MIT Stata Center Stormwater Management System

Client: Judith Nitsch Engineering, Inc., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA

The Challenge

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hired Frank O. Gehry & Associates to design a new complex dedicated to offices, research institutes, and laboratories for computer, information, and intelligence sciences and to serve as an interdisciplinary incubator for new ideas. When watershed and stormwater management requirements presented major hurdles to approval of the project, Chester Engineers was selected to supplement the original consulting team and serve as sustainable design consultant and urban stormwater specialist for evaluation and design of the overall stormwater management and water reuse systems. The goal was to develop a viable stormwater management system that eliminated runoff releases from the site up to the 100-year storm, thus minimizing pollutant loading to the Charles River watershed and overloading of an old and undersized local stormwater handling system.

The Interdisciplinary Approach

Chester Engineers evaluated the pre-development water budget for the site to guide selection of a sustainable management strategy, essentially quantifying the portion of the total annual precipitation that had been infiltrated, versus leaving the site through evaportranspiration or runoff. Since the site occupied filled former tidelands with poor infiltration capacity, alternatives to infiltration were prioritized, such as capture, storage, evaportranspiration, and water harvesting for re-use as well as runoff reduction. We identified opportunities for applying green roofs and selecting permeable paver systems for plaza areas, but the top priority emerged as harvesting stormwater runoff for toilet flushing and irrigation of landscape plantings. Chester Engineers conducted hydrologic modeling to determine runoff and water quality output, and for an array of alternatives to determine how best to meet the design objectives. A vertical flow wetland over a subterranean storage/detention vault concept proved to be the most cost effective approach to meet multiple objectives. Using the selected treatment option, we generated estimated water quality outputs plus estimates of pollutant-loading reduction. We also worked with the engineers and landscape architects to integrate the system into the site landscape design, prepared concept design documents, and developed specifications for earthwork, soil mixtures, and installation of the photovoltaic pump used to recycle and treat water for toilet flushing in the new building.

The Sustainable Result

The final design features a permanently moist biofiltration swale vegetated with a stunning wetland plant community, a visual focal point of an avant garde quadrangle that has won acclaim from facility users and the academic community in general. The thoughtful and creative technologies have become a point of pride for MIT, and are used as curriculum elements in urban design and engineering courses. The additional stormwater harvesting measures were found to have a three-year return on investment, and promises to continue saving money on water bills for decades to come, and conserving water in a region of limited supply. Significantly, the project raised the bar in the region regarding what it means to manage stormwater runoff “to the fullest extent practicable” and is seen as a key instigator to local municipalities adopting municipal sustainable design ordinances.

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Project Highlights:
  • Site history and soil investigation.
  • Hydrologic modeling.
  • Design of stormwater management system featuring: biofiltration swale, underground storage and detention facility, and solar powered re- circulation system.
  • Graywater harvesting.
  • Preparations of specifications.