Joyce Cummings Center: New Home for Learning, Research, and Collaboration Is Nearly Open

A preview shows an amiable, vibrant academic building, with vistas of the Medford/Somerville campus and Boston
Front entrance of Joyce Cumming Center. Joyce Cummings Center, the new home for learning, research, and collaboration at Tufts, is nearly open.
Joyce Cummings Center will welcome students in January 2022. The building, which is located next to a future MBTA station, offers unrivaled views of the Medford-Somerville campus and the Boston skyline. Photo: Alonso Nichols
November 18, 2021

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Tufts is putting the finishing touches on the new Joyce Cummings Center as academic departments and centers prepare to move in the next few weeks.

The multidisciplinary six-story building rises from a wedge-shaped site at the corners of Boston and College avenues on the Medford/Somerville campus. It brings together the departments of computer science, economics, and mathematics, as well as the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Studies.

Making a new home here as well are The Fletcher School’s executive education program and Center for International Environment and Resource Policy. University-wide, interdisciplinary centers Tufts Gordon Institute, the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts, the Data Intensive Studies Center, and the Tufts Institute for Artificial Intelligence are moving in, too.

Joyce Cummings Center’s College Avenue entrance. Photo: Alonso NicholsConstruction started on the center in May 2019 thanks to a generous gift  from trustee emeritus Bill Cummings, A58, H06, J97P and M97P and his wife, Joyce, H17, J97P, M97P, through their Cummings Foundation. The center was designed by Stantec Architects and built by PROCON, Inc.

Ruth Bennett, director of strategic capital programs at Tufts and project manager for Cummings Center, said this building is the university’s third foray into creating spaces that integrate departments with a high potential for collaboration and innovation. That same principle previously informed the design of the Science and Engineering Complex and the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex.

The center’s front doors open into an atrium, wide and soaring, with vivid color accents and gleaming white tile floors. Here, the Tufts wordmark is imprinted on gray felt for acoustical benefit. Photo: Alonso Nichols

On entering the lobby, a first impulse is to simply look up and admire artful light fixtures, as shown here, in which the free-flowing shape of waves seem to ripple into the distance. Inventive lighting is one example of the attention to detail that contributes to a feeling of both informality and inspiration. Photo: Alonso Nichols

“Joyce Cummings Center is a manifestation of the Tufts pedagogy,” said Bennett, as she recently led a tour around the building. “It’s a credit to the architects and designers that we have a building that expresses these ideas efficiently and beautifully.”

Indeed, the building’s distinctive character is a balance of serving practical, day-to-day work and supporting the philosophy that synergies are important—and they can happen at any time across any discipline. 

Joyce Cummings Center takes full advantage of its prime location by offering unrivaled views that run the whole gamut of Tufts as a physical place, said Bennett. The new building “frames all the different parts of the university—views to our Boston campus and all the different parts of our Medford campus, including the athletic fields, the sci-tech corridor, our central energy plant, and our historic hill,” she said.

Glass-clad walls facing Boston Avenue overlook the iconic college campus, with its brick buildings and towering trees. One of the building’s themes is natural light pouring in from massive windows and through triple-pane glass walls. Another theme: the bright, bold colors enlivening walls, furniture, and carpeting. Photo: Alonso Nichols

A classroom with auditorium-style seating. Photo: Alonso Nichols

She also pointed out a diverse array of spaces that encourage students to see the Cummings Center as not only a place for classes, but for study, sharing ideas, and collaboration.

Floors one and two have an open staircase, as do connecting stairs between three and four and five and six, creating discrete, two-story spaces on the upper floors. “There’s no need to take an elevator to go from one floor to the next,” said Bennett. “It’s easy to move about the building and experience it as a communal space.”

The center includes 15 learning spaces, ranging from computer teaching labs to the 160-seat auditorium and five seminar rooms. On the first floor, three large classrooms created by movable walls can be converted into a large space for conferences and special events for 300 people.

A detail of vividly colored chairs in the 160-seat, general-use auditorium on campus. “From math to economics, brain science to computer science and robotics, there’s a lot going on in this building,” said project manager Ruth Bennett. “The colors match the vitality of the activity in this space.” Photo: Alonso Nichols

The sixth-floor meeting room called the Lantern offers an impressive view of three playing fields, with the Boston skyline rising the distance. Just outside: an open collaboration space, one of many throughout the building. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Lessons from the pandemic were incorporated into classroom design. All classrooms in the center are now multimodal, meaning they’re equipped for both asynchronous and synchronous teaching and learning.

Faculty delivering lectures at the front of the classroom will be able to see remote students on a large screen in the rear of the classroom, while being visible to the remote students as well. Microphones installed in the ceiling will help remote learners hear what their classmates are saying from anywhere in the room.

From the beginning of the building project, Tufts has been vigilant about energy conservation as part of its commitment to becoming carbon-neutral on the Medford/Somerville campus by 2050. Both the new building and the athletics district are connected to the Central Energy Plant.

The building’s sustainability features include triple-glazed windows, a rooftop solar array, and a plaza that incorporates drought-resistant plants. Efficient heating, cooling, lighting, and high-performance insulation aim to hit an energy use target. The most efficient building on the Medford/Somerville campus, Joyce Cummings Center will drive down operating costs, said Bennett.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu