Concrete Atria are not Atria!

Posted by Patrick Lam on Sunday, March 21, 2004

Stupid Atrium

I was happy to leave my old office, NE43-632, at 200 Technology Square, and move to 32-G730 in the Stata Center. My two complaints about Tech Square were: (1) lack of sunlight; and (2) white noise. I always found the white noise to be annoying, but the lack of sunlight was not always a problem. When I had first arrived at MIT in 2000, we did have natural sunlight in my office.

Here’s what I gathered in attempting to understand the sunlight fiasco.

  • For a long time, MIT had leased 545 Technology Square from Beacon Capital Partners. During the Cambridge biotech building boom, it decided to purchase the property.
  • Beacon had already planned to have 100 Technology Square built as an addition to 545 Technology Square (renumbered to 200).
  • To qualify as an addition (required by zoning laws), 100 Technology Square and 200 Technology Square had to share a roof. A glass atrium roof would have let in sunlight just fine. Unfortunately, construction budgets did not include any amount for roofing.
  • MIT refused to pay for a transparent roof on the grounds that they didn’t own the building yet. Beacon wasn’t interested in paying for the transparent roof, since they weren’t going to own the building for much longer. The construction company, of course, wasn’t going to pay for a transparent roof either, so it put up the cheapest acceptable alternative, a concrete roof.

Fortunately, the Stata Center has windows that let in natural sunlight (and that also open!). It’s also weirdly enough shaped that it would be hard to imagine something else that could be close enough to block the light. [added 2020: it looks like there are buildings close to Stata now although I don’t think they block the light completely.]