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MIT Technology Review

MIT Dome

Facts and figures to sustain your inner geek

October 24, 2019
MIT DomeMIT Dome
MIT Dome
Background: Ken Lane (FLICKR); Construction: MIT Museum: ; Pantheon: Julien Chatelain| Flickr; Rotunda: Courtesy Shawmut Design and Construction; Glass Blocks: Benjamin Johnson/Shawmut Design and Construction; Lights: Maia Weinstock; Hairdryer: Pexels; State house: Daniel Mennerich;

Absent the occasional police car or fire engine appearing at its top, outwardly MIT’s Great Dome has remained as it was since 1916, a symbol of the classical ideals of education and excellence amid the industrial bustle of Cambridge. Inside was a different story. Plans to build the Boston area’s largest assembly hall in the dome were scrapped in favor of a more affordable library. Its spectacular 27-foot oculus was blacked out during World War II and obscured by pipework and drop ceilings for decades after. Renovated in 2013, the reading room is now open around the clock.

When completed in 1916, the 100-foot-wide Great Dome capped what was then one of the largest concrete structures in the world.
Concerns over the dome’s $700,000 price tag led MIT to replace the envisioned grand assembly hall with a library.
The dome’s rotunda is 75 feet in both height and width. Its 27-foot oculus is slightly smaller than that of Rome’s Pantheon.
Patterns embossed onto the 1,042 glass blocks that make up the oculus mimic the effect of a Fresnel lens, concentrating the intensity of the light passing through them by about 15%.
Twelve light fixtures illuminating the dome and façade of Building 10 use as much electricity as two hair dryers. They are indirectly powered by a 40-kilowatt photovoltaic array that feeds MIT’s grid three to four times as much energy.
The Great Dome rises 150 feet from the base of Building 10, almost exactly the height of the Massachusetts State House dome  across the river on Beacon Hill.
Partial list of items that  have appeared on the dome 2019 Captain America shield  2013 Pac-Man and Blinky  2009 Apollo lunar module  2009 Solar-powered subway car  2006 Fire truck  2006 Batman symbol   2005 Harry Potter’s scar   2004 Red Sox logo   2003 Wright Flyer  2003 Pirate flag and banner   1999 Great Droid (R2-D2) 1996 The Great Beanie  1994 Campus Police car   (+ doughnuts)