Hardwired: Workers Put Finishing Touches on New Computer Science Building

Construction workers are busy polishing the "jewel" that is the Maxwell Dworkin building, the University's $26 million effort to unify under one roof the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS) and the computer sciences at Harvard.

The building, which is named after Mary Maxwell Gates and Beatrice Dworkin Ballmer, the mothers of Microsoft founders William H. Gates III, Class of 1977 and Steven A. Ballmer '77, has been under construction since fall 1997.

The building is wedged between Pierce and Perkins halls in the science complex that adjoins Harvard Law School (HIS). Currently about 85 percent done, it is due to be completed by July 18.

Construction has gone so smoothly, due to the lack of community acrimony which has plagued other Harvard projects in recent years and a relative absence of construction problems, that David A. Zewinski '76 described it as "a jewel of a project."

As one would expect in a building largely paid for by two of Harvard's most famous techies, Maxwell Dworkin will be stuffed to the gills with cutting-edge electronics.

The building has more than 240,000 feet of wire slinking through it, much of it carried from overhead trays into each of the laboratory and office spaces. Built with the understanding that it must be able to accommodate technological change as well, the computer wiring is separated from the electrical wiring to ease future upgrades according to Tom H. Murray, the project manager for the building who acts as a liaison between the contractors and the University.

With 23 labs, but only four classrooms the new building will do little to ease the crunch on teaching space. Students who trek to the north campus site will be rewarded with some of the plushest facilities on campus.

According to Murray, one 48-seat "high-tech" lecture hall is designed to broadcast lectures and discussions remote to another site and allow for video projection from behind the lecturer. In addition, every seat will be equipped with a data jack and a microphone shared between every two seats.

Although it is unclear whether the "data jacks" would allow for Internet access, Murray said "in theory a student could download documents from a professor while sitting in the same classroom."

The hardest part of the project, according to construction workers at the site, was working with the shape of the site. Shoehorning the building, which at 98,000 square feet is nearly twice the size of University Hall, into a narrow and non-square location called for a curious design.

Of course every building at Harvard comes with its own share of stories to tell, from the "remove-no-stone" edict which accompanied Mrs. Widener's gift to the curious absence of doors on the Holyoke Center. And Maxwell Dworkin has its own share of peculiarities.

An old agreement between HLS and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences requires that a certain distance be kept between HLS's Hauser Hall and the new building. As a result, Maxwell Dworkin had to be laid out two degrees from parallel with Pierce--which borders it on the other side.

Also, due to its irregular lot, the building's front side reaches a point that required specially made triangular bricks about half an inch wide on one side. Unfortunately it took months of trial-and-error to design bricks which fit with the rectangular bricks they join.

Additionally, a three-story bridge connecting Maxwell Dworkin and Pierce was planned to be flat, but had to be sloped because of a difference in the floor-to-ceiling heights between the two buildings.

Another concession had to be made because the University required that the new building be no higher than those which surround it--leaving Maxwell-Dworkin's fourth floor about two feet shorter than those below it.

Because one side of the building's facade is primarily glass, architects devised an aluminum sunshade--unnoticeable from inside--to block the sun.

According to Albert Gold, associate dean for administration in DEAS, the primary purpose of the new building, which necessitated the removal of the Aiken Computation Center, was to allow for expansion of the division.

"Growth is the first goal, and of course that reflects the goal for the current [Capital] Campaign for a substantial increase in the size of the Faculty in that field," he said.

To that end, $20 million of Ballmer and Gates' gifts were used for the construction of the center with the other $5 million of their contribution used to support research and endow a Faculty chair. MIT recently announced its own Gates gift, a $20 million gift to its Laboratory of Computer Science.

As with most Harvard projects, the donors have not been much involved besides providing the funding, instead deciding, according to Gold, that "Harvard is well-equipped to manage it."

With just seven weeks left before the contractors are supposed to turn the keys over, the building's interior is far from complete. While the upstairs office space is almost finished, with carpeting already on the floor, the railings for the "interior central communicating stair" as it is termed by the architects, have yet to be fitted and all of the auditoriums are seatless.

Still, all those involved with the project remain confident that everything will be completed on time. "It just gels at the last minute," Gold said.

Gold said that once the building is turned over to the University there will be a month-long get-acquainted period for maintenance staff. Faculty are expected to move in August 23rd. Officials say Faculty and staff should be settled in when school opens in the fall.