One of the most visible buildings on the MIT campus is the Green Building. It was designed by I.M. Pei, and it’s housed the MIT Earth & Planetary science group since 1963.
It’s not a great building as buildings go.
It’s visually compelling, in that ’60s concrete way, but it isolates people by floor. This has long been a problem. Over the decades the department has talked about a new building, about a second building, and about adding onto the iconic Pei. The latter plan seems to be in good favor now.
It can be seen from many points in Boston and Cambridge, and features heavily in any river view of MIT. High stakes for an architectural redo; better not let Renzo Piano put a ramp on this one.
The Ball is almost the highest point on the MIT campus; the skinny tower next to the Ball (which you can see on the top photo) is technically higher.
I’d been all over the idea of this giant ball since I first saw it, in 2013. I found it hard to drum up interest in the MIT staff; it was an old radar ball, fallen into disuse, that’s all I could get. They never thought about it, it seemed, but I was intensely aware of it. Perhaps this is because I sensed that I was in it, thrilled to my core. Time isn’t a string, with knots on it. In a way, it seems more unlikely to me that I would fail to sense something so obvious; there I am, up there, in that ball.
I asked around the department, how do I get up to the roof? I tried to just go up there, but met (literally) a blank wall, with a card slot. Clearly I needed someone with juice, and that someone was Rob van der Hilst, the magnificent MIT EAPS department head.
I was the one who wanted to see the roof (and photograph Rob) but I lured Jack Wisdom (left) up too with the potential of photography; he had a newish Olympus EP-1 that he wanted to put through the paces, and I leaned on him, too- I wanted him with me.
The view was spectacular.
But the Ball was where it was at.
I had no idea that going inside was even possible, but Rob, who suggested it, said, “Sure, why not?” He’s Dutch. This explains not only his height and charm (perhaps I am biased on this, being part Dutch) but also factors into him having an adventurous rather than an administrative bent.
We scampered up the ladder (me coming last, spotting Jack with my own body, thinking that if I got him killed in one of my crazy stunts I’d have to answer to the whole of planetary science) and we stepped carefully onto the floor of the Ball.
It was nuts in there. To our eyes, it was more yellow-orange and very dim; to each of our cameras it was a pulsing, glowing red. The old radar equipment is still in place, but maybe not for long.
The light was very low for photos; longer exposures, though, would be incredible. Next time.
I have a date to go back up in April, and I am already aquiver with delight.
Below: the tower, still to be climbed.
The experience was so astonishing that pretty much all I could do afterward was walk along the river to the Longfellow Bridge, and under the unders to the trophy wall that I found during the first week I arrived in summer.
My mind spinning, I dropped off the trophy I had been saving for the wall, and took away with me my own souvenirs; two pieces that had come off of other trophies.