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New NorthPoint project making a big splash

EF Education First’s new headquarters to feature a towering glass waterfall, underline firm’s progress

EF Education First’s new $125 million, 300,000-square-foot headquarters will be situated at the foot of the Zakim Bridge. Construction is to begin Tuesday and be completed by spring of 2014.ARCHITECT GERT WINGARDH

In architectural renderings, the building about to rise next to the Zakim Bridge is designed to look like a massive waterfall, with a jagged column of glass cascading along the middle of its facade.

The building’s novel design — inspired by the nearby Charles River — is the latest creation of EF Education First, a for-profit company that offers academic classes and programs around the world. The company wants the dramatic look of the 10-story office complex in Cambridge’s NorthPoint development to shake up the area’s architecture and call attention to the firm’s growth.

“Twenty-five years ago, our US headquarters consisted of three people in a small office at One Memorial Drive in Cambridge, and this project marks the beginning of an expanded headquarters campus which will host more than 1,200 employees,” said Alex Hult, chief executive of the company’s North America operations.


EF Education First, which has 34,000 employees in 400 offices and schools around the world, will formally begin construction of the 300,000-square-foot building on Tuesday, hosting a celebration that will feature remarks by Governor Deval Patrick, as well as Cambridge and Boston food trucks and live music by Boston-bred electropop band Passion Pit.

The $125 million construction project will more than double the company’s Cambridge campus and bring new momentum to the development of NorthPoint, a multibillion-dollar effort to build a minicity on 45 acres of former industrial land at the intersection of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

Construction on the property has been stalled since 2007, when the economy’s slide and an accompanying legal battle brought progress to a halt. But EF’s project will fill in a large empty lot at the base of a new footbridge to Charlestown and lead into a new burst of construction that will bring offices, apartments, and retail stores.

HYM Investment Group, which controls a swath of adjacent land, is planning to move forward with a 19-story residential tower early next year, followed by another large office building and a retail plaza with restaurants, shops, and pubs.


EF’s building will also add new public amenities, including a ground-floor restaurant that will spill onto 31,000 square feet of additional open space along NorthPoint Park. Tiered outdoor seating will wrap around the building, which will come with a 126-space parking garage and a bike storage room for employees.

Company executives said neighbors and Cambridge officials encouraged them to pursue a bold design for the complex, inspiring them to solicit designs from top architects in Boston and worldwide.

Ultimately, they selected the waterfall design by celebrated Swedish architect Gert Wingardh, whose vision also includes a series of horizontal white bands meant to riff off the cables of the Zakim Bridge.

“I’m not a critic of architecture, but it is a unique type of design,” said Timothy Toomey, a Cambridge city councilor and state representative. “It will help challenge other developers to do something different with their buildings.”

The building will be constructed by the contracting giant Skanska USA, whose worldwide operations are also based in Sweden. It is scheduled to be completed by spring 2014.

The project’s Swedish connections also extend to EF itself, which was founded in that country by Bertil Hult in 1965. Hult, whose sons now run the company, started it as summer exchange program that sent Swedish students to the south coast of England to learn English.


In the decades that followed, the company opened hundreds of offices in 54 countries — including Europe, Japan, Mexico, and the United States — and expanded its programming to offer high school diplomas and college and graduate degree programs. It also has several language and educational travel programs.

EF’s Cambridge branch opened in 1987 and has gradually expanded over the years. The new building will allow the company to add 400 new employees over the next 18 months, and its executives said they hope to eventually add another 600.

“This is a great spot to recruit talent,” said Eddie Hult, president of EF’s educational travel business, Go Ahead Tours. “When it comes to education and the development of curriculum, there are lots of great minds and networks of people based in and around Boston.”

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.