Design Project Assignment: MIT's Simmons Hall


The construction of Simmons Hall, a dormitory at MIT, started in 1999 and was completed in 22 months. The focus of the architectural vision was a "porous building morphology," which called for a row of "permeable" rather than barrier buildings designed with the "sponge" concept in mind. One of the architectural design goals was to respect existing view corridors from the residential district gradually taking shape in an industrial landscape just over the tracks through the achievement of transparency, porosity, and permeability. Taking a conceptually open attitude, the building was envisioned to be open to light and air, open to undergraduate and graduate students, open to faculty and artists-in-residence who will live, work, eat, study, and be entertained within its dynamic spaces.

Simmons Hall is a 350-bed dorm with 253 single and double rooms and 17 suites, providing approximately 180,000 square feet of area for use. The building stands 10 stories (or 100 feet) high, 385 feet long, and 53 feet deep. The building is wrapped almost entirely in a matrix of 2-foot-square windows, 5,538 of them to be exact. Though not part of Holl's initial concept, the exoskeleton of the building is formed by a gridded shell, composed of precast concrete wall panels, called Perfcon, developed specifically for this project. This precast concrete wall panel system serves as part of the gravity and lateral load resisting system and essentially provides a bearing wall that accepts a regular pattern of holes while allowing for major structural variables as large openings and cantilevers.

Project Objectives

The main objective of the project assignment is to gain hands-on experience in tackling the planning, analysis and design issues in real-life open-ended structural design projects while performing the analysis and design of representative structural system and components.

Project Material

A presentation describing various aspects of the project including planning, architectural design, geotechnical constraints and design, structural analysis and design, construction, and certain structural details is provided in the materials section below.

Project Teams

Five project teams formed by 4-5 team members will perform the identified design assignments related to this overall project. The contribution of each team member to the project will be assessed during the course of the work and at the end of the project. A list of the project teams and members is appended to this document. Teams 1-4 will work on assignments related to Simmons Hall, while Team 5 will work on the design and building of a small scale bridge to join a national bridge competition.

Project Tasks

Some of the project tasks will be common to all project teams, while others will be specific to each team. Common tasks are as follows:

A. Common Tasks

  1. Make a review of Simmons Hall's architectural and structural design in view of its design goals and functional requirements. Include a brief discussion of the positive aspects of the overall design and other aspects that as a designer you might have approached differently.
  2. Describe the general design problem, constraints, and approach. Comment on the issues related to selection of the structural system. Develop your own structural system compatible with the architectural and functional characteristics of the building. Justify your selection.
  3. Make a review of the geotechnical issues and the foundation design. Explain the concerns regarding the local soil condition at the project site, potential problems related to such soil conditions, and their effects on the structure. Review the designer's selection of the foundation system and describe alternative foundation systems that could be used. State their advantages and disadvantages.
  4. Given the structural drawings of the building, determine the design gravity loads and design lateral loads acting in the longitudinal and transverse directions in accordance with the ASCE 7 and IBC codes.
  5. Review the gravity and lateral load resisting components of the structural system. Explain the issues related to their selection and location within the structural system.
  6. Make structural idealizations of the existing structural system, providing detailed explanations of your assumptions. Select a representative 2D frame and distribute calculated gravity and lateral loads on this frame. Through approximate analysis techniques, find design member forces.
  7. Make a simple computer model of this idealized 2D structural frame using SAP2000 and perform an analysis to determine design member forces. Compare the SAP2000 results with those obtained from approximate analysis techniques and comment on their differences.
  8. Using the design member forces obtained from SAP2000 analysis, design a typical column and a beam in the 2nd and 9th floors of the building. Discuss your results. Provide detailed drawings showing member dimensions, reinforcement details, and the beam-column connection details.
  9. Design a typical slab to determine the slab thickness and reinforcement details. Discuss alternative slab systems.
  10. Comment on the Perfcon precast concrete wall panel system considering their function, manufacturing, erection, quality control, and cost. Evaluate the joint performance of adjacent panels. Propose an alternative approach or system/joint for the same purpose.

B. Design Tasks Specific to Each Project Team

Following are the tasks specific to each project team:

  1. Study the special analysis and design problems in the regions indicated with your team number on the below figures (deleted). Perform an idealized approximate or computer analysis with appropriate boundary conditions and perform two alternative designs to be reviewed by your supervisor. Indicate your preference with justification.


Each design team will discuss briefly the progress in the project hours, as indicated in the Class schedule. In addition, there will be two progress reports due on lecture #21 and #29. A detailed typed final report will be submitted on lecture #37. The final report should provide the details of each project task. A conclusion section should make a summary review of the project and the experiences gained throughout the process.

The final project should at least include the following

  • Description of the General Design Problem, Constraints, Functions, Design Life, and Other Relevant Considerations
  • Design Assumptions, Analysis Methodologies Employed, and a Flowchart of the Design Process
  • Specific Design Considerations and Architectural Considerations
  • Design Details Including:
    • Load Types, Loads, and Load Cases
    • Analysis and Design Computations
    • Deformed Shapes
    • Member Dimensions and Reinforcement Details.
  • Written and Illustrated Descriptions of the Architectural, Mechanical, and Structural Designs
  • Conclusion

Project Materials

  • Overview of Simmons Hall Building Structure
  • SAP2000 Tutorial (PDF)