A New Center for Multidisciplinary Studies

Joyce Cummings Center will meet academic priorities as it also leverages a new public transit station, just a footbridge away
An architectural rendering of Joyce Cummings Center. The center will meet academic priorities as it also leverages a new public transit station, just a footbridge away.
An architectural rendering of Joyce Cummings Center, which “will not only meet critical academic needs, but also enhance the overall campus experience,” said President Anthony P. Monaco. Illustration: PROCON
September 18, 2019

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Tufts has started construction on a new academic building that’s being heralded as a new gateway to the university.

Joyce Cummings Center will bring a bold visual presence to an active intersection on the Medford/Somerville campus adjacent to a new public transit station—the Green Line is being extended from downtown Boston to Medford. Work on the center and the MBTA station are now in full swing and are expected to be completed in 2021.

That proximity to public transportation has played a key role in how the building is designed to serve not just students, faculty, and staff, but also visitors and guests. The building project includes an outdoor plaza and a public first-floor café, as well as classrooms easily converted to event space for use by Tufts and community groups, among others. Only a footbridge away from the new T stop, the center will be highly visible. Accents such as brightly colored projecting aluminum frames will be lit at night.

“Joyce Cummings Center will not only meet critical academic needs, but also enhance the overall campus experience, serving the entire university as well as visitors and neighbors,” said President Anthony P. Monaco. “We’ve leveraged this pivotal location, combined with the Green Line extension, to create a stunning new gateway to the Medford-Somerville campus.”

That architectural achievement is made possible by trustee emeritus Bill Cummings, A58, H06, J97P, M97P and his wife, Joyce, H17, J97P, M97P, through their Cummings Foundation.

“Bill and Joyce have made a truly transformational gift and are remarkable for their generosity to Tufts and to the broader community,” said Monaco. “We are deeply grateful that they had the persistence and imagination to create this new center. We are fortunate to call them our loyal friends. This legacy will benefit generations of scholars and students to come.”

Bill Cummings noted that it has been a long road to arrive at this summer’s groundbreaking ceremony. Cummings, a self-made entrepreneur and successful real estate developer, was a newly appointed university trustee in the late 1980s when he first envisioned transforming what was then a lot on the Medford/Somerville campus located at the busy intersection of Boston and College avenues.

An architectural rendering of Joyce Cummings Center at street level from College Avenue. Illustration: PROCONHe proposed that the site—with a printing shop, garages, and a cinderblock office building—would be better suited for an academic building. “Despite being located on a prominent corner of the university, the site was used for maintenance functions, which are typically situated in a more secluded area of a campus,” he said.   

But the time wasn’t right then. The plan was reprised four years ago, with all systems go—until complications arose with the MBTA Green Line extension adjacent to the site. Now it’s finally happening.

“The MBTA’s Green Line Extension Project presented the perfect opportunity to dust off the plan and capitalize on proposed changes to the site,” he said. “As plans for the MBTA station evolved, the Tufts/Cummings team of architects and designers was kept on its toes. But this talented group of professionals returned to the drawing board multiple times and always came up with creative new ideas that aligned with the MBTA’s latest plans for the site. We are delighted with the final drawings and are excited to watch the building take shape.”

Thoughtful in Shape and Materials

Cummings’ vision is now realized in a six-story building designed by Stantec. A mix of classrooms, seminar rooms, meeting rooms, computer science research labs, and offices, it will include fifteen learning spaces ranging from twenty-four-seat computer teaching labs to a 160-seat auditorium and four meeting/seminar rooms. Classrooms on the first and second floors will also feature moveable walls that allow them to transform into spaces large enough for conferences and special events. 

Roger Lipman, an architect with the architectural and construction firm PROCON overseeing the project, said that the wedge-shaped lot has informed the design. The wide end of the building, facing College Avenue, “accommodates the more public functions of larger classrooms and meeting spaces,” he said, “whereas the narrower end, at the rear of the lot, presents a narrow façade to the residential neighborhood and accommodates the more private functions of offices.” 

The most prominent corner of the building, where College Avenue meets the MBTA rails, also has its own name: the Lantern. It features floor-to-ceiling glass and is framed by a projecting metal panel, setting it off from the rest of the façade.

The idea behind the Lantern, said Lipman, “is that this is where occupants can see and be seen—from within, long vistas of the Boston skyline are visible down the railroad tracks. Because the building is set back from Boston Avenue, this corner will present the most public and iconic view of the Joyce Cummings Center from the Hill and from points west on campus.”

An architectural rendering of Joyce Cummings Center at dusk. Illustration: PROCONThe center is also designed to minimize fuel consumption and carbon emissions. It is the first Tufts building designed utilizing what is called an energy use intensity strategy. Construction and design—including efficient heating, cooling, lighting, and high performance insulation—are expected to achieve an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) target of 50,000 BTU per square foot. The EUI design strategy usually conserves energy at a higher level than LEED-rated projects, said Ruth Bennett, director of the university’s Strategic Capital Programs. 

The building’s sustainability features include triple-glazed windows, solar panels on the roof, and a plaza that incorporates drought-resistant plants.

A Multidisciplinary Home

In keeping with recent building projects within the center’s neighborhood—the Science and Engineering Complex and the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex—Joyce Cummings Center occupants will be multidisciplinary. The building will be the new home for the Data Intensive Studies Center, a university-wide, interdisciplinary center launched in 2018.

It will also house the departments of computer science, economics, and mathematics, the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Studies, The Fletcher School’s executive education programs and Global Master of Arts Program, and the Tufts Gordon Institute. The new Green Line from Boston terminating adjacent to the site will make access easier for the many off-campus students in these programs, as well as for faculty, staff, and students traveling to and from the university’s Boston health science campus and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts.

Collaboration is an important theme inside the center, said Lipman. The rooms on every floor are carefully organized on each side of a wide corridor that has been dubbed Main Street; a place where people can access all of the different gathering and learning spaces. “Main Street” also connects glass-fronted rooms along College Avenue to the rear of the site, where there are small huddle rooms for informal meetings.

Kathleen Fisher, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at the School of Engineering, said that the move to the new center will mark the first time in at least a decade that the Department of Computer Science will be all under one roof. “By necessity we’ve had research going on in three or four buildings,” she said. “It will be fantastic to be all together. I have no doubt it will open up new conversations and ways of working that will make us even stronger and more attractive to students.”

Kevin Oye, E79, executive director of the Gordon Institute, and a Professor of Practice, Business Strategy and Innovation, also anticipates that collaborative spirit, as the institute is now spread over three buildings. “It will be a big plus for us,” he said. “It’s going to be easier to get the natural synergy that goes with having our faculty and staff across all the programs all in one place.”

In practice, everyone in the Joyce Cummings Center will benefit from that synergy, he predicted. “Proximity increases the probability that we’ll run into each other and encounter ideas that we didn’t expect,” he said. “It’s in those moments that there’s often new insight or innovation, and with this new building, we’ll be fostering just that.”

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