Sunday, October 25, 2015

Alvar Aalto at MIT

Site No. 57: MIT Baker House Senior Dormitory in Boston Cambridge, MA / USA (1947-49)

Train to Boston
The second Alvar Aalto site located in the United States of America is located not too far from the first one, presented earlier, the Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Room in New York City. Also this site has a relation to higher education as it houses seniors studying at the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Altogether 318 students can be housed in this dorm. The building in question is another key landmark of Alvar Aalto's long career. Alvar Aalto designed it while being a visiting professor of architecture at MIT. Located at 362 Memorial Drive in Boston Cambridge, MA this building almost perfectly blends in with the rest of the MIT campus, well almost.

After I had left New York taking the train up to Boston, enjoying the indeed beautiful scenery, it was time to visit the second Alvar Aalto site along my 45 day USA rail trip. I had two days in Boston but I didn't want to leave it to a chance missing out to see this Alvar Aalto landmark. With the subway red line I reached MIT/Kendall station which is only a few stops from the city centre away. From the subway station I followed the river and after 15 minutes walk I had reached my destination. Due to its Serpentine shape the building was easy to distinguish from the map.

Erected in the late late 1940s the Baker House belongs to Alvar Aalto's red brick period. Some similarities with the University of Jyväskylä dorms can be seen which have been built just a few years later. Nevertheless, the Serpentine shape of the building is unique and to my knowledge the only Alvar Aalto building that features such a layout. These special layout allows 90% of the rooms a direct view to the river and the skyline of Boston. While the front facing the street and the river feature only windows the entrance and the staircases are located in the back. Typical design elements such as the indirect lighting and on the roof top installed lamps as well as the typical door handles are just a few visible aspects of Alvar Aalto's signature. Of special interest are also the staircases which are visible from outside and the main entrance door that is of similar design than the entrance doors to the large auditorium of the University of Jyväskylä Main Building.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to enter the building. I would have been curious to also see the interior and some of the dorm rooms as well as the furniture designed by Alvar Aalto and still in use. The front door was locked and the there wasn't anybody around that could have opened the door for me. According to a note at the door only tenants and their guests were allowed inside. Too bad I didn't know anybody living in the building. Also due to the summer break (my visit took place in mid-August) nobody was around, the building appeared abandoned. The building itself appeared slightly run down to me. However, just to see the Serpentine shape in the front and the famous stair cases in the back are already worth a visit and a must for every Alvar Aalto fan.


  1. Beautiful, beautiful again.
    I love your tours and pictures. I am checking this blog so often and can´t wait to see new Aalto pictures. Keep on!
    If you make it to Germany again, especially my region West-Germany, make sure you visit the Theatre in Essen on a first sunday of the month. On this day they always offer an architectural tour inside of the house.

    Many greetings,

    Nina (again)!

    1. Dear Nina, thank you so much for being such a great supporter of my blog! Thank you also for your kind feedback, I am glad you like my pictures and writings. The Theater in Essen is on top of my list and I really hope I will be able to come and see this extraordinary building next summer in Germany. Thank you also for the hint, I will try to arrange my visit so that I can participate in the guided tour, that would be great.