Info about renovations, especially the major renovation of the late 1990s

This is an exhaustive study led by Perry Dean Rogers & Partners about the feasibility of renovating the physical Baker House structure. It is the “blueprint” for the major renovationsthat were done in the late 1990s. The scanned PDFs are huge, so the document is broken up into several sections:

The Tech (Oct 4 1957)

The durability of the furniture is being carefully considered since the furniture in Baker House has stood up poorly to the wear and tear of only nine years of use, whereas the plain but sturdy furniture in East Campus and the Graduate House has stood up well for twenty years and most of it will be serviceable for another ten.

The Tech (FEBRUARY 12, 1974)

By Michael Garry

In an effort. to explore methods of improving dormitory living facilities, the fifth floor west section of Baker House was recently renovated under the direction of the House's Client Team.

Improvements in the common areas, halls, and lounges of the section, which houses about: thirty students, were made under the direction of the team to study considerations that would affect a complete renovation of the 25-year-old house, and to improve the environment of the fifth-west section.

According to Hoah Mendelsohn '74, a member of the Client Team, funds for the project were made available last May by the Housing and Dining Service. The project cost was about $25,000; part of the funds came from a special “renovations fund” established from alumni gifts.

The renovation is expected to serve as a “trial balloon” for the complete renovation of Baker, which has had no major structural work since it was built in 1948. James Moody '75, president of Baker, called the renovation “an experiment to see what people like, and what the right cost is, with the ultimate intent of redoing the-entire house.” The Client Team plans to survey the reactions and living patterns of the fifth west renovations to see if the same guidelines for renovation would be applicable to the house as a whole.

The Client Team, composed of students, aministrators, Dean for Student Affairs' representatives, and the House's faculty residents, started work almost two years ago on the problem of improving facilities in Baker. Their report, dealing with longand short-term projects for fixing up the House, was released recently; the renovations are based mainly on the considerations set forth on the report.

Good and Associates, a professional architectural firm was hired to design and layout the changes made in the project. The plans were approved in August, and the project completed in January. The Client Team assisted the architects, according to Mendelsohn, “on items of practicality and where our familiarity with the house was useful.”

Fifth west, which is one-third of one o f Baker's six floors, was chosen as the site for the project “due to its economic feasibility and aesthetic desirability,” according to Moody. The floor is typical of Baker floors, and the west section has a large lounge that permitted experimentation with furnishings. The renovations included new furniture for the area, carpeting in the hallways, improved lighting, wall hangings, and better facilities in the bathrooms. Individual rooms were not renovated.

Kenneth Browning, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, said the next step towards improving Baker is “to translate the report … into a working program. The experience on the fifth floor will be useful in terms of ideas and functions.” Browning added, however, that it would be difficult to predict when or if large-scale resources could be allocated for the complete renovation of the house.

Many of the House's residents feel that a complete renovation is a necessary step to prevent the further deterioration of the dormitory. An article in “Architecture Plus” magazine early last fall stated that the MIT administration had been lax in maintaining the dorm, and charged that modifications were made over the years to increase the housing capacity of the dorm. Browning at that time denied that the maintenance had been neglected.

The Tech (September 23, 1997)

By Shang-Lin Chuang


A $22 million renovation to Baker House could begin as early as next summer pending approval by the administration, according to Susan A. Personette, senior architect and project manager for Physical Plant.

According to the current plan, the dormitory will undergo construction during the summers of 1998 and 1999, rendering it uninhabitable during those times.

The first and ground floor common space will undergo major renovation in the first year, and the dormitory rooms will be renovated the following year, said Tracy M. Sadowski '99, who lead a team of Baker residents and coordinated the flow of information between the students, the architects, and the administration.

The Tech (February 3, 1998)

Heavy renovations to Baker House's rooms and common areas will begin this summer.

by Naveen Sunkavally

The fruits of several years worth of planning will finally be realized as Baker House receives massive renovations during the next two summers. Plans to renovate the dorm were approved in the middle of January in a discussion between President Charles M. Vest, Provost Joel Moses, and Senior Vice President William R. Dickson.

The Tech (June 3, 1998)

Sarah H. Wright, News Office

Baker House, the MIT dormitory designed by world-renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, is undergoing a major restoration and renovation.

The construction will take place over two summers and is expected to cost more than $20 million. A rededication of Baker House is planned for September 1999, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the building.

Baker House, whose unique wave shape is a landmark along the Charles River, was designed in 1947 and completed in 1949. It is one of the seminal Modern Movement buildings in North America and one of only two permanent Aalto structures in the United States. The 350-bed dormitory is named for Everett Moore Baker, an MIT dean of students who died in an airplane crash in India in 1949.

Senior Vice President William R. Dickson has called Baker House “the most significant piece of architecture on campus.”

Alvar Aalto is one of the great masters of 20th century architecture. His early work, which grew out of the Nordic classical tradition, was transformed by his exposure to the Bauhaus and International Modernism in the 1920s. By the 1940s, Mr. Aalto's own style had moved toward a new architecture of humanism, with unique spatial forms rendered in natural materials, designed carefully to accommodate the users of his work.

“From furniture to lighting to rooms along the river, close yet removed from the noise of Memorial Drive, Aalto designed this environment to foster creativity. Today, the community is more diverse – there are more women and students from all over the world – and Baker House continues to offer a creative atmosphere where they can realize their dreams,” said Robert M. Randolph, senior associate dean of undergraduate education and student affairs.

complete article

The Tech (September 15, 1998)

By Song-Hee Paik

Contractors have completed the first summer of Baker House's $24-million renovation.

This summer, the common areas in the basement and the first floor were reconstructed. Next summer's focus will be on the upper floors of the building.

The Tech (September 9, 1999)

Honoring a Finnish master

On October 1 and 2, 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will celebrate the completion of its major restoration and renovation of Baker House, the dormitory designed by world-renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, with a two-day symposium, “Interpreting Aalto: Baker House and MIT.”

The symposium, organized by Stanford Anderson, head of the department of architecture at MIT, will feature talks and papers by noted architects, historians and critics, tours for visitors of Baker House and of postwar architecture in Boston and Cambridge.

Baker House, whose unique wave shape is a landmark along the Charles River, is one of the seminal modern buildings in North America and one of just two permanent structures by Aalto in the United States.

Designed in 1946-48 and completed in 1949, Baker House embodies both the architect's and the client's vision of social housing. At the time of the commission, MIT announced its intention to build “a physical atmosphere of order, peace, and beauty” to support the activities of “the constructive mind.”

The commission for the dormitory was a logical extension of Aalto's role as a teacher at MIT. He was first invited to campus in 1940 to introduce architecture students to the humanistic side of European modernism, represented in part by his own work on housing in Finland and Europe and his use of unique forms and natural materials.

In describing “Interpreting Aalto,” Professor Anderson said, “Alvar Aalto is one of the most significant architects of the twentieth century, and MIT's Aalto conference is the largest and most serious inquiry into his work ever in the United States – and at least competes with such events in Europe.”

“The noted Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, winner of many prizes, including the Pritzker, Aalto and Mies van der Rohe prizes, will deliver the Pietro Belluschi Memorial Lecture, speaking not only of his own work but about his well-known respect for the work of Aalto.

[ complete article ]

The Tech (October 2, 2001)

This is not the first time that the Institute has overlooked logistics in the zeal to improve the community, and at the expense of the students currently living in these places. Renovations at Baker House ran into similar problems of delays. Two years ago, Baker house residents returning to campus for orientation were given temporary rooms in other dorms. The rush for Baker House operated out of a tent in Kresge Oval because the building was not suitable; entry into the dorm required a hard hat.

Metropolis Magazine (December 2003)

While the restoration of Baker House has some purists fuming the classic dorm has never looked better.

Ted Smalley Bowen
December 1, 2003

Cross the Harvard Bridge from Boston’s Back Bay to the MIT campus in Cambridge, and you might miss Baker House. It cuts a relatively low profile: six horizontally sweeping stories of red brick tucked in to the left. But as you near Memorial Drive, Alvar Aalto’s masterpiece throws you a captivating curve, its sinuous southern facade echoing the Charles River. The main approach, from the school’s massive Neoclassical hub, cuts between MIT’s other Finnish classics—Eero Saarinen’s Kresge Auditorium and Chapel—and through the dorm’s split-level lobby and lounge. This Aalto axis continues into the “moon garden,” a two-story dining pavilion with a maple-slatted ceiling pierced by cylindrical skylights.

Most architects know of Baker House through old textbook photos of its famous facade and north-facing cantilevered stairs. But the dorm is very much alive, thanks in part to a recently completed $24 million restoration overseen by Perry Dean Rogers (PDR). Over the years Baker has been one of MIT’s most popular dorms (harder to get into than the school itself, its residents like to say).

The four-phase restoration, which had to work around the academic calendar and was suspended for two years for lack of funds, took seven years. In that time MIT overhauled and modernized Baker House, while striving to maintain the building’s architectural integrity. The renovation has made a popular dorm more user-friendly and spruced up an icon, while sparking a debate over preservation practices.

Although it competed for the job, PDR would seem to be the obvious choice. Perry Shaw Hepburn, the firm’s earlier incarnation, was Aalto’s local partner for the original project, from 1947 to 1948. It also worked on the sanitized and chronologically challenged Colonial Williamsburg from the 1920s to the 1950s. “Some intellectuals say—and they may have some credence—that that particular commission set the Modern movement back fifty years in the United States,” PDR’s principal Charles Rogers says. Of the Baker House project, he says, “We tried not to do anything we didn’t think Aalto would have done.”

Baker House is a significant postwar building, one that marked a departure from strict International Style functionalism. The dorm’s signature waveform isn’t merely sculptural but provides the majority of rooms river views and oblique exposure to Memorial Drive traffic. The undulating facade yields wedge-shaped, trapezoidal, and rectangular rooms—dubbed “pie,” “couch,” and “coffin” by students—and the single-loaded halls (with rooms on only one side) open the living areas to cross-breezes.

The dorm remains remarkably vital, but this fall students returned to a hybrid environment: part Aalto, part Perry Dean Rogers. “We couldn’t pretend to be Alvar Aalto,” says David Fixler, project manager from 1996 to 2000, who then served as preservation adviser through the project’s completion. “There are no absolutes. That’s what makes it a design process. When you tamper with anything, you’re designing—even if you’re restoring. I started out being much more doctrinaire. But the more you get into it, the more you realize that much of it is a perpetual series of judgment calls.”

The restoration involved technical upgrades typical for a half-century-old building—replacing wiring, plumbing, windows, and HVAC systems; repointing the facade’s distinctive irregular brickwork; and ADA and code compliance. But the interpretations of Aalto’s “original intent” have raised some purist eyebrows. “I was quite surprised to observe a number of design choices that are in contradiction with decent restoration practices,” says Kristian Gullichsen, a Finnish architect who directs the Alvar Aalto Foundation and visited Baker House in 1999 for its 50th anniversary symposium and building rededication.

The foundation, which participates in Aalto restorations mainly in Finland, was not actively involved in the project, although PDR and MIT conducted research at the Helsinki museum and library, and had periodic contacts with its staff. The research turned up drawings that informed the new roof deck and pergola designs; in PDR’s archives they found original drawings of the dining-hall ceiling scheme that was adopted during the renovation. “The goal was to get Aalto into our heads and hands so that when we had to make changes, we would know how to do it appropriately,” says Susan Personette, former MIT senior project manager.

Gullichsen acknowledges the need to update a living building but questions after-the-fact collaboration with Aalto. “There is no problem with reorienting the front desk, or installing a new elevator, or refurbishing the basement,” he says. “But there has to be a clear distinction between what is original and what is not. The modifications should not pretend to be part of the original design, nor should they be based on speculation of architectural intent. It is simply not correct to introduce ‘neo-Aalto’ light fittings or ‘Aaltoesque’ wooden details that the public will take for originals. A trained eye will of course immediately identify them as clumsy imitations. It is a mystery to me how those involved managed to fall into that trap.”

Fixler argues that the ceiling amounts to a practical necessity backed by historical documentation—working drawings of the wood-slat treatment signed by Aalto. “If we’d left the ceiling as it had been built and put in all the necessary upgrades, it would look terrible,” says Fixler, who serves as president of the New England chapter of Docomomo, the group dedicated to preserving Modernist buildings. “It’d be pockmarked with access panels. To Aalto it was a pristine surface, broken only by light fixtures.”

It has been argued that Modernist works warrant a special preservation methodology given their social and technical underpinnings. But most architects are leery about applying a strict formula to any building. “It’s all an interpretation,” says Hugh Hardy, a partner with Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, which counts Radio City Music Hall and Manhattan’s Central Synagogue among its many restoration projects. “Each project has a different origin, a different community, a different set of uses, and a different context.” The task is to consult a variety of sources, get a sense of the original architect’s intentions, and keep an open mind. “Change is inevitable,” Hardy says. “The question is what’s appropriate. In some cases replication is an asset. On the other hand, if you’re adding a large volume onto an existing building, you can make a strong case that it ought to be contemporary.”

Just as Aalto rejected orthodox Modernism, the Baker House team opted against rigid preservation principles, in some cases restoring what was originally built (the stucco exterior of the north stair), in others modifying the original design (the reorientation of the lobby desk), and in still others implementing what was thought to be Aalto’s “original intent” (the upper dining-hall ceiling). This departs from the once typical all-or-nothing approach to preservation in the United States, according to Stanford Anderson, head of MIT’s architecture department. “Either we just don’t preserve something—we knock it down, or else we get into this kind of homage that puts preservation needs above use,” he says. “Then you travel to Italy and you see they don’t have a big problem with a contemporary architect coming in and doing something quite daring and in the end complementary to what was there before.”

So why not hire Peter Eisenman to do something radical? “Baker House is certainly the best Aalto building this side of the Atlantic,” Anderson says. “It is still being used as a dormitory. The changes that had to be addressed were not that fundamental. It makes sense that MIT took more of a preservationist approach.”

Some of Aalto’s unrealized Baker House designs were left to the archives. He had toyed with the idea of cladding the north stairs in aluminum or a copper alloy and then settled on terra-cotta tiles, only to have the contractor balk at installing them. The restoration team considered carrying out the terra-cotta scheme. “I took the position that if the building was going to be completely restored, the architect would still want to realize his design,” Rogers says. “It was a big fight, which we didn’t win.” Similarly Aalto insisted in letters to assistants (he spent very little time in the United States during the project) that trellises be installed on the southern facade. These missed the cut both times.

The original dorm lacked usable roof space, but the restoration team did build a deck to replace one cobbled together by students. “It was clear from a lot of the early sketches that Aalto had intended there to be an outdoor space with some kind of covering on the roof,” PDR’s project architect Jeffrey Fishbein says.

The dorm’s iconic furniture, including its “elephant” wardrobes, “giraffe” shelving units, and bent-plywood chairs, were designed by Aalto and his wife and partner, Aino, and built at the architect’s Artek factory in Sweden. But the real key to the dorm’s success, residents say, is the natural flow of its communal spaces. The single entrance, central dining area, and ample lounge spaces foster a strong sense of community; the dual stairs allow students to circulate vertically as well as horizontally. “The house is very porous,” faculty housemaster Will Watson notes. “If your friends are on the fourth floor and you live on the fifth floor, there’s no problem.”

Baker House is, however, a product of its time and place. “When I first walked through there, I thought, This is a down-and-dirty structure,” Fixler says. “As you grow into it, you realize there’s a real ethic being expressed there about what the world was like at the time. Baker forces you to come to terms with it in a way that can be difficult. It’s rewarding when you do. The building continues to grow on me. That’s the true mark of great architecture.”

Submitted by admin on Sat, 09/26/2009 - 14:16.

The room dividers in the front doubles are gone, too… I wonder what the rationale for making them go away was. Did they also go away during the major renovations ten years ago? And what would Alvar have said?

Submitted by admin on Thu, 09/24/2009 - 01:35.

The '47 rooms are gone…
Hmm. It looks like the '47 rooms went away in the major renovations ten years ago…

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