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Building 20 at MIT Brought Together Diverse People

MIT used to have a famous office building simply called Building 20. This structure, located at the intersection of Main and Vassar Streets in East Cambridge, and eventually demolished in 1998, was thrown together as a temporary shelter during World War II, meant to house the overflow from the school's bustling Radiation Laboratory. As noted by a 2012 New Yorker article, the building was initially seen as a failure: "Ventilation was poor and hallways were dim. The walls were thin, the roof leaked, and the building was broiling in the summer and freezing in the winter."

When the war ended, however, the influx of scientists to Cambridge continued. MIT needed space, so instead of immediately demolishing Building 20, they continued using it as overflow space. The result was that a mismatch of different departments—from nuclear science to linguistics to electronics—shared the low-slung building alongside more ordinary tenants such as a machine shop and a piano repair facility. Because the building was cheaply constructed, these groups felt free to rearrange space as needed. Walls and floors could be shifted and equipment bolted to the beams. For instance, a scientist working on the first atomic clock removed two floors from his Building 20 lab so he could install the three-story cylinder needed for his experiments. In MIT lore, it's generally believed that this haphazard combination of different disciplines, thrown together in a large reconfigurable building, led to chance encounters and a spirit of inventiveness that generated breakthroughs at a fast pace. When the building was finally demolished to make way for a new $300 million office space many at MIT mourned the loss of Building 20. As a matter of fact, the new building includes boards of unfinished plywood and exposed concrete with construction markings left intact.

Possible Preaching Angles: Body of Christ; Church; Community; Fellowship—In some ways the church is like Building 20—people from different backgrounds and walks of life are thrown together in the "household of God," an imperfect place where we can all grow, serve, and create for the glory of God.

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