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New architecture brings scientists together

Three tenants share neuroscience complex
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Just over two years ago, MIT broke ground on what would become the largest neuroscience complex in the world.

Since then, an extraordinary facility has risen from a dirt field intersected by a freight rail line: the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex. And although it won't be formally dedicated until Friday, Dec. 2, its three occupants -- MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research -- are already hard at work to foster a more comprehensive understanding of the brain.

Located at the epicenter of biotech and life sciences research in the Boston area, the new complex includes molecular biology laboratories, systems neuroscience laboratories, cognitive science laboratories and a brain imaging center.

Bold and elegant, the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex was born of a collaboration between two architecture firms and reflects the extraordinary vision of the lead designer, Charles Correa, and the exceptional design of laboratories and research spaces by Goody, Clancy and Associates.

Charles Correa Associates has designed many of India's most important buildings and a number of major projects around the world. Boston's Goody, Clancy and Associates is one of the leading architecture, planning and preservation firms in the country.

Creating facilities for three distinct entities, each seeking its own identity and its own entrance, posed a design challenge for Correa, who said he briefly considered using different materials for each institution, but ultimately chose instead to create distinctions using "very dexterous shifts in scale."

The 411,000-square-foot complex, situated on Main Street between Albany and Vassar, has a façade of glass and Portuguese limestone, but it looks different from different directions -- at one point softly curved, like a stone worn smooth by water; at another more angular, with rows of square windows and sharp corners.

"In response to [the Stata Center's] energetic forms and multiple materials, our building is serene, calm and elegant, restrained in its use of an intentionally limited materials palette," said Roger Goldstein (S.B. '74, M.AR. '76), principal of Goody, Clancy.

The architects faced major challenges in adapting to the odd plot of land, which not only has a rail line running through it, but forms a triangular corner at the intersection of Main and Vassar streets.

Yet these very limitations seem to have become their inspiration. Accommodating the rail line, for example, was the impetus behind one of the key features of the complex -- a 90-foot-high daylit atrium.

"The atrium edges are sculpted to create appealing terraces, bridges and interconnecting stairs, with most of the shared tea rooms and seminars clustered around it," Goldstein said. "Large windows put the activity of the building on display, and help daylight penetrate deeper into the building."

The building also comes to a dramatic point at the triangular corner. "It rides along Main Street like an ocean liner, its prow pointing towards Kendall Square," Correa said.

The eight-story complex, designed to accommodate about 500 people, includes an auditorium; large seminar rooms; a cafe; glass-walled reading rooms with spectacular views of campus; and 48 state-of-the-art wet and dry research laboratories.

The dedication ceremony for the complex will be held in the atrium on Friday at 3 p.m.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 30, 2005 (download PDF).

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