The new 544,000 sqft Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) was designed by Behnisch Architekten to increase opportunity for interdisciplinary work at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The SEC is the University’s newest substantial addition to its Allston campus, located directly across the Charles River from Harvard’s historic Cambridge campus. Its broad mix of labs and collaborative spaces supports a strong interdisciplinary work culture. The SEC’s cutting-edge laboratory space, expansive collaborative areas, and unconventional, high-performance façade support the research of some of Harvard’s most translational innovators.


The building is integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood through vivid public areas in a variety of contexts and scales, while the lower floors of the building encompass an extensive landscaped Engineering Yard for both ceremonial events and recreational activities.

The SEC is intended to operate as a “lab for learning” that invites collaboration and reflecting the dynamic, interdisciplinary nature of both research and teaching. The lower floors are home to classrooms, teaching labs, and amenity facilities. They range in size and layout from traditional theater-style classrooms with sloped floors and fixed seating to active-learning environments that can quickly be modified to accommodate flipped classroom models and student-led discussion. Two multi-story glazed atria create light-filled social hubs for academics, students, and staff, fostering cross-disciplinary work among the more than 450 engineering and applied sciences researchers in residence.


The Behnisch team was tasked with making the SEC the “healthiest building on the Harvard campus,” and their design has gained both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal certification in Materials, Beauty, and Equity, demonstrating Harvard’s fundamental commitment to sustainable development. An unmatched feat for a building this size, The LBC Materials Petal also certifies that the structure was built using healthier materials that are devoid of essential toxic chemicals and fulfill both the LBC Red List and Harvard’s Healthier Building Academy’s strict standards.

A design that blends performance and aesthetics – the SEC sets a precedent for further local development as well as advanced sustainability goals.

Behnisch designed the world’s first hydroformed tensile façade system, which decreases solar gain at glazed openings while enabling low-energy, high-comfort radiant systems to be used for interior climate control. The design team also included five acres of planted roof terraces, giant glass atria, and highly glazed interior partitions that transmit daylight deep into the core of the structure, and water-based heating and cooling systems that utilize one-third the energy of equivalent air-driven systems.


The SEC is home to a large portion of Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), housing a variety of lab and core science facilities for research that will benefit society in several ways, bolstering Harvard’s and Greater Boston’s position as a global epicenter for the life sciences and a major leader in engineering and technology.

Faculty and students working in the SEC’s offices, makerspaces, and wet and dry labs specialize in robotics, bioengineering, computer science, materials science, electrical and mechanical engineering, and more fields. The upper floors have a combined 69,120 square feet of open wet research lab space for biological, chemical, physical, optical, and electronics activities, as well as 24,000 square feet of dry research lab space for computer science researchers.

The future adaptability and flexible development of laboratory space is ensured by modular, flexible laboratory environments, smart partitioning of highly ventilated zones from dry space, and centralized lab services. The upper stories are clad in a layered design that highlights the scale of the large volumes that make up the building’s research activities, establishes an identity for the complex, and plays a critical role in the building’s efficient energy performance as well as occupant comfort.

Beyond its immediate purpose, the project addresses several threads of contemporary life that will have an impact on future generations: engineering’s pivotal role in the discovery and mitigation of some of the world’s most pressing problems, the critical importance of cross-disciplinary efforts to achieve major research breakthroughs and genuine leadership in sustainable design and urban development.


At Abbott, we partner with higher education institutions to adapt to challenging budgets while providing a fresh approach to how facilities are constructed, managed, and operated to attract students and faculty. Our academic clients turn to us for the expertise and support to deliver enduring spaces that balance learning opportunities with environmental sustainability – while also being compliant to the evolving needs of students.

Since projects in the academic sector often take place within an active environment, robust management procedures are required to guarantee timely delivery, smooth operation, and student safety.

From project and risk management to asset rationalization, Abbott’s specialist services support both public and private education clients from project inception to completion. Our team consists of nimble problem-solvers and proactive leaders, focused on maintaining rigorous controls to deliver cutting-edge technologies for individual student performance and iconic learning spaces throughout North America.

*Photo Credit: Education Snapshots

For Further Information Contact:

Randy Thomas Managing Principal, Project & Program Manager

T: 800-250-3181 D: 202-602-2199 
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