Photo courtesy of MIT Museum

What: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Building 20
Where: 18 Vassar St., Cambridge
Built: 1943
Owner: Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Building 20 was hastily constructed in 1942 to house an extension of the MIT Radiation Laboratory and to accelerate the development of the Allies’ radar technology during World War II. 

The project was initially envisioned as a temporary structure and given an exemption from fire codes. With its thin wood walls and exposed utilities, Building 20 offered an ideal environment for expansion and customization of research spaces in disparate fields. Amir Bose studied hi-fi technology at the Acoustics Lab and later founded audio manufacturer Bose Corp., while Noam Chomsky developed his influential theories of language in the building. Other researchers made advances in photography, microwaves and video games. 

Building 20’s sprawling horizontal floor plates and confusing layout were credited with encouraging chance encounters between researchers from different departments, inspiring the future design of office buildings to encourage collaboration. It was demolished in 1998 and its former occupants were relocated to various locations on the campus. 

They Said It: 

“Building 20 fit many of us perfectly. It kept us dry and warm in winter, except on those occasions when the windows fell out because they hadn’t been re-puttied since 1943. It was because of its being relatively undesirable that Building 20 could function as an incubator for new development.”
— Morris Halle, professor emeritus of linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

The Hottest Property: MIT’s Building 20

by Steve Adams time to read: 1 min