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First look: MIT's newest building, the new heart of the Sloan School of Management

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 10, 2010 09:04 AM

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sloanbldg1.jpgThe newest building on MITís campus, which opened to students just this week, has been given a characteristically un-glam MIT designation: since no donor has yet coughed up a big enough check to plaster his or her name on the $142 million glass-and-limestone tower at the edge of Kendall Square, it is known as Ö drumroll, please ÖBuilding E62.

Cindy Hill, the director of capital projects for the Sloan School of Management, was kind enough to give me a tour yesterday.

The 215,000 square-foot building houses an executive education center, a cafeteria, study rooms, offices for Sloanís entire faculty and staff, and a half-dozen MBA classrooms. Planning began as far back as 1997, Hill told me, but ground wasnít broken until May 2007. The first year of construction focused on building an underground garage (the cost of which isnít included in that $142 million); it replaced a large surface parking lot formerly on the site.

The first thing you notice, approaching the building from Kendall Square, is an enormous sculpture by the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Itís a chain sculpted from a single block of granite. Inside the twelve links of the chain, Chinese pine trees have been planted. Iíd hypothesized that the sculpture symbolizes the shackles of student debt, but Hill said it is intended to represent the connectedness of everything.

sloanbldg2.jpgThe exterior of the building is a limestone quarried in Germany that can look beige, orange or pink depending on the light; embedded in it are fossils roughly 150 million years old, Hill says. On the first floor is a cafeteria thatís open to anyone; it offers pizza and calzones, Indian food, sushi, burgers, pressed sandwiches, and a salad bar.

Hill says that E62 is the most energy-efficient building yet built on the MIT campus. (Theyíve applied for LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and may attain the gold level.) There are shades that descend automatically to block the sun, recycled glass in the terrazzo flooring, a green roof planted with sedum, and heat, A/C, and lights that turn on only when someone is using a room. Solar panels are planned for part of the roof, but havenít yet been installed. The building uses tripled-glazed, reflective, and opaque glass in different places for different reasons. "We wanted lots of glass, to let in lots of light," Hill explains, "but if it had all been transparent, it would have let in far too much heat, and we would've needed much larger HVAC equipment." (Hill also mentions that an amazing 92 percent of the building that was on the site previously was reused or recycled.)

The buildingís major donor so far is E-Trade co-founder William A. Porter, who earned his MBA at Sloan. Porter gave $25 million to the new building back in 1999, and part of it will be known as the Porter Management Center.

sloanclassroom.jpgThe classrooms are outfitted with lecterns that Captain Kirk would be comfortable piloting: thereís a flat-screen display, a document camera, A/V controls, and adjustments that can make the lectern rise or descend. Even some of the student study rooms have videoconferencing technology, so that a student team can communicate with a far-off company with which they may be working on a project.

Since any two randomly-chosen professors rarely agree on anything, some of the classrooms have whiteboards and some have blackboards. Some have tiered seating and some are flat. Despite a sophisticated climate-control system, professors also insisted on having windows in their offices that they could open; most have no doubt spent hours shivering or sweating inside older Sloan buildings.

And as you might imagine, figuring out whose offices went where was a complicated process. A faculty committee looked at the various departments within Sloan to figure out who collaborated most often, and tried to find adjacent spaces for departments that work together frequently. (The building also has open staircases that connect floors to foster movement and interaction.) That got the departments situated in the right spots in the building. Within departments, seniority was typically used to determine who got dibs. Views toward Kendall Square and the MIT campus arenít too shabby, but the prime real estate faces the Charles River, Back Bay, and downtown Boston.

The buildingís design architects were Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, and the executive architects supervising the construction were Bruner / Cott Architects of Cambridge. (The full list of firms that worked on the project can be found here.) Cool coincidence: Heather Hunt, a former employee at Moore Ruble Yudell who worked on the E62 project, is part of this year's incoming class of MBA students at Sloan. (Tuition for this academic year at Sloan, incidentally, is $50,353.)

Sloan as a school never seemed to have an obvious center: faculty were spread among five buildings, and students squeezed into elevators together without having a great place to congregate. E62's ground floor, and the lounge-y terrace above it, seems like it will quickly become the place MIT's business school students hang between classes. E62 uses the same trick as the headquarters of the animation company Pixar: acknowledging that food and coffee foster schmoozing and new connections, they made an eating area the first thing you encounter when you enter.

Thereís an open house at E62 next week for the Sloan community, but the official building dedication doesnít take place until next May.

More photos:


The Memorial Drive-facing facade of E62.


Space for socializing and the cafeteria are the first thing you encounter upon entering the building.


A study room for students. They can plug laptops into the flat-screen monitor, and use the camera above it for videoconferencing.


E62 has a dedicated area for Sloan's executive education programs.


The dining room in the executive education area.


Students clustered in a study room.


The artwork on the wall in this communal lounge area is by Sol LeWitt.


A typical tiered Sloan classroom.


A prof's office, facing the Charles River.


River view from the faculty lounge.


A closer look at the Cai Guo-Qiang sculpture, "Ring Stone," on the building's front lawn. (Background on the sculpture.)


Cindy Hill, the director of capital projects at Sloan who supervised the building's design and construction.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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