As a recent graduate of the Sam Fox School of Design at Washington University (WashU) in St. Louis, I acknowledge the design thinking of former WashU student Charles Eames. Written and directed with his wife Ray, the 1977 film “Powers of Ten” presents the relative scale of the Universe according to an order of magnitude based on a factor of ten. From meso to macro to micro, this multi-scalar observation reveals the intricacies of life in just nine minutes.
Such a technique can be used to observe the multi-layered complexities found within Payette’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC) at Northeastern University. Joining the design team while the ISEC undergoes construction administration has allowed me the chance to see the project emerge from lines to life. With cutting edge research and progressive academic programs, the architecture yields itself to the future minds of discovery and innovation.
Photo taken from the ISEC rooftop, looking northeast toward downtown Boston
Located adjacent to the existing Amtrak and MBTA rail infrastructure, the Columbus Avenue site is isolated from the main campus. The project expands the Northeastern campus to the southeast, creating an opportunity to link two disconnected neighborhoods, the Fenway and Roxbury, with landscape and a free-form pedestrian bridge spanning the bisecting tracks below.
Photo of the adjacent Amtrak + MBTA rail infrastructure – future site of the pedestrian bridge
At the architectural scale, the ISEC progresses the notion of movement and connectivity. Embracing the surrounding context, the building mass encourages the passage of people with its curving formal language. As a diagram, a line conforms to the hard street edge to the north. Once the line hits the site, it wraps the corner and begins to climb up the façade, transforming into a free-form wave inscribed to the solar shading system. This exterior gesture suggests the dynamic use of interior space within. Beneath the curved building skin, space is defined around a large interior atrium with three distinct skylights and a monumental spiral staircase. Faculty offices are positioned to the southwest while the research and support labs occupy the northeast. Collaboration spaces exist throughout the building to encourage cross-disciplinary interaction.
Photo of workers fabricating the atrium skylight – allowing for natural light to penetrate deep into heart of the ISEC
The high performance curtain wall envelope and solar shading system is a result of an intense series of iterations using digital fabrication, performance analysis and visualization technologies. The tectonic expression of the building skin mirrors the complex research found within. The ISEC has begun to reveal its identity to the skyline of Boston.
Photo reveals the exterior shading system on the southwest façade – where stereotomic meets tectonic
As construction progresses, the ISEC opens its doors to discussions with notable leaders in science and engineering. Promising designs for lab fit outs offer space for cutting edge research. Once activated, the ISEC will prove to be an important entity at the detail, architectural, city, national and global scales. One future look into the microscope has the potential to unlock monumental discoveries and encourage future innovation.
Panorama photo taken of current construction progress at the Northeastern ISEC site – April 27, 2016