MIT students hacked the MIT Great Dome by turning it into Captain America’s shield in honor of Avengers: Endgame. According to the Boston Globe, “dozens of people worked on the project for months, which they started planning about a year ago after learning a new Marvel movie was going to be released.”
Students carefully covered the dome with a fabric “shield” on Saturday, April 27, 2019, during the opening weekend of Endgame. MIT sophomore Raymond Huffman shot a drone video of the shield on Sunday morning. By Monday, the shield was taken down.
Media across the country covered the prank while Endgame racked up record attendance at theaters. Even Captain America himself, Chris Evans, tweeted it was “Very cool!”
The MIT Great Dome has hosted many great hacks including a fire engine, the TARDIS from Doctor Who, Packman & Blinky, Red Sox logo, and many more. MIT even has a website that tracks all the hacks on the MIT campus. All recognized hacks on campus follow a “Hacker Ethic” where everything must be safe, cause no damage, hurt anyone, and is generally considered funny. Great stuff.
However, for us, it’s all about the dome.
The 100-foot diameter Great Dome is the centerpiece of Building 10 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus. It covers the Barker Library and features a 75-foot rotunda which serves as a 24/7 reading room for library patrons.
There is a second, inner dome 75-feet above the rotunda. It’s also 75-feet diameter making all dimensions the same in the rotunda. Surrounding this circular space are several floors of group study rooms, computer stations, and, of course, shelves of library books.
At the apex is a 27-foot round oculus. The design of the whole structure was ultimately based on Pantheon in Italy, and this oculus is nearly as big. Except this oculus is filled with glass blocks, etched in a manner to concentrate light entering the building—like a Fresnel lens.
There is surprisingly little information online about the original construction process. There are a few photos of the scaffolding used to form the dome in 1916. We know it was built using concrete and Indiana limestone.
During World War II, the oculus was covered to prevent light shining into the sky, making it an easy target in the unlikely event of a bombing raid on the east coast.
The oculus stayed covered for most of the past 70 years. It was uncovered for a while in the 1950s but covered again—probably because of leaks.
In 2009, the university refurbished the dome which by now was regularly leaking water into the library. The contractor replaced damaged blocks using limestone from the same quarry in Indiana. They also added a waterproofing membrane between the limestone and the concrete structure.
In 2013, the oculus was refurbished and reopened. It changed the space completely. While the oculus was covered, students sometimes called the reading room the “Barker bat cave.” Now light streams through the window, lighting the whole library.
The MIT Great Dome is a beautiful example of domed architecture and will inspire round design for future dome structures.