Walk in Boston # 4, sculpture, art and architecture at MIT, is a self-guided tour not exactly in Boston but in Cambridge, on the other side of the Charles River. It will allow you to say you went to MIT!
You’ll discover many outdoor sculptures on the campus, charming robots in the museum, stunning architecture everywhere and pretty views of Boston and the Charles river.
The map gives you an approximation of your general direction; the real tour use pathways and hallways inside MIT.
Once on the campus, you’ll find its map at the LIST center, at the beginning of this tour. It will allow you to find your way more easily.
Highlights: LIST visual center, Stata center, MIT museum, the Dome, the Alchemist, Killian Court, Charles river, Back Bay, Memorial Drive, infinite corridor, chapel, Calder’s Big Sail, Nano Center.
T-stop: Kendall/MIT, red line (start and end).
Car: not a very good idea in Cambridge even though you could find spots on the streets near the campus. Parking will be limited to 2 hours, though, so for a longer time, use a parking app to reserve something along the way.
Good to Know: you’ll find restrooms at MIT (buildings, museum, art center); places to sit everywhere on your trek. Your best bet for food are near the Kendall/MIT T.stop.
A to B: Your tour starts at the Kendall/MIT T. stop in Cambridge.
As there’ll be construction work here until 2027, the beginning is less obvious than at first! Basically, follow the signs to MIT Health Services, building E23/25.
From the T.station, go toward Cambridge center (not the river) and at the first pathway on your left, just before an hotel, turn. Go along the construction site, left then right, to get to the entrance door of building E23/25 on your right. Enter, go through the hall and you’ll emerge on a plaza with the LIST Visual Center in front of you, on your left. It’s your first stop.
Otherwise, from the T.stop, follow the signs to the LIST, it will get you to the same place, but not the same entrance.
At the LIST, there are some MIT “public art & architecture campus maps” for the public. Take one with you, it will help you navigate the tour later.
The center has three galleries with provoking contemporary art exhibits; they will give you an idea of the level of thinking at MIT.
C: Once your visit is over, cross Ames St.; turn sightly left to walk in front of “Transparent horizon”, a large metallic sculpture by Louise Nevelson.
You’ll then get to a raised building designed by I.M. Pei. It’s the tallest building in Cambridge, and it hosts the department of Planetary Sciences. In front of it, on your left, the “Great Sail” by Calder.
Go through two glass doors situated on your right: behind them, a large plazza: all the buildings around you have an 1960’s kind of feeling, concrete and glass, very utilitarian; except the one on the left.
Designed by Frank Gehry, it’s the Stata Center, a good example of Deconstructivity architecture. Colorful, informal, it hosts the department of Philosophy, the department of Linguistic, and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Right now, though, go to the right, along the building in front of you; it’s the Cancer Research Center. Find it’s street entrance. There’s on the 1st floor a gallery with strangely beautiful photos of cancerous cells. The building itself is in a very modernist style.
Go out on the other side of the gallery; you’ll be in the middle of another large sculpture, just in front of the Stata Center. Turn left and go and climb the stairs a bit further on your right. You’ll reach a platform in front of the Stata Center; it’ll be the occasion of unique photos with your reflections on the façade.
Then find a door downstairs by going down one way or another. On the 1st floor of the Stata Center that you can now explore, you’ll see some of the best hacks made by MIT students. They also use the green boards here and there to write their ideas and talk about them.
D: Once out of the Stata Center, go back to the plaza; this time, go right; after a while, you’ll see a long and straight pathway in front of you. On its left, the new Nano Center and the sciences of the same name. Follow it and turn left under a porch.
You’ll find there the entrance to two galleires, one on the 1st floor, one on the 2nd floor. They are open everyday form 9am to 6pm and a good chance to see again some unusual art.
Then, once under the porch again and on your left, find the stairway at the end of the pathway and on its right. Take it to end up in the “infinite corridor” of the main MIT building. Turn right and you’ll end up on the famous MIT stairs along Mass Ave.
On your way, you’ll have a peek at some laboratories; encounter students that could be part of the next technological revolution; see the notices posted for them (parties, seminars, jobs offers, concerts…).
As soon as you see some lifts on your right, take one to the 5th floor; then go and see the Baker Library under the dome.
E: Once on Mass Ave, turn right. You’ll reach the MIT museum after about 600 yards, on your right. There, you’ll learn everything about robots and computers; you’ll also see temporary exhibitions related to science, and art exhibitions related to technology. It’s a small museum and you don’t need to have an extended knowledge in science to appreciate what’s on display.
Once done, take Mass. Ave; retrace your steps. “The Alchemist” will be on your right, a man made of mathematical algorithms.
Take the stair on your right, then turn left: you’ll see a tiny round chapel designed by Eero Saarinen, the architect responsible for the auditorium in front of you. Go inside, it’s beautiful, then go out on the other side. In front of you, you’ll see Massey Hall, like a castle.
F: Turn left, cross Mass Ave et enter by the door at Number 33.
A small stair will lead you to a hallway a little bit on your right. Follow it. Once at some elevators, stay on the right; there are some stairways and a door opening to Killian Court.
Killian Court, it’s the place for pictures of the Dome. It’s also where some of the graduation ceremonies take place every year in June.
G: Once you have explored the court and saw the sculptures there, cross the avenue: the Charles river promenade offers pretty views of Back Bay and Beacon Hill.
On your left in the distance, the famous “Salt and Pepper” bridge -nicknamed after the shape of its four towers, linking Cambridge to Boston; on your right the Harvard bridge, the only bridge measured in smoots. Smoot, a MIT student, once laid 364 times on the bridge to measure it!
Walk on your left. You’ll see the MIT sailing pavilion, the oldest in the nation; when you reach the Charles River yacht club (H), it will be time to cross Memorial Drive again.
I : At the end of Wadswoth St. that you’ll then take, you’ll arrive to a plaza with benches and a sculpture-fountain. The Kendall/MIT T-stop will be a bit further along Main St .
If you now want to compare the MIT campus and the Harvard campus, take the T. toward Harvard Square. You’ll be at the starting point of Walk in Boston # 18, venerable Harvard.
To get some MIT gear with the logo of the university and get it shipped to your home instead of carrying it, try this page on Amazon.
Before you go, don’t forget your guide and see how to thank him at the bottom of the page. Then enjoy the rest of your day!