For more than a century, the red-brick Metropolitan Storage Warehouse with its crenellated tower has been a formidable presence at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street. Now, the historic structure is envisioned as a state-of-the-art hub for the MIT School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), including a separate, expansive new campus-wide makerspace.
The building, designed by prominent Boston architectural firm Peabody & Stearns and considered to be of high historic significance, has been owned by MIT since 1966. The proposed renovation will preserve much of its historic architecture and distinctive exterior while expanding SA+P’s range of activities in design, research, and education.
The renovation will also create the largest makerspace on campus, an approximately 17,000-square-foot facility overseen by Project Manus—MIT’s makerspace initiative.
“Our goal is to create a makerspace that will set the ‘gold standard’ for the next generation,” says Provost Martin A. Schmidt SM ’83, PhD ’88, who in 2015 launched Project Manus. The Met makerspace will provide a full range of cutting-edge maker tools and supplies—enabling users to create anything from holiday ornaments to industrial prototypes. It will also be among the first makerspaces on campus to fully meet the accessibility standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The location will double the amount of makerspace available to the entire MIT community. It will be “an open-access gathering place for MIT’s innovators and makers,” says Martin Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00, director of Project Manus and MIT’s maker czar. The Met will be “the big community space where anybody at MIT can build things, and you can hang out with people who want to build anything from research projects to business prototypes.”
Culpepper, a professor of mechanical engineering, likens the Met makerspace to a centralized, free-form innovation nexus: a destination where students, alumni, faculty, and staff of all departmental and school affiliations “can meet and do what MIT community members do best—create.”
The new makerspace is made possible with support from the Victor and William Fung Foundation, founded by MIT alumnus Victor Fung ’66, a prominent Hong Kong business and civic leader, and his brother, William.
Through telecommunication technology, the Met makerspace will link to the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node, a collaborative space that aims to connect the MIT community with unique resources—including advanced fabrication capabilities— and other opportunities in Hong Kong and the neighboring Pearl River Delta.
The Met makerspace “will vastly increase MIT students’ access to the resources they require to iterate and drive ideas toward realization and adoption by the marketplace. It will also provide maker training to students and help build an Institute-wide maker community,” Schmidt says. “It will cultivate our students’ deep passion for learning, inventing, tinkering, and creating while providing them with new avenues through which to share their potentially game-changing prototypes and visionary projects with the world.”
That building is the source of one of my favorite MIT memories during my first year there. A group of us were walking up Mass Ave when suddenly a second-year student who was walking with us stopped us, pointed at the building, and gleefully said, “Look!” If you stand in the right place, part of the name on the building is obscured, and it says “Metropolitan Rage Waterhouse
The Site 4 project incorporates two existing buildings on Main Street. E38 has been completely renovated to accommodate ground-floor retail space and the Admissions offices on the second floor. Above these, the building’s five upper floors have been transformed into a new Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub: open, multi-use spaces for student makers and entrepreneurs, researchers, and staff, and a new home for the MIT Innovation Initiative.