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For First Time, $1 Billion SEAS Complex in Allston Welcomes Hundreds of Students

A classroom in the new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston, which hosted classes and lectures for the first time Wednesday.
A classroom in the new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston, which hosted classes and lectures for the first time Wednesday. By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By Natalie L. Kahn and Simon J. Levien, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: September 2, 2021 at 6:00 p.m.

Hundreds of students filed into the Science and Engineering Complex in Allston on Wednesday, the first day the eight-story steel building — more than five years and $1 billion in the making — hosted lectures and seminars.

Students who traveled across the river for classes Wednesday, the first day of the academic year, had largely positive reviews for the 544,000-square-foot complex, which features Active Learning Labs, greenspace terraces, and a “clubhouse” for student groups to work on engineering projects.

Brayan H. Romero said that while he thinks the outside of the building “doesn’t have too much attraction,” he was impressed by its interior, and noted the complex’s proximity to the Harvard Innovation Labs, an institution that promotes student entrepreneurship.

Jakob A. N. Troidl, a first-year Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science, agreed with Romero, adding that he believes the complex's openness encourages collaboration and creativity.

“Inside here, it seems like a place that you want to stay with friends, and a lot of innovation can be done here,” he said. “The floor arrangement and everything feels like it’s designed to bump into people.”

Mohib A. Jafri ’23 spent his Wednesday evening sitting in a lecture hall at the SEC attending Computer Science 242: “Computing at Scale.” Jafri, who studies electrical engineering, declared the complex a “huge upgrade” from the old SEAS classrooms at Maxwell Dworkin and Pierce Hall, located north of Harvard Yard.

“This space lends itself to a more human, happier environment,” he said. “Just the amount of light coming in and out like that makes an average class be a bit more peppy, a little less depressing than going into a basement.”

Though SEAS and Harvard intended to have the complex ready for students’ use in fall 2020, construction delays and a citywide moratorium on construction due to the coronavirus pandemic pushed back the University’s timeline. Faculty began moving into the building in spring 2021, and it officially opened in August.

A cafe run by Harvard University Dining Services and a FlyBy station, where students can grab a bagged lunch without having to make the trek across the river, also opened in the SEC on Wednesday.

University shuttles, run by Harvard Campus Services, connect students from Harvard’s residential houses and other academic buildings to the SEC, which sits on the opposite bank of the Charles River. A new shuttle route, dubbed “Quad-SEC Direct,” includes stops at the SEC, Barry’s Corner, Harvard Stadium, Harvard Square, and the Quad. The existing Allston Campus Express shuttle, recently renamed the Allston Loop, has also added an SEC stop.

Nishant Mishra ’24, who attended Gen Ed 1033: “Conflict Resolution in a Divided World” at the SEC Wednesday evening, said he anticipates an easy commute from his Quincy House dorm room to class.

“There’s a stop right outside DeWolfe, so in the future, I expect it to be really convenient just to walk out and wait,” he said.

Some students, though, said they experienced overcrowded shuttles en route to their first classes at the SEC.

Jaxson T. Hill ’23, a Mechanical Engineering concentrator, said he hopes Harvard increases the number of shuttles running to the SEC to accommodate the between-class rush of students.

Jafri said he believes the size of the complex bodes well for the future of Harvard engineering.

“Right now it feels like the space is too big for us,” he said. “I see an upward vector for where engineering at Harvard is going to be.”

CORRECTION: September 2, 2021

A previous version of this article misattributed a quote. Brayan H. Romero, a second-year graduate student in affiliation with SEAS in Computer Science, said that while he thinks the outside of the building “doesn’t have too much attraction,” he was impressed by its interior, and noted the complex’s proximity to the Harvard Innovation Labs.

—Staff writer Natalie L. Kahn can be reached at natalie.kahn@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @natalielkahn.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

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