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City planners approve BU’s wild-looking data sciences building

A rendering of the planned Boston University data sciences center as seen from Commonwealth Avenue and Granby Street. KPMB Architects

The Charles River skyline could soon get a stack of books.

That sort of describes the design of a planned Boston University tower that was OK’d by the city’s development agency Thursday.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency gave unanimous approval to BU’s Data Sciences Center, a striking 19-story building on Commonwealth Avenue that the university hopes will make a lasting mark on the view of the city from the north and west.

The 305-foot-tall building, designed by Canadian firm KPMB Architects, drew wildly differing reviews when it was proposed in October, ranging from “so ugly” to “a symbol we’ve arrived.” Some changes to the facade were made during the design review process, but the structure maintained its general size and shape, and it was unanimously approved by the Boston Civic Design Commission on Tuesday.


As for what will be inside, BU wants the building to house mathematics, statistics, and computer science programs, which are among the university’s fastest-growing disciplines. The 350,000-square-foot building would rise from what is now a surface parking lot on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Granby Street, across from the Warren Towers dorms.

The developer hopes to start construction next spring.

Separately on Thursday, the BPDA board approved Fidelity Investments’ plans to redevelop Commonwealth Pier and the Seaport’s World Trade Center complex.

The project would improve the Harborwalk around the massive, low-slung building, and free up nearly 4 acres of public open space on the 19-acre site. The site will be designed to withstand flooding at sea levels projected for 2070, with landscaping nearly 4 feet higher than what’s there now.

As part of the development, Fidelity would close the building’s Commonwealth Hall exhibition space while adding retail and office space. The mutual fund and financial services giant, which operates the building under a long-term lease with the Massachusetts Port Authority, would remain the sole office tenant.


The board also approved several smaller housing developments around the city, agreed to hire a consultant for a planning study in Mattapan, and OK’d long-discussed guidelines for developing vacant city-owned land in Dudley Square that prioritize mixed-income housing, opportunities for small and locally owned businesses, and open space.

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.