Walker tenants talk ahead of overhaul

Renovated Walker to consolidate Music and Theater Arts Dept.

3490 walker
Walker Memorial may become the new home of the Music and Theater Arts department. Currently, Walker houses a number of student groups, in addition to being used for exams.
Photos by Melissa Renee Schumacher—the Tech; Photoillustration by Jessica Liu—The Tech

The administration continues to explore the option of renovating Walker Memorial into an academic building. The tentative plan is for Walker to become the new home of the Music and Theater Arts department, which may displace some of the clubs that currently occupy space in Walker.

Associate Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’63 said that they are still in the early stages of meetings with the Music and Theater Arts department to understand their needs and how they might appropriate the different spaces in Walker. According to Campus Activities Complex Director Philip J. Walsh, a parallel process is occurring with the Association of Student Activites (ASA) and individual student groups that might be displaced by the department.

The administration has yet to meet with every group, Walsh said they have made sure all relevant groups have been informed of possible changes at Walker. It remains uncertain what fraction of the space in Walker Memorial will be available for student organization use after the renovation.

Walsh said this process was the most open and transparent that he’s experienced in his 22 years at MIT. “This allows for a lot better discussion and honest discourse in terms of what each group needs,” he said.

One third of Walker’s space is permanently occupied by student organizations. The building currently houses the MIT Radio Society, the Rainbow Lounge, the Black Students’ Union, the Muddy Charles Pub, the Graduate Student Council, and several other student groups. Each year, around 40 groups use Walker as a space for meetings, dinners, and large events.

Schmidt emphasized there still is no timeline for the renovation process, but added that it certainly will not begin this academic year. Before they can draw up any schedule, the administration needs to have the building analyzed by professionals. The administration still needs time to gather information about the layout of Walker before they can begin to draw up detailed construction diagrams for the renovation of the building. Even so, the administration hopes that by the end of the spring term, they will have reached definitive plans regarding future of the building.

Once the center of student life

According to Associate Provost Philip S. Khoury, discussion of the renovation of Walker Memorial began about ten years ago. The Institute had recognized a need for more facilities and space for the performing arts, a need that persists until today. Currently, music and theater arts instruction is scattered across campus in Building 4 and Kresge Auditorium. The proposed renovations would cause Walker Memorial to become an academic-oriented building instead of a center for student life.

“MIT has a great Music and Theater Arts faculty that could do so much more with the appropriate facilities and space,” Khoury said.

Named after former MIT president Francis A. Walker, Walker Memorial served as the center of student life from 1916 until 1965, when the Stratton Student Center was opened. “It’s an iconic building that’s part of this whole complex of classic MIT buildings that were built early on when MIT moved to this side of the river,” Khoury said. “It’s very important to us.”

Schmidt viewed the renovation of Walker as a chance to revitalize this iconic building. According to Khoury, the building’s current state is unsuitable for an academic building, which needs to have adequate facilities. “Everything from the plumbing to the electricity have to be looked at,” Khoury said.

Walker Memorial also holds historical significance for several student organizations whose operations are tied to their location in Walker. MIT’s radio station 88.1 FM was named after its location; its call sign, WMBR, stands for Walker Memorial Basement Radio. “There are folks that have been in that building for many years so the orientation of what they do and how they do it is very fixed in that location,” Walsh said, noting the administration is aware of the building’s historical significance. Walsh said they would make an effort to minimize disruption of the culture of these student groups.