Image of MIT's Great Dome MIT's Great Dome
MIT's Great Dome, 1916

MIT’s Great Dome


MIT’s formative years in Boston yielded a distinct and bold vision for scientific and technological education at the start of the 20th century. Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, a new, young president, set forth a plan and challenged the Institute’s alumni to build a “New Tech”—a massive and majestic campus on the banks of the Charles River that would serve the needs of the Institute and declare the centrality of research in the modern world. The endeavor to design such a facility proved challenging, but the result was an exceptional synthesis of architectural and engineering ideals. William Welles Bosworth, an architect and MIT alumnus, embraced many of the concepts that originated from architects and engineers during earlier planning phases, but in a wholly original manner. It is easy to see the surface symbols: a great dome—inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s adaptation at the University of Virginia of the ancient Roman Pantheon symbolizes the universality of all knowledge—and a classical portico of immense solidity is a homage to Bosworth’s own training and MIT’s vital role in introducing Beaux Arts principles of architectural instruction to the United States. Of equal significance in the design is a structure of steel and concrete that follows the latest developments in building engineering, which gave a spatial flexibility to the interior plan that was essential to a growing institution. The arrangement of the interior teaching, research, and administrative spaces reflects the diverse influences of scientific management and modern factory design. Scientific buildings are usually temporal structures, yielding to the ever-changing imperatives of new research. Therefore, the endurance of MIT’s Main Group is all the more remarkable as a testament to excellence in design and to the founder’s original vision.

This collection of prints, paintings, presentation drawings, and photographs captures the ongoing fascination with MIT’s most iconic structure. The three stones are among the original pieces of the Indiana limestone façade.

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