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MIT elaborates on its vision for Main Street

Chris Williams, with his work in progress and a scale model.Photos by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

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Kendall Square’s Main Street, which can feel dead and disjointed, doesn’t always live up to its name. Now, MIT aims to redesign it into a vibrant central corridor — but some Cambridge officials worry the proposed buildings will loom too large.

University officials this week presented additional details of their plan for a reimagined Main Street, with new towers, wider sidewalks, welcoming open spaces, and clear signals to visitors that they have landed at MIT and in Kendall Square. The presentation before the city’s Planning Board on Tuesday night provided an overview of the $1.2 billion redevelopment project, which calls for converting six parking lots into offices, research space, hundreds of units of housing, and more than 100,000 square feet of retail. The six new buildings near Main would rise up to 300 feet tall.


City planners were largely supportive of MIT’s plan, though in a memo they expressed concern about “the scale and bulk” of some of the proposed buildings, warning that they might overwhelm pedestrians. Several members of the Planning Board agreed that the buildings appeared too imposing; some also called for more middle-class housing. But the board did certify that the plan met zoning and design guidelines. It will vote on the project itself after further review.

MIT painted an image of a bustling avenue, with stores and restaurants running almost uninterrupted along Main. They framed the project as one that would connect Cambridge to the university. More than one official used the term “mixing bowl” to describe their hopes for the area.

By relocating the MIT Museum near the MBTA’s Red Line stop and expanding open space near the intersection of Main and Broadway, the project will also indicate to visitors that they’ve reached a gateway, said Hashim Sarkis, the dean of MIT’s architecture school. “This is where you arrive from Boston, from the world, to Cambridge and to MIT,” Sarkis said.


Civic leaders in Kendall share the goal of calling attention to local landmarks; they’re considering a series of 6-foot-tall kiosks in shades of yellow, green, and magenta.

Speaking of redesigning Kendall . . .

A metal-and-glass nucleus glowing from within. A tangle of 12-foot-long dendrites stretching in all directions. And the hollow bouncing of a Ping-Pong ball.

All that — and more — will soon be coming to a radically revamped South Plaza along the Broad Canal, which juts into Kendall Square from the Charles River. The park, a third of an acre near the kayak dock, has been little more than a strip of grass. Soon, it will look as if the playful offices of a tech startup were moved outside for all to use.

BioMed Realty Trust, which jointly owns the parcel and developed the project, plans to include an amphitheater, lounge chairs under a trellis, and Ping-Pong tables. (Still unclear: whether table tennis accessories will be provided, or whether it’ll be bring your own paddles.)

The most striking feature of the new plaza will be a sculpture inspired by a neuron, designed and built by Essex artist Chris Williams . The nucleus will comprise a metal frame with pieces of blown glass bulging out of it, illuminated from inside. About a dozen bronze dendrites will shoot out from the nucleus. The whole thing will stand 25 feet high, a tentacular tribute to the life sciences perched nearby.


Most of the work is scheduled to be completed in November, said Sal Zinno, director of development at BioMed. The company would not disclose the cost of the project.

The neuron theme — and the sculpture’s name, “Nerve Center” — point to BioMed’s vision for this site: that it will become an accessible public place humming with energy.

People should engage with the sculpture, too, Williams said. But it’s not a jungle gym, so no climbing, please.

Williams is used to creating jumbo-sized sculptures, typically giant animals. But the neuron is so big that it will have to be assembled on site. The metal pieces will be erected first, and then the glass components will be threaded in. Williams, who is still at work on the piece, estimated it could weigh 3,000 pounds.

“It’s a bit of a head scratcher,” he said, “to get it all together.”

Security chiefs join forces with police

Corporate security teams are teaming up with local law enforcement to tackle crime in Kendall Square.

Police from Cambridge, MIT, and the MBTA have routinely swapped information on cases, said Jeremy Warnick, spokesman for the Cambridge force. But now they’re also sharing tips with the security arms of local companies and property owners — “extra eyes and ears for us to lean on,” Warnick said.

The Kendall Square Security Network, which meets monthly, didn’t start in response to any particular incident but aims to increase communication and emergency preparedness, said Alan Snow, director of safety and security for Boston Properties Inc.

Police used the network last month to spread information about several things, including a fatal shooting on Windsor Street and the groping of a woman at the Red Line’s Kendall/MIT Station. Suspects were caught in both cases.


Room with an arty view

Imagine browsing Airbnb listings and seeing two apartments available for the same price, with the only difference that one has bare walls, and the other is filled with original art. Are you more likely to rent the latter?

Three MIT graduate students are betting that you are. That’s why they’ve founded Tekuma, which curates small galleries in apartments listed on rental sites. Typically, Tekuma uses works by students and favors computer-generated art that’s been printed and framed. It’s all for sale.

“As a traveler, you don’t have to go to the gallery; the gallery kind of comes to you,” said Marwan Aboudib, who started the company with fellow architecture students Kun Qian and Tengjia Liu.

The three spent the summer at the MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator, which gives students stipends and space in the Martin Trust Center to launch startups. They’ll join other student entrepreneurs to pitch ideas Saturday at the accelerator’s Demo Day.

Tekuma’s founders, who also play basketball together, first toyed with creating an online marketplace for student artwork. But the architects-in-training realized they preferred enhancing a physical space with art.

“It’s what we know how to do,” Aboudib said.

The three students finish their degrees in December and plan on dedicating themselves to building Tekuma. But as they’ve installed works in more units, they’ve encountered a challenge: They need more art.


Andrew Joseph can be reached at andrew.joseph@statnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrewQJoseph. Follow STAT on Twitter: @statnews.