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Book-inspired Boston University data sciences center gets key approval

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A rendering of the planned data sciences center at Boston University.
A rendering of the planned data sciences center at Boston University. KPMB Architects via BPDA

Plans for a new eye-catching Boston University Data Sciences Center on Commonwealth Avenue that resembles a stack of books received key support from city officials Thursday.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency board signed off on the proposal to build a 19-story tower on the site of an existing parking lot adjacent to Granby Street — the largest new development of classroom space the university has seen in 25 years, according to Paul Rinaldi, assistant vice president for planning and design.

School officials say the project will place the computer science and mathematics and statistic departments in a single location amid growing demand for data education.

“Right now the departments are scattered across the campus … so bringing them together under one roof really supports the collaboration that’s needed in these disciplines,” Rinaldi told board members.

According to the BPDA, the development is anticipated to bring in $3.3 million to support workforce development and affordable housing. Construction is expected to generate 1,040 jobs, with 414 new permanent jobs created once the facility opens.

The project also includes new landscaping and improvements to bike lanes. Rinaldi said the 305,000-square-foot facility will use geothermal, solar, and off-campus wind energy, making it “the largest carbon-free building in Boston.”

“It’s … a great opportunity to create something very exciting, both for the campus and the skyline of Boston, but most exciting is how this building will become a leader in sustainable design for the city,” he said.

BU filed plans for the 305-foot-tall complex, designed by Toronto-based KPMB Architects, in October.

“We wanted architecture that would signal to everyone that this was a special place, the center of campus,” Robert Brown, BU president, told BU Today, the school’s news service, at the time. “Because it’s data science, we wanted it to mirror the century we’re in now, not centuries past. We weren’t looking to build a building that would have looked novel in 1900 or 1850. We wanted a building that in 2100 would stand up and mark the dynamic change in the University and talk about the century we’re in.”

Ted Landsmark, a BPDA board member, said he thinks the building will be transformative for how people think of innovation at BU, especially as it signals a shift away from the architecture of its past.

The board received “a bunch of letters from people who thought it was an ugly building,” he said, but added that the BPDA does not comment on aesthetic design.

“Apart from that, being innovative is something the mayor has asked for, for a number of years, and so I commend you on the courage to move forward with it,” Landsmark said.

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