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Kendall Square initiative moves toward design phase

Urban-design firm to be selected; community meetings will be set for fall.

This fall, MIT will select an urban-design firm to help it develop and complete a design plan for the redevelopment of Institute-owned property in Kendall Square.

In April, MIT’s rezoning petition for its Kendall Square initiative was approved by the Cambridge City Council following a three-year, community-wide effort to align the interests of a broad group of stakeholders around the future vision for Kendall Square. The Council’s approval gives MIT the ability to propose up to 1.1 million square feet of new development, which will be a combination of housing, retail, lab, commercial and open space. MIT also continues to have the right to 800,000 square feet in new academic development, which it had prior to the rezoning petition.

Building on the work of the three-year community process, Adèle Santos, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), recently led an informal exploration of design ideas for MIT’s Kendall Square initiative with a faculty design group. “Their report focused primarily on important design goals and planning principles that should be achieved in future urban-design proposals,” Santos said.

Although the concepts have not been fully evaluated to determine whether they meet the financial, market, physical and legal feasibility criteria determined to be essential to the initiative’s viability, they present alternative approaches that the design group believes should be explored further. The document, East Campus/MIT Gateway, an exploration of alternative approaches, has been posted on MIT’s Capital Projects website (view PDF). 

The SA+P faculty design effort began in April 2013 in response to recommendations made by the Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning, appointed by Provost Chris Kaiser. In the Task Force’s report of October 2012, it was recommended that a new urban design plan for the east campus be completed once MIT received approval from the City of Cambridge for its zoning petition for new development around Kendall Square.

The SA+P faculty design group who participated in the effort included Meejin Yoon, Dennis Frenchman, Nader Tehrani, Carlo Ratti, Alexander D’Hooghe and Anton Garcia-Abril, with Peter Roth as an advisor.

Over the summer, MIT released a request for proposals to five major urban-design firms recommended by the SA+P faculty design group; those proposals are due in late August. The selected firm will use the work of the SA+P’s faculty design group, and the significant input from the community process, as a foundation for developing its concepts.

The firm selected by MIT will be required to facilitate four MIT community meetings and two Cambridge community meetings in order to gather feedback and later respond to that feedback during the development of the design. The dates for these community events will be announced in September.

A steering group, co-chaired by Provost Kaiser and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz, will guide the east campus/MIT gateway study and assure MIT faculty and community input, as well as outreach to the Cambridge community.

“We are poised to make good progress this fall, thanks to the work of Dean Santos and her faculty colleagues,” Kaiser said. “I look forward to a creative process that will yield great ideas for an enlivened Kendall Square and an exciting gateway to the eastern side of our campus.”

“I am gratified by the commitment of our faculty to envisioning a design for the east campus of the future,” Ruiz added. “I look forward to the broader community engagement that will take place this fall, so that we can achieve a plan for Kendall Square that enriches our aspirations for the campus.”

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