Art and Science | Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Northwest Passage, 2018

Stainless, steel, LED lights, diffusers


Commissioned with MIT Percent-for-Art Funds

Since 1968, MIT’s Percent-for-Art Program has allocated funds to commission site-specific art along with each new major construction or renovation project on campus. This tour highlights select Percent-for-Art pieces whose designs reflect their unique location within a hub of science and innovation.

This tour was created by Isabelle Yen, Class of 2021 in Computer Science and Economics. Yen was a List Center Student Guide for three years of her undergraduate career.

On your way to MIT.nano’s futuristic labs, don’t forget to stop and look up. A 90-foot-long installation of LED rings and stainless steel panels run along the building’s breezeway. This is Olafur Eliasson’s Northwest Passage, whose design references the ice floating in the channel between North America and the Arctic Circle.

For centuries, explorers searched for this valuable trade route from Europe to Asia. It only recently became viable for commercial shipping, however, when the effects of climate change had thinned the ice cover enough for ships to sail through without an icebreaker. Northwest Passage is installed in a building that houses some of today’s most advanced scientific and technological research, while reminding us to pause and think about the environmental impact of our highly connected, technology-enabled lives.

As you walk this route, what do you notice as you move around under the breezeway?

Building Number: 12

Accession Number: PFA.2018.002