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The new vibrancy of West Campus

West of Mass. Ave., it’ll be a whole new ball game

President L. Rafael ReifPresident L. Rafael Reif
President L. Rafael ReifSimon Simard

As I write, the lawn between the Student Center and Mass. Ave. is coming to life with the beauty and vigor of seven young cherry trees—newly planted and very much in bloom.

After a chilly Cambridge spring, they are particularly welcome. And they also point to the flowering of new possibilities on the western side of campus.

In 2002, when Simmons Hall opened, Vassar Street was infused with a wonderful energy. But even with the addition of bike lanes and trees more than a decade ago and the arrival of the David H. Koch Childcare Center in 2013, the street has still felt a little underpopulated. That feeling will soon fade, however, as this more student--centered side of campus is acquiring a strong new sense of place.

Where you may remember a parking lot, a multi-story parking garage, and some storage sheds, the new Vassar Street residence is already taking shape; by the fall of 2020, it will be home to 450 undergraduates. If you imagine our playing fields as a busy town square, the new residence will complete the Vassar Street side of it—while offering outstanding views of our teams in action.

Right next door, the School of Architecture and Planning is set to take over the old Met Warehouse. Reimagined as a campus hub for design, it will also include an impressive ground-floor maker space. And when the surface parking lot behind Kresge gives way to a new building dedicated to music—just blocks from W97, the new facility for theater and performing arts—the arts will finally have a physical presence at MIT that reflects the intensity of our students’ passion and accomplishment.

As you read this, we are preparing to welcome a new class—several thousand talented young people who will transplant themselves here in August. We hope that investing strategically in the quality of this student neighborhood will help them put down roots, flourish, and grow.

Architecturally, MIT has long had one center (Killian Court and the Main Group) and one front door (77 Mass. Ave.). Those beloved locations will always be fundamental to who we are. But today, our campus community needs more than one center, and more than one front door. In a future column, I will try to capture the remarkable ongoing transformation of Kendall Square.