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Learning and Community: Colleges Moving Towards Flexible Spaces

Colleges and universities around the country are working with a new breed of architects to design flexible spaces, places where students, faculty, and staff can gather to learn, innovate, collaborate and socialize. Here in Massachusetts, five institutions – Northeastern University, Emerson College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Lasell College and MIT– are among a host of educational institutions investing in new facilities that create a sense of connection and community.  

Northeastern University, Boston, MA – Built on a former brownfield site, Northeastern’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC) is a 234,000-square-foot center, the anchor for several of the school’s primary disciplines: health sciences, basic sciences, engineering, and computer science.

Completed in 2017, the energy efficient complex —which was designed to encourage collaborative research— includes a new pedestrian bridge, allowing students, residents, faculty, and staff safe access to nearby businesses and neighborhoods. This contemporary, light-filled space is a global laboratory which “unites science and engineering under one roof, complementing cross-disciplinary initiatives and partnerships across the university and beyond.”

The engineering and consulting firm Arup, and Payette, served as the designers on the new facility.

Emerson College, Boston, MA: Emerson recently opened a new Student Dining Center at 122 Boylston Street and a new residence hall nearby at 2 Boylston Place.

At more than 18,000 square feet, the multipurpose Student Dining Center spans two above-ground floors and offers much needed social spaces for the urban campus, including seating for 530 (nearly double the capacity of the previous dining hall), a performance stage area, and a meeting space for faculty and staff. The façade of the building has been renewed to resemble the building as it stood in the 1920s on the edge of Boston’s “Piano Row.”

The new 18-story residence hall at 2 Boylston Place houses 375 students and features a beautified thoroughfare, including the re-bricking of the public pedestrian walkway, retention of the façade of the historic Ancient Landmark Building and the gas lamps along Boylston Place. There is also the addition of a new café, which is open to the public and includes outdoor seating. Parts of the interior have been carefully preserved to reflect elements of the historic structure as well.

The renovations were designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects.

Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston, MA: Last year, Wentworth Institute of Technology broke ground on its Boston campus for its first new academic building in more than 45 years. Set to open in 2019, the $55 million Engineering, Innovation & Sciences Building will be home to the school’s biomedical engineering, biomedical, civil engineering and experiential learning programs as well as science and manufacturing labs; office space; and meeting/presentation areas for students, faculty, and staff. It will also house Wentworth’s innovation and entrepreneurship center, which serves as a launch pad for the institute’s extracurricular programs. The facility is located at 555 Parker Street, just around the corner from the Museum of Fine Arts, connecting Wentworth students with one of Boston’s most prized cultural institutions.

Gilbane Building Company is the project’s construction manager, while Leers Weinzapfel Associates Architects of Boston is the architect for the 78,000-square-foot multipurpose facility.

Lasell College, Newton, MA: Last fall, Lasell unveiled its new Science and Technology Center, a state-of-the-art facility which features labs for athletic training, exercise science, mathematics, chemistry, and biology courses, as well as flexible areas with easy-to-move furniture for multidisciplinary use. The 48,300 square-foot building also includes 21 all-purpose classrooms, group study rooms, a café, an atrium with floor to ceiling windows and 29 faculty offices, marking a significant uptick in the number of spaces in which students can conduct research, tackle connected learning projects, and collaborate with faculty and one another.

In the coming months, the $24 million facility, which was designed by Cannon Design and constructed by Commodore Builders, will be home to the college’s IT help desk and bookstore as well.

MIT, Cambridge, MA: Looking beyond 2018, MIT has several major construction projects in the planning or development stage that are poised to further enhance their regional presence and the quality for those who spend time in their buildings. For instance, the Institute has identified repurposing the historic Metropolitan Warehouse on Massachusetts Avenue as a redevelopment opportunity, with options including modern common areas and study spaces for students, research hubs, and street-level retail. The school is also working on redeveloping the Volpe site in Kendall Square, a new effort to revitalize the tech-centered neighborhood. Currently, Site 4 in Kendall Square is also under construction, with plans to create a new innovation center as well as additional graduate housing and an updated admissions building. NADAA is the design architect, with Perkins+Will acting as the architect of record.

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Together, these projects provide a snapshot of the higher ed “building boom” underway throughout the Commonwealth. Enhancing our already stellar colleges and universities, which attract students from around the world, will continue this momentum moving forward. By fostering the right balance of learning and community, these innovative touchstones are quietly reasserting the state’s long-distinguished record as a champion in education.

Contributor Bio

JM Electrical Co., Inc. was established over 30 years ago by Paul A. Guarracino who wanted to provide the highest level of quality service to the commercial electrical contracting market. Over the years, this commitment to service along with highly experienced and dedicated personnel has allowed our company to grow its customer base and make significant contributions to major projects in the Greater Boston area.

Today, JM Electrical enjoys a reputation as an industry leader in installing building automation systems and HVAC controls. JM Electrical possesses the technical expertise to assist our customers in executing all projects from selection to installation of the most sophisticated and cost-effective building management systems.

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