Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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MIT Dome oculus interior view

Great Dome skylight restoration, Building 10

222 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA

Status: Complete

Themes: Renovation and renewal

Completion: 2013

The restoration of the skylight that tops MIT’s Great Dome reverses a preventative black-out measure taken by the university during World War II.


MIT Dome oculus interior view
MIT Dome oculus interior view
Restored oculus in MIT Dome
View from MIT Dome with restored oculus
MIT Dome restored oculus
MIT dome oculus exterior
MIT dome oculus exterior
MIT Dome oculus interior during renovation
Dome skylight in construction interior view
Dome skylight work interior
Dome skylight work exterior scaffolding
Dome skylight work exterior view
Dome skylight work beneath tent



Completion Date


Themes and priorities

Renovation and renewal

Sunlight once again shines through the oculus in MIT’s Great Dome, thanks to the restoration of the skylight as originally designed in 1913 by MIT alumnus William Welles Bosworth. MIT blacked out the skylights in buildings 7 and 10 during World War II to evade detection by potential enemy bombers. The 2013 work above the Barker Library in Building 10 follows the Building 7 skylight restoration in 2002.

Hundreds of amethyst-colored glass blocks in a stainless steel frame make up the 32-foot diameter skylight, completely replacing the original 1916 construction. The glass blocks are embossed with patterns that concentrate the intensity of the light passing through them by 15 percent. A clear, impact-resistant cover installed above the glass protects the new skylight, a popular location for MIT hacks.

The light flooding through the oculus illuminates the classic architectural details of the newly restored dome interior. The recessed coffers of the ceiling and Corinthian columns ringing the reading room below have been rejuvenated with new plasterwork and restored to their original color scheme following detailed paint analysis. 

As MIT approaches the 2016 centennial anniversary of the move to the Bosworth-designed Cambridge campus, the Institute is pleased to restore the Great Dome to its original design. The illuminated library has attracted students to the newly renovated space.

Read about the 2009 restoration project that resolved water leaks threatening the library stacks beneath MIT’s Great Dome.

Image credits

Courtesy Shawmut Design and Construction



222 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA



Project Team

Engineer: Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Boston, MA
Construction manager: Shawmut Design and Construction, Boston, MA
MIT Team: Joseph Collins, Jennifer Combs

Design Features

  • The new skylight is constructed from  1,042 amethyst-colored glass blocks, each 6-1/4 inches square and two inches deep, set into a stainless steel frame
  • Glass blocks are embossed with patterns that concentrate the intensity of light passing through them by 15 percent
  • A lay light consisting of panes of prismatic glass sits a couple of feet below the blocks, spanning the breadth of the oculus, and diffuses the light to illuminate the reading room below
  • A clear impact-resistant cover is installed over the new glass.