Looking closely at Frank Gehry’s Ray and Maria Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one sees a facade illuminated by sunlight that has reflected and refracted off of a number of nearby surfaces before finally making its way to the eye. In some ways, this is an ordinary aspect of all sighted observation. Yet on Stata, the substance of the building skin is assembled from many thin pieces of material—stainless steel, titanium, glass, brick veneer—held in space by a rambling steel and concrete frame that remains largely unseen, behind the surface.
Due to the building geometry, these panels are pointed a multitude of directions in three dimensional space. Lapped like scales, they form the building skin and are grouped according to surface character—brushed to a dull finish, polished like a mirror, painted white, painted yellow, corrugated. Each surface affects light differently. Observed together, they reflect each other and the changing colors of the sun, sky, and clouds, adding multiple layers to the visible surface in a continuous interplay of borrowed textures that often exist for just a few minutes or seconds, and only for a particular point of view.
Thus a building known for its displays of geometric exuberance is here viewed through a series of individual moments, each relying on the refraction, absorption, and diffusion of light reflected onto an small, isolated surface, but which allows an interpretation of the spatial quality of the three dimensional whole behind the reflection.