I have been at MIT for almost two and a half years, and during this time I have repeatedly been asked to give campus tours to visiting friends and family. Though most of campus is within walking distance, extremely convoluted paths resulting from high building density and weird building numbering make it challenging to navigate the territory. Hence, I am summarizing here a refined travel path I have identified over the course of the last 2.5 years, as well as relating some of the stories I tell while giving a quick tour of MIT to my visitors.
Decide on the starting point
The starting point depends on the final plan. If you plan to eat at the student center (really? Please don’t.), start near Kendall. If the final plan is to go eat somewhere in Kendall or Boston, start from the Z-center. The two plans are mirror images on each other, so I’ll explain the latter.
Z-center (Stop 1)
I start with showing the Z-center by entering through the poolside and exiting through the Kresge side. The first stop to show will be on the left (the fancy pool and the gym above it, which gives a good first impression of the college). Near the exit at the main reception, you can tell your visitors about the indoor ice rink, indoor running track, squash courts, and many other facilities available to the MIT community. Note that you can actually take the visitors inside the Z-center with you for free, by submitting any government ID of theirs at the main reception, but I would avoid it to save time.
Kresge Auditorium and Student Center (Stops 2 and 3)
After coming out of the Z-center, the next stop will be Kresge Auditorium and the student center. Putting a nerd cap on, you can tell your friends about the auditorium’s roof, a 1/8th spherical structure made of thin-shell concrete, touching the earth at only three points (Link). Next stop will be the student center on the left. You can take your visitors inside, show them the food places you really hate and come out via the art gallery on the second floor.
Lobby 7 and the Infinite Corridor (Stop 4)
After the student center, you can head straight towards the Infinite Corridor, the 251 m long hallway that was designed to be the central spine of original MIT buildings. Note that twice per year, in mid-November and in late January, the corridor lines up lengthwise with the plane of the ecliptic, causing sunlight to fill the entire corridor, the event which is celebrated as MIThenge (Link). A good place to take a picture is right next to the entrance of the coffee shop in Lobby 7 with the MIT seal on the wall.
Lobby 10 / Great Dome / Killian Court / Barker Library (Stops 5 and 6)
There is nothing interesting between Lobby 7 and Lobby 10 except some murals in the hallway. Lobby 10 is a good stop. You really should take your visitors outside to Killian Court (Stop 5) to take another picture with the great dome in the background. It’s also a good place to tell them about the tradition of MIT undergrads assembling full-sized airplanes, trucks and satellites above the great dome on special occasions like the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ invention in 2003. Next stop is Barker Library (Stop 6) via the elevator in Lobby 10, where the inner view of the great dome is the main attraction.
Heading towards Hayden Library (Stops 7 and 8)
After coming back from the library, you can proceed to the end of the Infinite Corridor. Take a right and then a left to head towards the Hayden Library. Along the way, you will see a metallic steel structure in the mathematics department called Chord (Stop 7), which goes to the 4th floor and is pretty cool to see. Once you reach Hayden (Stop 8), you can show your visitors one of the most beautiful libraries at MIT.
La Grande Voile / EAPS Building (Stop 9)
From Hayden Library you can come out of the building by walking towards the Muddy Charles Pub. Stop right in the front of La Grande Voile (The Big Sail), a statue right in front of the Green building (Link). First, explain why EAPS has two stories missing on the ground floor. When the building was made, Cambridge city planning only allowed a certain number of stories. So architects decided to stay within the allowed number of stories but still raise the building above all others by adding pillars to its base. I usually joke that the big sail sculpture helps reduce drag on the lower part of the building, which is my way of emphasizing the presence of a river right next to campus. From here you can cut across Building 66 and go to the Stata Center.
Stata Center (Stop 10)
There are multiple things to see at the Stata Center (Link). Start with its weird outer appearance, which is rumored to show all the letters of the English alphabet from an aerial view. The Stata Center has many peculiar attractions, including the big parabolic mirror, Collier's Cranes, Collier’s Car assembled by hackers on the 2nd floor, the physical ping-pong game, and the cool visual fluid-AI amalgamated screen. The details of these and other MIT attractions can be seen here.
Final destination: The Coop
From Stata, you can take the Mass Ave to head towards the Coop near Kendall. On the way, you will pass the Sean Collier Memorial on the left and the Koch Institute’s pretty hallway on the right. At the final destination, you can use your Coop membership to help your visitors buy discounted books and official MIT gear to mark the end of your tour.
After a few times the path becomes a bit boring, but I find it one of the most efficient ways of showing visitors around the campus. Feel free to add more places if you have time.
I think the best part about MIT campus is the fact that, unlike many university campuses in the country, MIT’s campus is a part of the main city, and the access to most of the campus is not restricted to students and staff. For this reason, even if you are not a part of MIT, you can follow the above-mentioned path. Hence, I recommend all the readers to take advantage of these facts and experience 160 years of glorious MIT history.
P.S. For all readers who are not a part of MIT or don’t like self-guided tours, official MIT tours are available as well.