Simmons Hall at MIT/ Steven Holl

© Andy Ryan - Architects

When Institute of Technology commissioned Steven Holl in 1999 to design a new a dormitory for the school they had one goal in sight: that the spaces around and within the building would stir up interaction among students. While MIT focused on the building’s use and function, Holl aimed to create a memorable building. With MIT’s vision in mind along with Holl’s artistic architectural ideas, the ten-story undergraduate dormitory became a small city in itself with balancing opposing architectural elements, such as solids and voids and opaqueness and transparency.

More on Simmons Hall after the break.

Holl’s design solution was that the building would metaphorically work as a sponge. It would be a porous structure that would soak up light through a series of large openings that would cut into the building so that light would filter through in section. These breaks in section would then become main interactive spaces for the students, providing views onto different levels. In his original drawings, Holl referred to these breaks as the building’s “lungs” as they would bring natural light down while circulating air up.

Diagram - Section

Unfortunately, the final design was not able to incorporate these gaps at the massive scale that Holl originally had in mind due to fire regulations. Nonetheless the main concept was still carried through with smaller breaks. The lungs scattered throughout the building have a dynamic organic geometry that juxtaposes the rigidity of the gridded rectilinear exterior. Along this colored exterior grid system are five large openings, or voids, in an otherwise solid structure that correspond to main entrances, view corridors, and outdoor terraces.

© Andy Ryan - Steven Holl Architects

MIT’s desire for the undergraduate dormitory to encourage interaction and mingling among students was the driving force behind Simmons Hall becoming a “slice of a city.” The 195,000 square foot project is not only a dormitory with 350 residences, but also contains an 125 seat theater, a night cafe, and street level dining. The interior corridors are 11 feet wide, enhancing the possibilities for urban conditions inside. The abundance of windows creates a constant flicker of changing lights as the different rooms are occupied, resembling a city skyline at night. These windows also welcome plenty of sunlight and natural ventilation for each room. Each residential room has nine operable windows, and an 18-inch wall depth allows low-angled winter sun to warm up the building and allow the rooms to stay shaded and cool during the summer months.

© Steven Holl Architects

“For Simmons Hall, the new undergraduate dormitory at the Massachesetts Institute of Technoloy, Holl infects a perforated, monolithic box with contained spaces that curve and unfold towards natural light.” Holl’s design was able to meet MIT’s expectations for a more interactive environment with beautiful spaces through his contained city. The building is both “rational and intuitive” and creates a lively, well-lit urban condition  in a completely enclosed structure.

Architects: Steven Holl Architects
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Local Architect: Perry Dean Rogers & Partners
Project Year: 1999-2002
Structural Engineer: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Photographs: Steven Holl Architects: Andy Ryan and Paul Warchol, and on Flickr: Scott Norsworthy
References: スティーヴン・ホール, スティーヴン・ホール, and Steven Holl. Ruminoshiti poroshiti (Luminosity /Porosity). 2006-06-01, 2006. Print. and Steven Holl Architects

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "Simmons Hall at MIT/ Steven Holl" 21 Jun 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    What happen with the big architects like Holl, Zaha, Ghery,Eisenman, Libeskind, CoopHimme[l]blau, etc.? They was, a decade ago, in the top of the list, now everybody throw with rocks in them and say: This is not architecture? What we will say after century. We will have the same admiration for they like we have now for Michelangello, Palladio, Longhena, Mansart? No I think not… “Das Leben ist schlecht, und dann stirbst du!”

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    ^ to this guy…. whats your point? i believe this comment is misplaced.


    Really interesting project and article + beautiful pics.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Don’t miss undestund me, I like this project, and allmost entire work off Holl, but it was just a simple opinion about all those architect who are receving now just bad critics. That is all!

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    This building looks OK on pictures. But in reality, the exterior looks cheaply done. Nice idea but poorly executed.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down -7

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I think it’s great, like a comic book abstraction of a chunk of city, and with some interesting ideas internally to prevent it being the standard dark & deadened double-loaded corridor. I’d like to know what those rooms are like to live in.

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