An (MIT) Room with a View
My perspective of MIT’s rhythms from the windows in lab
I did not pick the lab I joined based on the view. But my desk, and everyone else’s in the lab, which is situated on the 2nd floor of building 68, overlooks Hockfield Court. As a coveted area of green space between Buildings 66, 68, 76, and the Stata, the Court serves as a bustling window into the activity of the Institute that I can easily observe from the lab windows.
The first year after joining the lab, in between timepoints and discussions and planning out my project, I would gaze out on the Court. Around lunchtime, my labmates and I would peer out towards the corner of the Court to see if Saté, the bright red, cheap food truck was there, timing our trips to minimize wait time. If we were in the lab past dark, we would watch the MIT fire-jugglers from the windows.
After Covid hit a year later, and we were allowed back into the lab after a 3-month hiatus, I measured the subsequent return to normalcy through my views of Hockfield Court. The summer of 2020, while there were capacity limits in labs, the Court was filled with people meeting outside, eating outside, relaxing outside. The view from the lab windows became a minor source of gossip, as someone would catch a glimpse of an outdoor meeting and lab members would speculate on what the conversation was. A big white tent was permanently set up in the Court to facilitate outdoor social events. Then, as things approached normalcy over the next few years, the permanent tent went down, and the number of outside meetings decreased. The fire jugglers came back, but unfortunately Saté never did.
Now, in the fifth year of my PhD, I’ve grown to measure the Institute’s rhythms and the changing seasons through my vistas of the Court. There are events, protests, pick-up sports. Students, faculty, staff, families, and dogs. Lots of dogs.
Every fall, as the trees change color and eventually drop their leaves, we can see the Court more clearly from the lab windows. Grounds crews sweep up the leaves into big piles, and we watch as toddlers, adults, and dogs excitedly jump into the piles of leaves. There are sometimes a few misguided attempts to ride a bike through the leaf piles.
The week after daylight savings ends, we watch from lab as the sun sets at 4:30 over the Court. Sometimes if we’re lucky the sky will glow bright orange and pink against the geometric silhouettes of Stata. We complain about how it’s getting dark so early, but stop to admire the sunset.
As the weather turns colder and colder, there are fewer and fewer people sitting out on the Court. Now, it’s mainly people walking briskly, with their heads down braced against the wind, walking to work, lunch, or the T. The only people who stand out on the Court are cold-looking dog owners, playing fetch and watching their dogs zoom around the now-empty lawn.
Winter produces some of the most stunning views of Hockfield Court. When it snows, the bright white snow coats the ground, contrasting with the orange and silver of Stata, juxtaposed with the (hopefully) bright blue sky. Sometimes the snow will stick to the tree branches, blocking our views of the Court. We watch the occasional snow-ball fight, dogs happily bouncing through the snow, grounds crews making sure to keep the sidewalks clear.
The first signs of spring, normally in March, bring everyone back onto the Court. From our windows, we see so many people outside, basking in the first rays of slightly-warm sun. I typically join them. The Court is fertilized, maybe re-sodded, and the grass is coaxed into bright green again. The leaves grow back on the trees, and we no longer have a clear view of the entire Court.
In later spring and the milder days of summer, the Court is filled with lunchers, picnickers, games of frisbee and spikeball, or the occasional yoga class. Some mornings, the Building 68 Tech Daycare takes the babies out on a stroll or has blanket time on the Court. The Institute will set up a big white tent for a large event, blocking off part of the grass. My labmates and I ask each other what the tent is for, and, more importantly, if the tent signifies impending free food that we can partake in.
The Court is slightly more deserted around the sweltering humid days of mid-summer. The undergrads are mostly gone and it’s maybe too hot to be outside, although the dogs and dog owners still make regular appearances. But soon enough summer turns into fall, the undergrads come back, the weather gets milder, and the leaves fall, starting the cycle of Hockfield Court views all over again.
I know there are more scenic views from other labs on campus. But for me, the views of Hockfield Court from my lab window have become a welcome distraction, a grounding mechanism, and a way to measure the passage of time during periods in my PhD where I can’t even remember what day it is. These sights have been so important during my time in grad school that the images I’ll remember of MIT, instead of the dome or the infinite corridor, will be the rhythms I observed on Hockfield Court.
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