The Outwash Basin at MIT Building 32, Vassar Street • Cambridge, Massachusetts

Designer(s)

OLIN; Nitsch Engineering

Client(s)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Outwash Basin at MIT
Outwash Basin at MIT
Outwash Basin at MIT
Outwash Basin at MIT
Outwash Basin at MIT

Utility Goals

Reduce pollutant loads in rainwater
Reduce downstream damage from runoff
Safely move, control, contain rainwater
Capture rain for reuse (of all kinds, human and natural, from irrigation and toilet flushing to groundwater recharge)

Utility

The basic stormwater management concept at The Outwash Basin is capture, cleanse, and either reuse for toilets and irrigation, or detain and discharge.  Rain captured from the Stata Center plaza and roofs, as well as the roofs of 3 adjacent buildings, is piped to the site; some goes directly to an underground detention vault, while some is piped to the landscaped detention “Outwash Basin” where it is biofiltered, along with sheet runoff from surrounding paved surfaces.  Solar-powered pumps recirculate rainwater through the basin, maintaining wetland moisture needed for the plants while also continuing the water cleansing.  Because the basin is lined, it stays moist; but vents in the liner release water to the detention vault below.  The vault maintains a 5-day supply of water for flushing toilets and for irrigation; excess flows out to a pump station that sends it to on the sewer system Vassar Street.  

Amenity Goals

Education
Recreation
Safety
Public Relations
Aesthetic Richness

Amenity

Immediately before this project, the site was a sea of asphalt with a 2-story WWII building—a zone of service parking and pedestrian scurrying, not a campus “place.”  OLIN’s concept for the landscaped basin design—the visible, green infrastructure component of this complex system—was to present an abstracted New England riverbank landscape through a sculpted, planted, sunken basin, a subtle expression of water and its ephemerality.  The name, “Outwash Basin,” is a nod to regional glacial geomorphology, where rock and gravel “outwash” forms linear glacial deposits (drumlins or moraines).  The basin, edging Whitaker Building to the south and an asphalt paved area to the north, was designed as a landscape to view while passing by, not as a place to enter.