Field Trip :: MIT Brain & Cognitive Sciences Complex

By Rand Lemley, BArch candidate

Many visitors to the MIT campus make a trip to Frank Gehry's Stata Center, the wacky computer science building, but they pay no attention to Charles Correa's building, located at Vassar and Main Street.

Nestled into a neighborhood of research facilities managed by MIT and over 100 bio-tech companies, the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex's mission is quite clear: establish a place for transference of ideas across disciplines. Even the building's site on the north side of Vassar Street straddles railroad tracks in an apparent metaphor for the far-reaching impact of the ideas generated inside.

The approach via Vassar leads visitors up ramps lined with spruce that lend a pleasant scent on the ascent to the entrance. After passing through a revolving door, the lobby hints at the playful forms to be found in the atrium just beyond. The stairs leading to the atrium peek out from behind a geometrical wall. An office corner juts out into thin air.

Light pours down into the whimsical atrium from a three-story glass-ceiling atrium, filtering through tension cables and casting ever shifting shadows on the walls. The odd angled walls and office corners make the space feel like a medieval town square and makes for my favorite space in the city. The north and east walls fade from white to orange in a manner that mimics a sunset and adds a vibrancy to the space.

Each space for activity, whether meeting at a table or climbing stairs, is framed by rectangular geometry. This seems to draw the eye to places of possible interaction and encourages collaboration in the environment. From the public platforms that surround the atrium, a person can sit, work, or hold conversations while watching the activity in the space below.

Image: Rand Lemley
Outside of the main atrium, another exciting public space lays on the fourth floor. The Picower Reading Room has double-height windows that look onto the Stata Center. The rear wall is trellised with vines and the floor has scattered flora that give a very different character to the space when compared to the whitewashed atrium. The environment is conducive to quiet studying, with couches and tables laid out around the space. A set of stairs leads down into an even more private space for eating or discussion.

Image: Rand Lemley
The building is open at nearly any hour, and I highly recommend visiting at different times of day -- and night -- to see the full effect of the skylit atrium. Though clad in an understated exterior, the Brain and Cognitive Science Complex has plenty of personality inside.