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No one is neutral on the wild design of BU’s data sciences center

Give Boston University this: The school’s new data sciences center on Commonwealth Avenue isn’t going to resemble the many glassy, boxy buildings that have gone up across town in recent years.

Not at all.

When the university this week released images of the 17-story tower it wants to build on a parking lot west of Kenmore Square, people took notice. And then quickly formed an opinion. It’s safe to say that almost no one is going to be neutral on the BU center.

The renderings show a massive building — the tallest on BU’s campus — designed by Toronto-based KPMB Architects to look from the street like a stack of books piled up from a podium. The 350,000 square-foot building would house mathematics, statistics, and computer science programs — fast-growing disciplines at BU — and was designed to stand out on the Commonwealth Avenue skyline.


“They wanted something — they used the word ‘iconic,’” Marianne McKenna, a founding partner at KPMB, told BU Today. “This brings a lot of pride to the university.”

Based on the early reviews, that’s not a universally-held opinion. Even on BU’s website, some commenters were sharply critical. “God, it’s so ugly,” wrote one. “An affront to the eyes,” said another. But others praised the bold design. “A symbol that we have arrived,” one said. “People will learn to like it,” wrote another.

In comments to BU Today, university officials seemed to welcome that debate, saying they’re trying to build something the likes of which Boston hasn’t yet seen (though Cambridge arguably has something that’s at least as unique in MIT’s Stata Center). They expect a robust conversation.

“I always think about what someone said to me many years ago,” said BU President Robert Brown. “ ‘A remarkable piece of architecture is architecture about which everyone makes a remark.’ That doesn’t mean they’ll love it or hate it, but it will be a remarkable piece of architecture.”


Under Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Boston has lately been pushing more such unorthodox design. In particular, several buildings planned for the Seaport stretch the envelope beyond the crop of glass condo and office towers that some say lack character. But there’s been nothing like this.

BU says it plans to soon file more details about the building, which will kick off community meetings at the Boston Planning & Development Agency, including a design review with a panel of local architects. The sessions won’t be dull.

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.