Image of Boston Wind Tunnel Studies Boston Wind Tunnel Studies
Boston Wind Tunnel Models

When windows suddenly crack and fall out of a high-rise building, the results are heart stopping. This happened to MIT’s Green Building (1960s) and the famous John Hancock Tower in Boston (1973). The Green Building had another significant problem: Whenever it was windy, it was nearly impossible for pedestrians to enter or exit the building. The MIT AeroAstro Department’s extensive wind tunnel investigations of the Green Building were crucial to the subsequent analysis of similar problems on the other side of the Charles River.

Director of MIT's Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel Frank Durgin was the key figure in most of this work.  His most significant contribution came in the 1980s when the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) commissioned MIT to prepare guidelines for the assessment of the effect on pedestrian-level winds by a new large structure. Durgin had led numerous studies of Boston building projects, including this 1979 model for a new building at One Post Office Square. His proposal provided a means for the BRA to standardize results and ensure that its legal requirements were being met.

Frank Durgin's tests of a 1/600 scale model of the John Hancock Tower and Boston's Back Bay were one part of a larger study led by Civil Engineering Professor Robert Hansen.

Loaned to the MIT Museum by the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

1 comment
RSS icon
  • This sounds like a great area of research.

    One major wind tunnel is in front of WGBH at 1 Guest Street in Brighton. On windy days, it is almost impossible to enter the building! One of the camera crews from the station told me that one day the wind was so strong that when they opened the door of their van, the wind broke the door!

    6 May 11 at 10:33 am