New dorm to include 456 beds, hybrid dining program

Final design a compromise between admins and student reps, features fewer kitchens and singles than initial drafts

The New Residences Working Group (NRWG), composed of eight students and staff members from the Division of Student Life and the Office of Campus Planning, met for the last time Sept. 20 to review the architectural plans for MIT’s new dormitory on Vassar Street.

The NRWG originally wanted fully-equipped kitchens on each floor and 30 to 40 percent of the rooms to be singles. The administration ultimately decided on a hybrid dining hall and kitchen-and-pantry model new to MIT and 26 percent of the rooms being singles.

The dormitory is expected to open in fall of 2020, replacing the West Garage parking facility (W45).

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart announced the dormitory’s location in February, and many of its specifications, which included the prioritization of a dining hall and at least 450 beds, were publicized in March.

The dormitory will be five stories tall. Floors 2 through 5 are set to be residential floors with four clusters, three for student rooms and one for dorm-wide lounge use. The student clusters will comprise a total of 456 beds (Maseeh, the largest residence hall, has 490 beds). There will also be three study rooms on each residential floor.

The dormitory features a hybrid dining hall and kitchen-and-pantry model that is new to MIT. Students can choose to be on a meal plan or cook for themselves using the kitchen spaces and pantry supplies.

These updates were shared with a portion of the general student body through an Oct. 13 email sent by NRWG member Allan Sadun ’17 to the public dorm-of-the-future mailing list.

In the email, Sadun wrote that details that remain to be finalized include how the dorm will be governed and furnished, and how the kitchen-and-pantry payment plan will work.

The NRWG was charged with implementing the concepts of the Architectural Principles document in the new dormitory and working in different committees to influence the architectural design decisions.

During the pre-design process, the NRWG and the administration disagreed on several fronts, such as the kitchen spaces. The working group requested larger, more fully-equipped kitchens on each floor. However, the final design includes a dining hall and small kitchenettes on each floor with one larger kitchen on the ground floor.

Other disagreements included the distribution of rooms. While the Architectural Principles document recommended that 30 to 40 percent of rooms be singles, the new dormitory’s rooms will be 26 percent singles — slightly higher than Maseeh, 21 percent of whose rooms are singles.

“My primary complaint with the administration is not that our preferences were not always chosen; it is that the large-scale decisions about the dorm were not made with very much transparency or student input,” Sadun wrote in an email to The Tech.

DormCon Vice President Allie Stanton ’18 disagreed with Sadun.

In an email to The Tech, Stanton wrote that DormCon representatives on the NRWG “consistently sought feedback from the DormCon presidents on what they would like to see in the new dorm.”

DormCon President Yuge Ji ’18 further explained in an email to The Tech that the MIT administration tried “to find a halfway point or a workaround” to accommodate student requests.

Vice President of Student Life Suzy Nelson told The Tech in a phone interview that the “art to [this process] is a lot of listening to find a compromise that works primarily for students” but also “with the city, stakeholders, and colleagues who have real priorities and constraints that affect the process.”

Some of these constraints, Nelson said, included meeting a perceived demand for a dining dorm and being usable for summer conferences and occupants.

Robert Binkowski ’18, another NRWG member and president of MIT’s Interfraternity Council, echoed Nelson’s comments. In an email interview with The Tech, Binkowski said, “Student input was one of many inputs that [the administration] was balancing.”

Nelson cited several examples where student input was crucial: the main pathway to move through the building, bathroom placements, entryway structures, and the hybrid dining hall and kitchen-and-pantry model.

According to Ji, the next generation of DormCon leadership will form a Founders’ Group “to guide the finer points of what this dorm will become.” They expect the group to start meeting in fall 2018 once construction is underway so it can include some members of the class of 2022.

“Ultimately, a dorm is shaped by the students who live there, and we’re confident that that will be true for this dorm as well,” Stanton said.

The last dorm built from the ground up was Simmons Hall, which was commissioned in 1999 and opened in 2002.

Update 11/2/17: The article previously stated that Yuge Ji ’18 was DormCon Vice President. In fact, she is DormCon President.