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Kairos Shen, March '91

Urban planner shapes Boston.

Kairos Shen, MArch ‘91, fell in love with Boston during graduate school. “This is a unique city,” says Shen, who has lived here for nearly 20 years. “It is physically very beautiful and is distinctive in terms of being both urban and livable.” Now he’s working to help keep it that way.

As the director of planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Boston’s agency for economic development and planning, Shen has been intimately involved with several high-profile projects, including the planning and permitting of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, a job that included developing legislation for construction and financing.

Shen has also been involved with planning the rehabilitation of Fenway Park and helped pave the way for the Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA) building on the South Boston waterfront. The ICA, which opened in December 2006, was the first new Boston art museum built in the past 100 years. The glass-clad, cantilevered structure is revolutionary for a city renowned for traditional style. Shen worked with the ICA and its architect throughout the design review process to shape the building’s final form and led the city’s efforts to modify restrictive state waterfront regulations to accommodate this unique structure. According to the Boston Globe, Shen’s contribution to the project was instrumental in calming “concerns in City Hall that the project was too adventurous architecturally for the city.”

Shen maintains high hopes for the city. He was part of the team that approved the Boston Green Building Standards, making Boston the first major city to require adherence to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification standards. He has also been involved in planning the extension of the transportation system and working on an urban transit ring that would streamline connections between job centers beyond downtown, such as the Longwood medical area and Kendall Square.

During his undergraduate art history studies at Swarthmore and his architecture graduate work at MIT, Shen did not expect to become an urban planner. He credits MIT with influencing his career. “MIT introduced me to Boston,” he says. “It also gave me the foundation for a career in planning.”

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