“It’s just a jump to the left, and then a step to the right,” architects say of new university building’s unusual design, adding “madness takes its toll”

You’ve watched it ascend, zigzagging above the Charles River, over the last few years. But at last, today is the big day for Boston University’s new Center for Computing & Data Sciences — or what you may know as the big Jenga tower or the stack-of-books-like building just west of the Citgo sign on the city’s skyline. And its story goes deeper (literally) than just the architecture:

Boston University’s Center for Computing & Data Sciences on Commonwealth Avenue. (Robin Lubbock)
  • BU officials are holding a ribbon cutting this afternoon for the center, which will be the largest net-zero emissions building in the city. In fact, BU says it’s 100% fossil-fuel free. There are no gas lines. The building buys its electricity from a wind farm in South Dakota. And it is mainly heated and cooled using geothermal wells that run deep into the ground.
  • How it works: BU officials told Moura that the building essentially uses the earth like a battery — using the geothermal wells to carry the heat down into ground during the summer and then bringing it back up in the winter.
  • What’s in it: The building will bring BU’s mathematics & statistics and computer science departments under one roof, as well as house a new cross-disciplinary Computing & Data Sciences faculty. BU officials say faculty members have already begun moving into their offices and the building will hold its first classes with the start of the spring semester in January.
  • Fun fact: The building is 19 stories tall, but actually goes further down than up. According to BU, the boreholes for the geothermal pumps are 1,500 feet deep. (That’s almost a third of a mile, or twice as deep as the John Hancock building is tall.)
  • The question everyone’s asking: Why does it look like that? KPMB Architects said in 2018 that BU asked them to design something “iconic” and engaging.”A remarkable piece of architecture is architecture about which everyone makes a remark,” BU President Bob Brown said at the time.

P.S.— One more fun fact about BU’s new building: the architects put its indoor stairs next to the windows so that the sweeping views help promote physical activity over taking the elevator. You can read more about the building’s health and sustainability features here.

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