The SEC’s original brick structures (Robinson Hall, built in 1899, Anderson in 1961, and Anderson’s annex in 1965) housed several departments, including engineering and physics, all dwelling in close proximity but without much interaction. To change that, the buildings were renovated, as well as unified in tone and attitude, creating a complex that reflects the university’s commitment to collaboration and scientific inquiry. 

The complex is scheduled to welcome its first students this fall, and the lab spaces will be the highlight. They’ll have every modern advantage—state-of-the-art science equipment, cutting-edge ventilation, and ergonomic workstations—but much of the wow factor will be supplied by a new sunlit four-story atrium featuring a ground-level cafe and common space that’s visible from balconies on every floor above.

In addition to those labs, separated by a glass window-wall from lounge space, the new facility features classrooms and areas for collaboration, which will be helped along by comfy furniture, walls finished in whiteboard paint, and natural light. The leading technology companies of the day design their buildings with interaction in mind, and the goal at the SEC is for budding scientists to make both important discoveries and lasting connections.

 

an all-for-one Design

The SEC’s diverse materials combine to tell a single story.

The design of the SEC, the work of the Boston architecture firm Payette, reveals how a limited palette—glass, brick, steel, and wood—can work together. On the interior, for instance, brick and stone tell us about the construction period of each piece within the complex—the uneven building blocks and decorative terra cotta flourishes of the 1899 facade, the anonymity of white painted bricks in the midcentury building, the variegated gray of the new manganese bricks, and the large-scale stone flooring that ties it all together.

Walking around the complex, meanwhile, involves negotiating a forty-foot change in elevation, but a recessed plinth of stately manganese ironspot brick maintains a constant visual baseline. Payette used a mix of brick patterning to terrific effect. Outside, an all-wood soffit, cantilevering above the brick plinth, is smartly finished with an elegantly thin steel extrusion edge. These sensitive details reveal a seriousness of thought rarely seen on institutional buildings.

A path between buildings of the SEC

A path between buildings of the SEC. Rendering: Payette Boston.

Along with the surprisingly inviting atrium, Payette has broken out the energy-intensive lab spaces (which require a lot of ventilation) from other work spaces. Nearly all areas benefit from their proximity to the interior courtyard or exterior windows, and are bathed in natural light. These designs should significantly lower the university’s electrical bills.

With its warm materiality and urbane, piazza-like atrium, the SEC reflects the close-knit campus feel of Tufts while providing modern amenities to its scientific explorers.

 

the SEC’s Stand Up Guy

To Dave Martin, E96, the School of Engineering is like the family institution. He, his grandfather, aunt, and uncle are all graduates. And though he earned his master’s at Cornell, Martin returned to Tufts to serve as structural engineer for the new SEC. We caught up with him to talk about the project. 

What is a structural engineer, anyway? 

It’s someone who works with an architect to help make their building stand up. We design the skeleton that supports the building system, providing a structure that will support whatever type of loading demand the project requires.

What was notable about this project?

We coordinated structural elements, including hundreds of steel beam penetrations, with all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing, and architectural features, and we made every effort to maximize space for labs, classrooms, and offices.

That sounds like quite a challenge. 

Structural engineering is the most artistic of the engineering trades. It’s a marriage of art, math, and science. 

Tell us about the building itself.

What I love most is the exposed structure. The roof in the atrium, for instance, is all exposed structural steel—it’s meant to be part of the experience of the architecture. It’s amazing, coming back and contributing to your own campus. And it’s especially gratifying because it involves the School of Engineering, an institution that is helping to grow the future of engineering.