Saturday, September 24, 2016

Street view(s)

The only image not my own: Courtesy Kendall Square Biking Guide
Walking out of Kendall Square Station, MIT seems pretty much like any other urban campus, tall-ish brick buildings and wide-ish streets where traffic privileges randomly crossing pedestrians rushing to a class or a meeting or just generally rushing. Like any other campus, that is, if you can rid yourself of the sense that you are in the heart of the military-industrial complex, where the power of Big Science and its relationship to Big Industry seems so pervasive. And then you see this jolly tumble of big orange letters that in a surreal way spell out the name of this square that is not really a square but something of a stepped-back intersection.

If you get out at the other end of the T station, where Microsoft makes its presence undeniably felt, you're reminded of the centrality of where you are, Silicon Valley notwithstanding, to all things digital. Of course, unmindful of the structured symbolism around them, the trees and the people go about their business (and their lunch).

That's the first indication that the campus is designed such that you are continually intercepted by Art (with a capital A) that demands that you stop, look, and think--or at least, wonder--about what might seem a strange (or unexpected) arrangement of shapes. Which begs the question: what's expected, or not strange, anyway?

Two blocks down is the Koch Centre for Integrative Cancer Research (now how's that for Big Money/Business meets Big Science?) which has a public gallery that calls on walkers-by to peer into and under the microscope to wonder at the intricacies of cellular and molecular structures that challenge and stimulate this area of research.

Round the corner from the Koch Centre is what some students might see as the hub of student life on the campus: the Stata Centre. One side of this imposing building faces a shallow courtyard, all grey and silver, with what looks like polished fallen bullets embedded in the pavement, shaded by a series of low arcs--this is a memorial to the MIT police officer Sean Collier who was ambushed and killed by the two men later implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings. You are invited to sit on one of the rough stone seats and contemplate--how is it that memorialization of violence produces such stillness of mind?

You walk through the vaulted lobby of the Stata Centre, under the hundreds of paper birds in the lobby, waving aside the temptations of coffee and croissants, to emerge one level up, to look back at a structure that could have come out of a Crayola box, all yellow, orange and grey against a cloud-smudged blue sky. Modernity's bow to the postmodern imagination?

And then there is Jaume Plensa's Alchemist, located strategically across from the east end of MIT's big dome, his binary frame deep in thought, drawing us into the hollowness of a being surrounded by the abstract symbolism of science.

But only a few hundred yards away is the much more solid, much warmer, and somehow comforting sculpture of the Reclining Figure (Three-Piece Reclining Figure, Draped, by Henry Moore) that makes you believe--in something--despite your inclination to question--everything.

And back where I work, and watch, in the lobby of the MIT Media Lab, this tribute (captured here is one of a three-panel exhibit) to Marvin Minsky. You can find a better picture of this here.

The robots are here, but yes, so are we.

No comments: