Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex, Northeastern University

Architecture firm: Payette

Owner: Northeastern University

Location: Boston

Category: Excellence

Project site: Brownfield

Building program type(s): Education - college/university (campus-level)

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.

Northeastern has been reinvented over the past generation, and the ISEC is a hallmark of its shift to a thriving research university. By integrating the university’s pedagogy focused on experiential learning, the building represents the transformation of its culture, history, and trajectory.

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 where the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Amtrak provide service. Pedestrians are greeted with a gentle slope, shielding any views of the rail corridor, which eventually leads them to the 500-foot free-form bridge that connects directly to the new building.

“This is a beautiful architecture piece that makes a statement and draws people in. It does what it set out to do both in connecting the programs and end users as well as connecting two previously divided neighborhoods via a pedestrian bridge." - Jury comment  

Transparency was the guiding principle for ISEC’s design, and the team worked to enable fortuitous connections, conversations, and collaborations across disciplines. The building is organized as a community of faculty neighborhoods that surround a daylight-filled atrium, filled with nooks and lounges that prompt informal conversation and study. A mixture of wet and dry labs as well as computational space on each floor bolster the interdisciplinary research teams working to create the technologies and materials demanded by the future.

Aggressive targets and an integrated approach to sustainability were ingrained in the project from the earliest planning through the design process. Its layered organization creates not only a vibrant interior culture but also minimizes energy usage while zoning areas for future flexibility. In addition to its role as a campus-scale public space, the atrium serves as a mixing chamber for a cascade air system that recycles air throughout the building.

ISEC’s expanded research spaces have been filled by new recruits who are engaged in the cutting-edge research fields of robotics, cybersecurity, biophotonics, and cognitive sciences. The design team remains engaged in continuing to fit out projects, working closely with users to adapt and finish spaces to their specifications and needs. Such projects include adapting future microscope space to integrate a medical MRI to advance cognitive research.

“It has a progressive design and organization of program spaces. This is a great building to start out their innovation district.” - Jury comment

The building represents the culmination of the first phase of a new academic precinct for the university. Phase II, which is currently being designed, will include an additional 350,000 square feet of engineering space, with a ground level that is focused on maker and active learning spaces for programs such as high-bay robotics research.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2017

Gross conditioned floor area: 236,240 sq ft

Project team

Engineer - Civil: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin

Engineer – MEP: Arup

Engineer - Structural: LeMessurier Consultants

General Contractor: Suffolk Construction Company

Landscape Architect: STIMSON


Diego Barrera, AIA (Chair), Stantec, Plano, Texas

Richey Madison, AIA, SmithGroup, Los Angeles

Xuemei Zhu, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Pam Loeffelman, FAIA, DLR Group, Estes Park, Colo.

Oswaldo Rivera-Ortiz, Assoc. AIA, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas

Image credits

Exterior with rail bridge at night



Warren Jagger Photography

central kitchenette

Warren Jagger Photography

exterior plaza

Warren Jagger Photography

building exterior daytime

Warren Jagger Photography