Getting to Kendall Gateway
East Campus Planning Process
Over 18 months ago, when Professor Adele Santos, then Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), brought together an eclectic group of planning and architecture faculty – the SA+P Faculty Design Group – to contribute as a school to the Institute’s East Campus Planning process, I think it is safe to say that most of us were doubtful that: 1) we could ever arrive at consensus given our divergent view points and backgrounds within SA+P, and 2) even if we could arrive at consensus, there would be an opportunity to have a real impact on a process that was well under way.
In April 2011, MIT had filed a rezoning petition with the City of Cambridge to increase allowable density and building heights on MIT-owned property in the Kendall Square area. In October of 2012 the Faculty Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning had made several recommendations should the zoning petition be approved, which included: 1) a comprehensive urban design plan for the East Campus is completed before any buildings are built, 2) a faculty group or similar task force participate directly in the East Campus Planning process, and 3) development be guided by a set of design principles laid out in the report. MIT revised its rezoning petition and resubmitted it in December 2012. The City of Cambridge approved the petition in April 2013, adding approximately 900,000 square feet of additional office, lab, retail, and housing beyond the 800,000 square feet of “as-of-right” development already available in the East Campus.
In late April of 2013, when Dean Santos asked us as part of the SA+P Faculty Design Group to roll up our sleeves and use our collective planning and design experience to contribute to East Campus, most of us, having only heard bits and pieces of information about the East Campus Planning efforts, approached her call to action with measured skepticism. Despite our doubts, we engaged in several intense planning and design charrettes (the term that architects and planners use to describe such a design workshop) to research, model, and draw through the potential options for East Campus from a physical planning perspective. Needless to say, it was impossible to reach consensus among the seven participating faculty and we arrived at seven different approaches to the plan. While that was probably to be expected, the unexpected outcome was that these alternatives – based on expanded design principles – were not only well received by the East Campus Steering Committee and administration, but fully embraced as part of the next iteration of the East Campus planning process.
The planning and design process of the MIT campus is a complex one, involving dozens of stakeholders, administrators, faculty, students, and planning and design professionals.
As a professor of architecture and design, I tell my students that design is not a linear process but an iterative one. Schemes are tested, redesigned, presented, debated, and redesigned again and again, improving along the way. The planning and design process weighs ideals, planning visions, and design principles with economic viability, regulatory constraints, and pragmatic needs. Over the last 12 months, members of the SA+P faculty have worked intensely together on the East Campus Working Team with the Office of Campus Planning and MITIMCo to balance the quantitative metrics with qualitative aspirations to arrive at a process and a plan that embodies MIT from inside-out and outside-in.
In “Twenty to Thirty Questions About MIT 2030” from the November/December 2011 issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter, the “SAPiens” (brought together by Professor Caroline Jones and representing over a dozen faculty members from SA+P), put forward 26 concerns/challenges to the Institute. As the process continues to evolve, I look back at the points made by my colleagues, and I am struck by how many of those challenges have been embraced by the planning process over the past year. From the initial studies by Elkus Manfredi Architects, to the plans by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects & Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, to the MIT and community meetings in response to the plans, and the further study by an SA+P faculty group, the plan framework has adapted and transformed with every level of engagement. Programmatically, the current East Campus plan has become more “MIT” with new graduate student housing, childcare facilities, an Innovation Center, and the MIT Museum at the Kendall Gateway.
The integration of MIT and retail/service programs into the commercial office and lab buildings will be essential to the identity, vibrancy, and success of the East Campus plan. The proposed large open space that both reaches out and draws community in has the potential to define the values of MIT for the next century.
Currently, the selection process for the professionals to design the buildings and public spaces that constitute the Kendall gateway is under way. Over the summer a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and Request for Proposals (RFPs) for architectural design teams yielded 30 firms for consideration. Three-to-four teams were selected for interviews for each building site by a committee comprised of members of the faculty, Office of Campus Planning, Campus Construction, and MITIMCo. Within each of the committees many different viewpoints were expressed and passionately debated until a recommendation could be made. The recommendations for the site architects were presented at a meeting of the MIT Building Committee at which Professor and Chair of the Faculty Steve Hall was present (acting as an interim representative for the soon to be formed Faculty Planning Committee).
It has been an incredible learning experience to witness the passion, commitment, and difference in so many who have a shared goal – the successful outcome to the Kendall Gateway and East Campus. It is clear that there is still much process ahead and that community engagement and open communication will be essential to the development of a uniquely MIT Gateway and East Campus.
For future updates, please visit: kendallsquare.mit.edu.