Northeastern University Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex

Architect: Payette

Owner: Northeastern University

Location: Boston, MA

Flow and movement are the defining features of this new academic precinct straddling Boston’s Roxbury and Fenway neighborhoods. This cutting-edge hub for the sciences has helped position Northeastern University as a premier destination for research, but it also serves as a vital social space for students. Built on a brownfield, this new academic building, referred to as ISEC, and its accompanying pedestrian bridge, is the first major project informed by the university’s institutional master plan.

The complex sits south of one of the city’s primary rail corridors, serving as a literal bridge between two diverse neighborhoods and a symbol of the school’s desire to strengthen the communities surrounding it. The new pedestrian bridge, playfully known as PedX, and its surrounding landscape provide an accessible walkway up and over the tracks used by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Amtrak. Pedestrians are greeted with a gentle slope, shielding any views of the rail corridor, as they eventually reach the 500-foot free-form bridge that connects directly to the new building.

The ISEC’s ground plane, defined by its academic and public roles, forms a dynamic public realm. Its primary volume and the perimeter of another building currently under construction are raised so that the building’s ground floor is open to the landscape. Its 300-seat auditorium, constructed of board-formed concrete, emerges from the landscape and further shapes the building’s daylight-filled atrium.

Aggressive targets and an integrated approach to sustainability were a focus of the project from the earliest planning through the design process.

The high-performance envelope that wraps ISEC, particularly the bronze solar veil curving around its office cluster, further defines its public spaces and provides much-needed shading from the southwestern exposure. The building’s laboratories are clad in a thermal overcoat of gray, ribbed metal that reveals the research space’s glass volume where it enters the atrium.

Aggressive targets and an integrated approach to sustainability were a focus of the project from the earliest planning through the design process. As a research building, ISEC is a member of what is typically one of the highest energy use typologies, and the team sought to realize as much energy savings as possible. During planning, low-energy programs were separated from high-energy research spaces. Glazed walls reduce the volume of ventilated research space and dramatically reduce ISEC’s energy consumption. A cascade air system takes advantage of the team’s high- and low-energy approach and reduces the need for outside air in the building’s research spaces.

Expected to be completed in 2022, the 350,000-square-foot EXP building will join ISEC. Not only is ISEC the first step for the planned 600,000-square-foot precinct, but it has also given the university a physical representation of its ambitions for its campus and the city at large.

Additional information

Engineer - Civil: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin

Engineer - MEP: Arup

Engineer - Structural: LeMessurier Consultants

General Contractor: Suffolk Construction Company

Landscape Architect: STIMSON


Kim Yao, AIA, Chair, Architecture Research Office (ARO), New York, New York

Phillip Bernstein, FAIA, Yale Architecture School, New Haven, Connecticut

Melissa Daniel, Assoc. AIA, Amentum, Annapolis Junction, Maryland

Magdalena Glen-Schieneman, AIA, MGS Architecture, Marina del Rey, California

Jim McDonald, FAIA, A&E Architects, Missoula, Montana

Marianne McKenna, KPMB Architects, Tornoto, Ontario

Conor Merrit, AIAS, University in St. Louis, Waite Hill, Ohio

Keith Lashley, AIA, HKS, Winter Haven, Florida

JoAnn Wilcox, AIA, Mithun, Seattle, Washington

Image credits

4_Northeastern_Warren Jagger_AIA Awards Announcement Images

Warren Jagger Photography

3_Northeastern_Warren Jagger_AIA Awards Announcement Images

Warren Jagger Photography

2_Northeastern University_Payette_AIA Honors_Announcement Image

Warren Jagger Photography

5_Northeastern_Warren Jagger_AIA Awards Announcement Images

Warren Jagger Photography

1_Northeastern University_Payette_AIA Honors_Announcement Image