Flow and Movement: the ISEC Bridge


Constructed on an urban brownfield site consisting of an existing surface parking lot set between two garages, the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC) is first phase of a long-term vision to link the University’s Huntington Avenue Campus with Columbus Avenue, span the MBTA and Amtrak, and connect the Fenway and Roxbury neighborhoods.

The building opened in April 2017 and our design team is now focused on Phase 2, the pedestrian bridge which will connect the sloping landscape with an accessible path across the train tracks. The ISEC is rotated to align with this path, negotiate the slope and invite student traffic flow through an atrium scaled to serve as the new student hub for an expanded campus.

Axonometric diagram delineating pedestrian flow through the ISEC and landscape, over the rail infrastructure and into the north campus landing

Since the early design phase of the ISEC, the free-form pedestrian bridge was always part of the larger design vision. As the design process progressed, the design of the bridge evolved. Initially, the dramatic curved “Arc” was designed as hybrid of landscape and physical structure with a palate of green spaces, informal gathering spaces and observation/viewing spaces. As the height increases, the facets would open to reveal a dramatic view of the Boston skyline as it bridges into the sloped landscape. 

Early conceptual sketch suggesting the fluidity of curved “Arc” parapets and flowing façade elements

At the city scale, the intervention proposed a passage over the bisecting rail lines and at the scale of the campus, the project envisioned a linkage of the Sciences (Physics, Engineering, Biology, Chemistry/Bio-Chemistry, Health Sciences, etc.) with the ISEC (Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex) sited south of the ROW (Right of Way).

As the design evolved, it was important for the project to maintain the “flow” concept and create a connection between the Fenway and Roxbury neighborhoods. The current design encourages pedestrians to flow through the ISEC site within three distinct routes: through the ground floor of the ISEC, up the landscape plaza staircase or along the accessible spline ramp from Columbus Avenue to the gathering space at the ISEC deck.

Rendering of the north campus landing, which shows the proposed campus node where the pedestrian crossing meets the ground

An 18’ tall plane of corten (weathering) steel presents itself at the proposed ISEC deck. This monumental gateway is strategically positioned to encourage pedestrians to continue through the east and west bridge parapets spanning over the Amtrak, Keolis and MBTA right of way. While acting as a datum wall to guide pedestrians from north to south, the west parapet gradually decreases in height from south to north. A tectonic system of rotated and horizontally stacked planes is articulated on the east parapet. This move defines the east parapet as a device for focused views toward the city of Boston and the western ISEC façade. The bridge then weaves itself between Snell Library and Egan Engineering/Science Research Center before it touches down on the campus. At this new node, the west bridge parapet peels itself away from the purity of the arc geometry to allow for arrival and departure. Simultaneously, the west parapet becomes inflected and perforated as it meets the ground. A subtle elevator/machine room tucks itself under the terminated east parapet to permit accessible access between the bridge and the Snell Library plinth.

In the past few months, the pedestrian crossing site has been mobilized. Most notably, Skanska has begun drilling mini piles for the bridge piers. Mock-ups for the perforated corten plates and board formed concrete are currently on site for design team review and approval. Shortly, rebar will be placed to begin the remaining foundation work. Currently, King Fabrication is producing shop drawings and a 3D fabrication model in Houston, Texas. The bridge will be custom-fabricated in a shop in Houston, then transported to the ISEC site early next year.

10.24.2017 – Skanska drilling the first mini pile at the X-0 gridline, adjacent to the ISEC electrical vault

1 Comment
  1. I wished the original Arc was still going ahead at Northeastern ISEC
    Furthermore, wouldn’t be better that the whole rail track be covered like behind Boston police HQ with landscape and/or tennis courts. Surely it is much safer to have trains run underground. Avoiding noise and visual pollution would be a good objective as well

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