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Alumni Letters

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Stata Skeptic
When a mother can look out of her Stata Center office window and catch a glimpse of her child in the day-care center’s playground, Bill Mitchell would have us believe, “That’s what architecture is about” (“Blurred Boundaries: Life in the Stata Center,” MIT News, July 2005).

Evidently, any preindustrial-society village has architecture as successful and advanced, since parents could easily see their kids from the door of any yurt, or hut, or tepee. By Mr. Mitchell’s measure, any playground qualifies as successful architecture, too, if a parent on a bench can keep an eye on the swings. But what about the rest of the experience of the place?

The architect of the Stata Center took the client’s program and made a building out of it, but the program should have specified the relationship of the offices to the day-care center. If the program didn’t, and the architect himself made it happen, that doesn’t make it architecture: that only means that the architect improved the program, and thus the eventual “commodity” of the space (to use Vitruvius’s word).

Likewise, Mr. Mitchell and author Samuel Jay Keyser happened to run into each other in the center’s parking garage; would Mr. Mitchell claim that the building’s architecture somehow encouraged, or supported, this “chance encounter”?

Architecture has the same relationship to commodity that a human brain has to a mind: the physical object can support or interfere with the functioning of the intangible processes. But does the brain make the mind? Or just give it a home? I would suggest that good architecture allows commodity and makes a home for it, but cannot make it, contrary to what I believe Mr. Mitchell has suggested.

Oren B. Helbok ‘87
Unityville, PA

Professor Bose
I loved your article on Professor Bose (“Rampant Curiosity,” MIT News, June 2005). I took his acoustics class in the early 1990s, and I fondly remember the field trip to his company. He demonstrated the prototype of his new auto suspension, and I was impressed by the fact that Professor Bose continued to tackle new and challenging engineering problems even though his company was so successful. I’m glad to see that auto design will now benefit from his work.

I also remember Professor Bose as an exceptionally caring person. As a student, I felt comfortable enough to ask him anything. While taking his class, I devised a conceptual design, which involved working with microphones, for my thesis. After class one day, I asked if he could spare a few minutes to bounce around a few ideas about my thesis. He said he would be glad to help and gave me at least 45 minutes. He listened patiently and asked me questions along the way. The exchange helped me to fine-tune my approach. It is merely a bonus that the design worked. What I remember most is the kindness of a busy and brilliant man who stopped to help someone along the way.

Ramona Tung ‘92, SM ‘94
La Canada Flintridge, CA

Modest Mentor
A most memorable mentor relationship occurred in my last months as an undergraduate. I was recommended to be an occasional companion to Dr. James R. Killian ‘26, a former president of the Institute. Little did I know that this rather modest gentleman was instrumental in many of the technical initiatives that shaped the Institute and American society.

Professor Killian seemed like a scholarly older gentleman, dedicated to his family and to the Institute. During my time as his assistant, he spoke with me about my work in the Media Lab and my plans after graduation. As our relationship developed, I would accompany him to museum exhibits by architect Eero Saarinen and discuss Nobel laureate Franco Modigliani HM, the speaker that year at the annual lecture named for Dr. Killian. After an eager glance toward the graduation platform, I finally felt the name “Killian Court” sink in. He mentioned having raised funds during his tenure as president and fund-raising efforts with the entrepreneurial An Wang, my highly respected future boss. We talked about my class at the Sloan School and about Dr. Killian’s relationship with Alfred Sloan.

Later I came to learn that after the launch of Sputnik, Dr. Killian was key in focusing engineering educational opportunities as science advisor to President Eisenhower and later contributed to the founding of the Public Broadcasting Service under President Johnson. His leadership traits included collaboration, humility, and calm, rational direction amid crises. I learned some of these things at his memorial service and from reading his memoirs, The Education of a College President, a signed copy of which he presented to me as a graduation gift. He was a great man, and I was glad for the opportunity to carry his briefcase.

The Institute is filled with history, tradition, and impact on society, through students, alumni, faculty, staff, and humble, influential men like Dr. Killian.

Wil Blake ‘86
Boca Raton, FL

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