New and Improved Buildings on Campus

Cohen Auditorium and Halligan Hall were rehabbed, and a teaching and research facility is taking shape at 574 Boston Ave.
Cohen Auditorium
The new Cohen Auditorium. Photo: Kelvin Ma
December 6, 2013

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The Edward E. Cohen Arts Center was under construction in the late summer of 1954 when hurricanes Carol and Edna arrived just 10 days apart, each with winds nearing 100 miles per hour. Though work was delayed for weeks, the Cohen building survived, and Tufts’ first center for the arts was dedicated the following year.

Six decades later, Cohen Auditorium, named for the Boston industrialist who donated $125,000 to build it, is once again in the limelight. It has been renovated from top to bottom, including a new roof; new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; and a new seating configuration that is accessible to those with disabilities. An electronic wheelchair lift is available to assist performers to the stage. With seating for 567, Cohen remains Tufts’ largest auditorium.

The Cohen project is one of more than 60 building renovations and upgrades that have been completed on all three campuses this year. It is among the most visible, along with the renovation of Halligan Hall and the start of construction on a new academic facility at 574 Boston Ave. on the Medford/Somerville campus.

Walking into the new Cohen is a bit like boarding the Starship Enterprise. The floor slopes downward, and the ceiling seems to rise above you. Cloud-gray walls are accented with recessed, up-facing LED lights and a few dimmable fluorescents, bulbs that not only add ambiance but produce significant energy savings, according to Mark Sullivan, events manager for the auditorium.

This is the first time the auditorium has been renovated since the mid-1980s, says Sullivan, and finally the work fulfills the building’s original promise of having a fully operable proscenium stage, the kind that creates a window around the scenery and performers. It will give Tufts’ student theater and dance groups a more professional space for learning and performances, Sullivan says.

“You can’t fly things in, but otherwise it is a great place to train students how to use a proscenium space to its best advantage in terms of scenery, performance and lighting,” he says. The stage had been used for other kinds of events, including serving as the primary music performance stage before the Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center opened in 2007.

The stage lighting over the audience, once set into a slot in the ceiling and reached by crawling along a catwalk, has been replaced with a motorized truss with nine moving lights controlled remotely via the light board. What students could once only read about in a classroom can now be done in a real theater, Sullivan says.

Cohen is also a teaching space for some of Tufts’ larger lecture classes. It is now outfitted with a computer, a document camera and a projection unit that displays everything from graphs to photographs on a screen that nearly spans the full stage.

Halligan and History

The interior renovations at Halligan Hall are mostly invisible from College Avenue, but the building had a very visible role in the development of radio in the United States.

The changes in Halligan Hall “will encourage more collaboration in new lab space now that we are all together,” says Eric Miller, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering. Photo: Kelvin MaHarold J. Power, who graduated from Tufts in 1914, founded the American Radio and Research Corporation (AMRAD) in 1915 and built a 304-foot radio tower and a laboratory on Tufts’ hillside; it was home to one of the first broadcast radio stations in the country.

The structure that now houses the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Computer Science was built in 1925 as AMRAD’s radio and parts factory. Tufts has owned the building since 1930. It was named Halligan Hall in 1983, after William J. Halligan, E23, H37, a former trustee who founded Hallicrafters Co., best known for its shortwave radios. He was known as “Wireless Willie” in the industry.

The last renovation of the building took place in 1994. Now, frosted, small panes have been replaced with wall-sized, clear-glass windows in expansive new conference rooms, common areas and classrooms, spaces that were occupied by Tufts Athletics before it moved to the new Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center in 2012. Additionally, there are new faculty offices with tubular skylights that allow sunlight to illuminate the rooms, saving on power.

The changes “will encourage more collaboration in new lab space now that we are all together,” says Eric Miller, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering. “And it has become a new home for our undergraduate and graduate students.” More than 100 undergraduate and 60 graduate students are pursuing degrees in the program at any one time.

Researchers in Halligan electrical and computer engineering laboratories are working on next-generation solar cells, nanoelectronics, wireless communications and low-temperature plasma materials. Computer science research includes artificial intelligence and robotics and human-robot interaction.

Conversion and Innovation

A drawing of the planned new building at 574 Boston Ave. Illustration: ADD, Inc.Even more research and cross-collaboration will take place once the new kid on the block is finished in early 2015 at 574 Boston Ave., at the intersection with Harvard Street.

Tufts is converting a 100-year-old, 95,000-square-foot former industrial warehouse into a teaching and research building that will also be a new gateway to the Medford/Somerville campus. Discussions are underway with several synergistic interdisciplinary clusters and departments that are likely to occupy the building, including disciplines related to human development, health and performance, human-centered engineering and physics.

The new complex will be state of the art and dedicated to innovation through cross-disciplinary collaborations, says Barbara Stein, the strategic capital program director who is overseeing the project.

Over the coming year, the brick façade will be replaced with metal panels; windows will be outfitted with triple-paned glass that will mitigate car traffic and train noise and allow the building to be more energy efficient, eliminating the need for wasteful floorboard heating on the building’s perimeter.

A new parking lot will be constructed behind the building along Boston Avenue, and a new small park will replace the existing parking at the Harvard Avenue end. Inside, space will be designed to include common areas near a new open stairwell that will connect all four floors. There will also be a café, aimed at creating a community feeling in this part of campus.

This new building “will encourage informal collegial activity and provide yet another way to exchange ideas and research,” Stein says. “It will be a new center of energy and innovation, a gateway both physically and intellectually.”

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.

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