Wiesner, the last of Pei’s four buildings at MIT, was an exercise in connectivity. Designed to consolidate nine separate arts, media, and research groups from across the campus, it combined traditional and vanguard technologies, both science and art, in one facility with shared sophisticated resources. The building was also conceived to literally and symbolically connect MIT’s historic center to its newly developing east campus: a sculptural concrete arch projects from the side of the building to frame the main axis between the two compounds. Weisner’s three entrances address different parts of the campus and lead to major programmed spaces inside.
In keeping with MIT’s tradition of scientific experimentation, the building was itself an experiment in collaboration, funded in part by the largest grant yet awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. From the early stages of the project, Pei worked closely with selected artists, so that art and architecture evolved together in an integral whole. The artists, accustomed to working independently in their own studios, were required to work collaboratively on architecture’s much longer critical-path schedule; the architects, in turn, had to relinquish control over certain aspects of design they typically consider their own. No less challenging was collaboration with the nine different academic disciplines that were to be housed in the building, each with its own needs and priorities.
Included in this experiment in the creative process were the environmental artist Richard Fleischner, responsible for lighting, seating, pavements and groundwork; Scott Burton, who explored furniture, stairs and handrails as sculpture; and the well-known color-field abstract painter Kenneth Noland, who used the building’s aluminum-clad walls as his canvas. Contrary to the traditional practice of commissioning art after the fact and simply hanging it on a wall, like a piece of jewelry to be added or removed, the art formed a permanent part of the environment.
The Wiesner Building received The Best of Accessible Boston Commendation Award from the Adaptive Environment Center in 1986.
Design Team: I. M. Pei, Design Partner; L. C. Pei, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Partners