Compton Laboratories, 1955
Location: Building 36
Named after physicist and ninth president of MIT, Karl Taylor Compton, Gordon Bunshaft’s Compton Laboratories (Building 26) were initially built to house the Research Laboratory of Electronics (the first interdepartmental lab at MIT) and the Laboratory for Nuclear Science. The need for expanded, improved teaching and research facilities for the two disciplines became all the more pronounced during and after World War II, and the pragmatism and straightforward clarity of the building, in part, reflect the aesthetic and fiscal demands associated with government-funded structures in the postwar years. Notably, the building once housed the cutting-edge IBM 704 computer, donated by IBM and located in an 18,000-square-foot area in the northwest corner of the building, designed specifically to accommodate the powerful machine.
The horizontal ribbons of modular windows, along with the pilotis that elevate the ground level of the structure, are gestures that fall in line with the International Style that dominated 1950s and sixties corporate and institutional architecture in the United States. The L-shaped building acts as an informal partition that creates a visual division amid the complex network of structures that comprise MIT’s campus, while still leaving the circulatory paths intact through the breezeway.
Gordon Bunshaft (1909–1990) was born in Buffalo, New York, to a Russian Jewish immigrant family. He graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from MIT. In 1935, he received a Rotch Scholarship and traveled throughout Europe before working briefly for Edward Durell Stone. In 1937, he was hired by the newly established office of Louis Skidmore (later to become Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill [SOM]). Bunshaft became a partner in 1949 and spearheaded the firm’s development at the vanguard of the International Style across urban centers in the US. Notable projects include the glass and steel Lever House in New York, the stone-clad Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the smooth, donut-shaped Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, and the fractal-adorned National Commercial Bank and Haj Terminal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He continued to work at SOM through his retirement in the mid-1980s, and in 1988, he received the eminent Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Accession Number: 5000.10