Whenever you walk or drive through Cambridge’s Kendall Square, it seems there’s always scaffolding going up, cranes maneuvering overhead, and foundations being dug.
The pace of work will only accelerate in 2024, when MIT starts to demolish and reshape what’s called the Volpe Center, a 14-acre site between Broadway and Binney Street. It was originally built for a NASA electronics research center in the 1960s, then transferred to the Department of Transportation, then acquired by MIT in 2017 for $750 million.
To get a sense of everything coming soon to Kendall Square, I took a walk with Michael Owu and Sarah Gallop of MIT. Owu is a managing director who focuses on real estate development at MIT’s Investment Management Company, and Gallop is co-director of the MIT Office of Government and Community Relations. Parking lots and long-vacant parcels will be built upon, and some older buildings, like the 13-story tower at the Volpe Center, will come down.
And while some of the tech and biotech companies in Kendall have been laying off employees this fall, all of these construction projects seem immune — so far — to recessionary rumbles.
If you haven’t been to Kendall recently, it’s turning into a real neighborhood, and has been slowly rebooting after COVID. On our walk, we passed two barber shops, a florist, a grocery store, and a Dig restaurant I hadn’t noticed. We also ducked into the subterranean MIT Press Bookstore, recently relocated and newly renovated. Here’s a list of what’s under construction at the moment:
200 Main St. Demolition crews have been taking down a 30-story tower, floor by floor; it’ll be replaced with a 13-story combination lab-office building designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, a Boston firm. It will have underground parking, and ground-floor retail and restaurant space. Graduate students who once lived in what was called the Eastgate Apartments have moved into newly built buildings nearby.
238 Main St. Yet another CVS. That would be a dull development for many neighborhoods, but Kendall Square hasn’t had a drugstore since an independent pharmacy, Kendall Drugs, closed at this same address more than a decade ago. It’s slated to open in the winter.
Kendall Square MBTA station. The T is getting two new head houses, or entrance structures, with MIT funding one on the campus side, covered by a huge cantilevered structure, and the developer Boston Properties funding one in front of the Marriott hotel.
314 Main St. Yes, MIT owns a building with an address you could spend infinite time entering into Google Maps. It will be home to a café run by Ripple Café of Dorchester on one corner facing Main Street, just above the MIT Press Bookstore and next to the MIT Museum’s gift shop. The other corner of the building will be home to an outpost of the oyster-centric restaurant Row 34, opening in the spring.
325 Main St. Boston Properties is collaborating with CommonWealth Kitchen, a nonprofit that supports startups in the food and restaurant business, to create a new food hall called Kendall Public Market. In a presentation it delivered in June to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, Boston Properties targeted the second half of 2023 for opening. This won’t be a food hall on the scale of High Street Place or Boston Public Market, but there’s room for about five food stalls, a coffee bar, seating, and some small retail kiosks. It’s situated between the Kendall T stop and a new entrance lobby for Google’s Cambridge office. (Up a few flights of stairs is a newly redeveloped rooftop garden, the Urban Park at Kendall Center, ideal for outdoor eating in good weather. It opened during the summer.)
Also at this address, Google employees will begin occupying the final phase of its expanded Cambridge complex in early December. This building is 16 floors, and Google’s head of external affairs for New England, Liz Schwab, says it includes “more public-facing event spaces that will allow us to better host community, research, and client events.”
600/625 Main St. This will be a massive 300,000-square-foot building for the Ragon Institute, a research center affiliated with MassGeneral, MIT, and Harvard that studies immunology and is working to develop vaccines for HIV/AIDs and other infectious diseases. Designed by Payette, a Boston architecture firm, it is slated to be finished in 2024.
290 Binney St. Kendall’s so-called Blue Garage, with parking for more than 1,100 vehicles, will be demolished and replaced with a new underground garage. The British pharma company AstraZeneca will occupy one of two new office-and-lab buildings, relocating about 1,600 of its employees from Waltham and Boston. That 16-story building is expected to open in 2026. A 37-story apartment tower, planned for this site, will offer 25 percent of its units at below-market rates, along with more than 400 parking spots for bikes. Tom Evans, executive director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, says that some site work has already begun, and that demolition of the garage will start this winter, along with preliminary foundation work.
325 Binney St. Moderna expects to begin moving in to a headquarters complex in 2023. The Seattle architecture firm NBBJ aims to create the most sustainable lab building in Cambridge, with geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, and triple-glazed windows.
55 Broadway. MIT’s redevelopment plan for the vast Volpe Center campus includes a little bit of everything: parks, a music and entertainment venue, restaurants, retail, housing, and a new community center. But the first step is building a new home for the Department of Transportation’s research staffers who work in the beige, ‘60s-era Volpe tower; work on that building, with a bright white exterior, is well underway. Government employees will move in sometime in 2023, a land swap between the government and MIT will take place in early 2024, and then MIT will begin work on the rest of the project. In addition to the new Volpe building, at 220 Binney St., you can also see a work of landscape art — a stretch of ground rising up in undulating waves — designed by Maya Lin. There’s also a new street being carved out, to funnel cars between Binney and Broadway. (It will serve as a continuation of Fifth Street.)
MIT is also planning to plunk a 450-foot-tall apartment tower — roughly 40 stories — in the middle of the Volpe site, though construction hasn’t begun. Twenty percent of the units will be designated for affordable housing.
585 Third St. A new building on a vacant lot will expand Takeda Pharmaceutical’s footprint in the Boston area. The 16-story building, by CBT Architects of Boston, has a stair-step design and outdoor terraces. It will also include a performing arts center featuring a 400-seat theater, a rehearsal studio, and a stage in an indoor garden, run in collaboration with Cambridge-based Global Arts Live (a nonprofit formerly known as World Music.) Ground was broken in October, but this won’t be open until 2026.
Owu earned his architecture degree at MIT, graduating in 1986. “In the ‘80s, Kendall Square was pretty uninviting,” he said. “The only reason to go there was to get on the T to go somewhere else” — unless you were eating at Legal Seafoods or the F&T Diner, a beloved meeting place that closed in 1986.
When I asked Owu if he thought there was a finish line in sight — 2024, 2025? — a time when it would feel like this stretch of frenetic construction in Kendall was complete, he chuckled. “In any neighborhood, there’s always change,” he said.