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Allston Landing: The New Kendall Square

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

R_150707_N102 This multi-part blog series, by Luke Voiland AIA, will focus on The Brookings Institution‘s three models of innovation districts: the “anchor plus” model, the “re-imagined urban areas” model, and the “urbanized science park” model. Luke is a principal at Shepley Bulfinch and a leader in the planning and design of innovative learning environments.

Kendall Square wasn’t always the hub of innovation that it is today. After NASA’s plan to relocate to the area in the 1970s fell through, Kendall Square sat abandoned. Then the boom came. Large pharmaceutical and tech companies took up residence in the 1990s and early 2000s after the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) encouraged new and emerging businesses to set up shop in Cambridge. And now in 2016, Kendall Square is the poster-child of economic urban development and the innovation district phenomenon.

West of Kendall Square, Allston Landing looks to follow suit. The area houses more trains than people and is often considered an infrastructural nightmare. But Harvard University, its northern neighbor, has other plans for the 90-acre parcel of land it purchased incrementally from 2000 to 2015.

Allston Landing today is what Kendall Square was fifteen years ago, and Allston Landing tomorrow is the new Innovation District in Boston.

Like Kendall Square and MIT, Allston’s innovation district will be anchored by Harvard University. Harvard is embedded in the Greater Boston community, readily accessible by all means of transportation, and arguably the most influential university in the world. The construction of the Harvard Innovation Lab in 2011, Allston’s very own incubator of innovation, looks to mirror the role of the CIC in Kendall Square. Its newest addition, also designed by Shepley Bulfinch, is the Harvard Life Lab, a specialty incubator for entrepreneurs in the life sciences. This BSL-2 lab incubator will provide life science researchers the laboratory and collaboration space necessary to advance their research, while also connecting them to a network of industry, investor, and academic stakeholders. Built with an innovative modular building technique, the Life Lab demonstrates a commitment to the new ideas and practices that are the hallmarks of an innovation district.

Plans are also underway for further Harvard-driven development along Western Avenue. An enterprise research campus and a hotel and conference center are envisioned and work has begun on relocating Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to the Allston community by 2020.

Harvard’s provision of the necessary resources for innovative growth in the community, coupled with the vibrant Harvard Business School community (long based in Allston) will surely attract new and exciting businesses to the Allston landscape. And before long, the Boston region will feature two top innovation districts anchored by premier global universities.

- Luke Voiland

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