The Engine

The Engine

Architect
SGA
Location
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Project Year
2017
Category
Secondary Schools

Universities
Ari Burling Photography

The Engine

SGA as Architects

The Engine, a new accelerator for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a 26,000-square-foot innovation hub in Cambridge, MA. Its purpose is to serve students, professors, and entrepreneurs committed to societal impact of building the next generation of “tough” tech companies through scientific and technological breakthroughs. These “tough” technologies include robotics, manufacturing, medical devices and energy.


To support these groups, The Engine provides technical facilities, financial stability, specialized equipment, streamlined business services, connections to influential alumni, and experts. Such access is rare for tech start-ups. 


SGA‘s role was to create a vibrant, collaborative workspace for The Engine by renovating a classic Cambridge building. Since some of the most transformative technologies (e.g., robotics, manufacturing, medical devices, and energy) take years to develop and bring in revenue, it was important to instill a sense of collaboration and encouragement. In accordance with this aim, SGA designed an open-floor plan that promotes shared use of equipment and fosters interaction among members. 


The design also extends the thriving environment of the surrounding neighborhood into the space: Located just blocks from Kendall Square, and equidistant between MIT and Harvard, The Engine is ideally situated to inspire new ideas. To capitalize on this urban atmosphere, we planned aesthetically appealing workspaces that offer a lively mix of amenities and flexible environments, such as co-working benches, makerspace, and specialized laboratories. In this way, we reinforced the founders’ vision of the Boston/Cambridge area as the heart of the “tough” tech ecosystem.  


Technology played a key role in the design process itself. SGA uses virtual simulations to redefine how projects are imagined and delivered. For example, to help MIT envision the space, we virtually rendered the reception, café, and training areas. Thanks to a mutual interest in technological innovation, our partnership with The Engine’s founders was especially productive.


The key to accelerators and incubators is a flexible work environment. Startups at The Engine will be occupying the space for an undetermined amount of time. The design needs to accommodate an undefined and ever evolving set of tenants and programmatic needs. Recognizing that change would be a constant, SGA created a design – complete with green-friendly finishes, low-energy fixtures, re-use of existing conditions where possible, and features and laboratories to promote research on environmental conservation – that accommodates adaptations in vision and user needs.Fortunately, our firm thrives on the unknown, so we were able to respond quickly throughout the design process and stay on top of the trends.  


We worked with The Engine to ensure that the sustainability of the design aligned with the founders’ vision for the space. These founders support such concepts as clean, limitless fusion energy; clean energy for the baseload grid; energy savings from tiny pores; and more. Some of The Engine’s users are developing ways to turn these concepts into reality and promote green ways of living outside the incubator. Through our design, we are giving them an appropriately sustainable space to support their future breakthroughs.  

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