Field Trip :: Baker House + Simmons Hall

MIT dorm Simmons Hall designed by Steven Holl
By: Curtis Robinson, BArch Candidate
Head over to Cambridge and walk to the MIT athletic fields, to your left you'll see a seven story brick building hidden behind vegetation, and to your right you'll see glimpses of a large gridded, sponge looking building that stands right out. The brick building with plantings surrounding it is Baker House, a dorm designed by Alvar Alto and the sponge like building is Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl.

Baker House is set within the landscape to create a more natural space
The cantilevered portion of the building are the main stairwells which point to the main/only entrance
On the outside the two buildings could not be more different. Alto's design is full of curves and angled walls with change in elevation depths where as Holl's design is a giant 330 foot long gridded wall with pieces punched out.

Simmons Hall
The two dormitories were designed and built 50 years apart from each other and though the concepts of their unique design differ, there are similarities of how the designers control social interaction. Both Alto and Holl created spaces where students could easily gather and socialize with one another. Alto did so by creating only one main entry to the building- ensuring that all residents would gather in the first and second floor lounge areas and would be forced to interact through the main stairwells. Holl's design takes Alto's approach of using hallways as social areas and takes it further by making all hallways 11 feet wide as well as creating large cut outs full of light that act as lounge spaces which occur abruptly in the middle of hallways. 
Stair and Material of wall detail of Simmons Hall
Users of the dorms when asked often say they prefer Baker House, because of the human scale of the building, and the materials within the building make it warm and more homelike. The same users feel that Simmons Hall is to cold due to the material choices, and the scale of interior and exterior spaces do not make it appealing to spend time in. 

Baker House is located at 362 Memorial Drive in Cambridge and Simmons Hall is located not to far away at 299 Vassar Street. Click here for information on interior guided tours for both Simmons Hall and Baker House.