dormitory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also known as the Baker House

Cambridge (Massachusetts), U.S.A



The renowned institute near Boston, where Aalto had been appointed research fellow in 1940, commissioned him in 1945 to design a student dormitory next to the busy shoreline drive along the Charles River. Aalto considered it psychologically inappropriate to have the rooms with a view directly face the incessant flow of cars; at the same time, he wished to have as many rooms as possible face the sun and the river. The solution was to give the house a meandering serpentine form, increasing the length of the facade and producing oblique views. Moreover, each room took on an individual form, in line with Aalto's wish to counteract technocratic uniformity. The north side is occupied mostly by secondary spaces, such as the common rooms, corridors, and an original stair system which expands upward in fan-like consoles from the control desk in the ground-floor entrance hall. The financial calculations were based on cost per bed, which forced Aalto to maximize the number of rooms. In order to avoid dark corridors, he placed the student canteen and cafeteria in a low, separate wing facing the river in front of the serpentine facade, and added several rooms in a fan arrangement at the west end. He was asked in late 1947 to complete the working drawings for the dormitory together with the local architects' office of Parrey, Shaw & Hepburn; construction began soon after. The main wing is seven storeys high, the six upper floors being occupied exclusively by students' rooms. The main facade material is unevenly fired brick, though grey marble was used for the low, square restaurant wing. The restaurant is lit by round barrel skylights in the flat roof, above which a system of suspended electric lights provide lighting in the dark hours of the day. Aalto wished to cover the south facade of the main wing with ivy clinging to a trellis, and to have a large rooftop garden, but these plans were scrapped for financial reasons. The high-quality furnishings of the student rooms were designed by Aino Aalto, and the furniture was delivered in January 1949 by Svenska Artek, whereas the fixtures were made by the American manufacturer Cory. The dormitory was inaugurated in June 1949.

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