One Step Beyond

In reaction to your cover story on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s building program, "MIT’s $1-billion Metamorphosis," I agree that several of the buildings seem to be innovative, attractive, probably effective, and with final costs and future maintenance, realistic (ENR 1/27 p. 32). But what are we to think of the Computer Science Building? What advantages in function, or even appearance, warrant the arbitrary irregularities and distortions in configuration which assail any sense of beauty, any impression of strength and do not produce any of the qualities normally associated with good architecture? And at what cost?

As a structural engineer, I cringe at the sight of this design. Why was it made to look like a poorly assembled building that was already on its way to collapse? Is this a surrender to a fad and to the unwillingness of clients to be thought of as backward or to be accused of being boorish Philistines? I am reminded of the emperor’s new clothes.

It is bad enough for museums to play with fads, but a prestigious school of engineering should be able to commission impressive, beautiful designs that are still rational.

It is not just my age, because I have felt this way since first viewing the avant-garde architectural style that has been the trend since the mid 1970s. It grates on my nerves, like the screech of chalk on a black board. MIT is to be commended for their efforts to infuse the learning process with vigor. However, I would have thought that the post-9/11 trauma would have dampened the appetite of even the most sophisticated members of the design community for this fractured architectural style (the computer science building), which looks like the aftermath of a major earthquake.

It looks very difficult to build, but on the other hand, who would know (or care) if you made a mistake? I realize that I say this with nothing to gain, and that I am sure to make enemies that I can ill afford, but how many times will the parade pass by with everyone too intimidated to say that the emperor has no clothes!

Practicing Engineer
Wheeling, W.Va.

Missing The Point

Your cover story on military housing, "Fort Suburbia," is an oxymoron (ENR 1/20 p. 28). What you picture is the opposite of the suburbs! Military family housing now, in its present state, is suburban and the worst example of conventional development.

The Naval Training Center at San Diego is a counter-argument to existing military housing in more than just ownership. It is an urban residential neighborhood, designed utilizing best practices of American traditional neighborhood design before the rise of the suburbs. These practices include through and interconnected streets, attached houses, detached garages on alleys, front porches and rear courtyards.

The NEX operates as the neighborhood store, a five-minute walk from any house in the neighborhood. The school is designed in a large square in the neighborhood. Pedestrian-friendly streets promote the public life of the street. When was the last time that ever described the suburbs?

I was involved in planning and design of the NTC neighborhood and am dismayed with your cover. We make a point to NOT build suburbs that we believe are alienating, but to build traditional neighborhoods that sponsor community.

Silver Spring, Md.