A detail of the Stata Center at MIT. Photographer: James S. Russell/Bloomberg

The $300 million Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology doesn’t look much like a research lab. Its brightly colored collision of angular and cylindrical forms seems to line-dance down dour Vassar Street in Cambridge.

Many observers assumed the 720,000-square-foot, nine-story collage couldn’t work as a research center either. Then came a lawsuit.

After the building opened in 2004, it developed several problems, including leaks, cracking bricks, mold and globs of snow crashing on the sidewalk. MIT sued Stata’s architect, Frank O. Gehry, and Beacon Skanska, its builder, in 2007 without naming a figure for damages.

The skeptics gleefully piled on. John Silber, the former president of Boston University, called it a disaster. He had put Stata on the cover of his book “Architecture of the Absurd: How ‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art.”

Many commentators presumed that Gehry was heedless of practicalities, that Stata’s spectacular form was purely artistic whim and that MIT had nothing better to do than indulge its celebrity architect. Witold Rybczynski, architecture critic at the website Slate, made Stata the star of a cavalcade of alleged architectural failures last February, the implication being that bad things only happen to famous buildings.


James S. Russell