The Ray and Maria Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, generally referred to as the Stata Center, is a building designed by famed architect Frank Gehry in the Deconstructivist architectural style he is best known for. Gehry, who also designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Dancing House in Prague, and the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle among other misshapen monstrosities, is a proponent of postmodern architecture, which eschews harmony and symmetry in favor of a fragmented, chaotic appearance, which some may find fun and playful, while others may it find obnoxious and disruptive.
The Stata Center replaced Building 20, a beloved and somewhat slapdash construction that housed MIT’s Radiation Laboratory, which was built in the early 1940s and torn down in 1998. The Boston Globe’s architectural critic, Robert Campbell, loved the Stata Center, which opened in 2004: “Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That’s the point. The Stata’s appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that’s supposed to occur inside it.” However, architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros grumbled that the chaos and randomness the Stata Center embodies are in fact the antithesis of scientific research, which is based on systems of order.
Either way, the Stata Center is unique and noteworthy, a building unlike any you’ll see elsewhere. It exists in defiance of right angles, and resembles nothing so much as a heap of scrapped building parts vomited out by a mammoth trash compactor; each element of the complex seems to be in violent disagreement with every other element surrounding it. One part looks like a building crushed like a soda can, another calls to mind the face of some angry, insect-eyed Transformer that is in the midst of a particularly painful bowel movement. It is an edifice that looks like it was dropped from a great height and left as it fell, a cacophony of chrome extensions bursting out from more orderly brick sections like tumors or the catastrophic collision of properties in parallel dimensions being forced into one space and time. It appears less “playful” than it does enraged at the very concept of utility or aesthetic appeal. To me, it approximates a structure with a rare and unfortunate genetic mutation it will never survive, or a pitiable shambling creature cobbled together by a mad scientist that wishes only to return to the blackest depths of the oblivion from which it was summoned. Your mileage may vary.
The Stata Center was the center of a lawsuit in which MIT sued both Gehry and the construction companies that built it – surprisingly not for its blighted and godforsaken appearance but for “deficient design” which caused leaks, mold, backed up drainage, emergency exits blocked by ice and snow, and cracked masonry. Gehry blamed cost-cutting measures, one of the construction companies blamed Gehry for ignoring warnings about design flaws, and Gehry remarked that, essentially, complicated buildings have complicated construction processes and issues are bound to occur which can’t really be predicted or traced to individual mistakes. The lawsuits were settled privately, and the results are not available to the public.
While the interior of the structure was not accessible to us without a security badge, the exterior was more than enough for an afternoon. Visitors can walk the campus at their leisure, and gaze upon this rejection of centuries of architectural wisdom for themselves to make up their own decision about whether it is whimsical and innovative, or staring into the mouth of madness at the body-horror nightmares classical architecture has. It is, love it or hate it, a sight to behold.
Matthew Christopher MA Cambridge Feb 15, 2023 Architecture Places to Visit Reviews