Housing Heads Western
Apartment tower rises as gateway to new campus
This summer, which will likely see defining decisions on the future of Harvard’s Allston campus, will also see a major new University apartment complex there.
Still nine months from its projected completion date in July, the building at One Western Ave. rises across the Charles clad in yellow insulation.
Starting next fall, its several hundred units will be added to the University’s graduate student housing lottery.
“We see One Western Ave. as the gateway to the Allston campus of the future,” says Susan K. Keller, director of residential real estate for Harvard Planning and Real Estate (HPRE).
Harvard planners say One Western Ave.—located adjacent to the Harvard Business School (HBS)—will be the entrance to the up-and-coming Allston campus.
And the architect, a professor at the Graduate School of Design, says the structure will set the tone for future development down the main boulevard into the new Harvard.
The design incorporates old-style and modern features, says Rodolfo Machado, professor in practice of architecture and urban design and a partner in Machado and Silvetti Associates.
“The University knows that architecture is an important channel through which it can upgrade its image,” he says. “Harvard has a tradition of having done really good architecture in the past. I would like to believe that our building places itself in that tradition.”
In fact, he says, the main components of One Western Ave. relate to existing Harvard architecture.
A three-story U-shaped courtyard will face the River, resembling the undergraduate Houses along the Charles, which are similarly arranged to offer a river view.
Another three-story strip will run above the open side of the courtyard, almost like an elevated bridge.
That strip will connect with a 15-story tower on one corner of the complex, which will mirror the Mather and Leverett towers.
The courtyard will be clad in red brick, while a light-colored stone will make up the tower and bridge. Where the bridge intersects the tower and the courtyard, the materials will overlap as well.
Housing Harvard’s Hordes
When planning for One Western Ave. got underway in 1997, the University surveyed HBS students to see what kinds of amenities students wanted in the new housing next door.
At the time, the new apartments were expected to attract mostly students from HBS, which Keller says tries to keep at least 85 percent of its graduate students in University housing.
But as discussion of the Allston campus moved along, she adds, the University decided to open it up to other schools.
As with other University apartment buildings, all full-time degree-seeking students, including undergraduates, are eligible for housing, along with faculty members and employees.
Most rooms have their own bathrooms and fully-equipped kitchens, as well as central air conditioning. But students will have to furnish their own rooms.
“Programming for One Western Ave. looked into amenities for the units and the building,” says Elizabeth A. Shepard, assistant director of campus planning for HPRE. “Our office is also in constant data-collecting mode.”
She says the plan for One Western Ave. addresses many problems brought up by students. For example, surveys found that students like to live in housing within walking distance from campus.
But at the moment, due to a lack of campus housing, most graduate students are forced to search for dwellings on the private market.
“Everywhere there was a housing crunch,” said Keller. “Until last summer, there was a less than 1 percent vacancy rate in the Boston area. Now rents have decreased a little and a little more is available but there’s always demand from our students.”
Currently about 38 percent of the 11,000 students who attend the University’s Cambridge-based graduate schools are housed by the University. This figure includes the Graduate School of Education, the Kennedy School of Government, the design school, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Law School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).
With projects like One Western Ave., Keller says, Harvard plans to keep up a pledge to provide housing for half of its Cambridge-based students.
The University also hopes to house more of the students who attend the Longwood medical campuses. It now accommodates 20 percent of students from the School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Dental School.
With future housing projects in Allston, Harvard hopes to increase that proportion to 30 percent.
Rebecca J. Spencer, president of the Graduate Student Council at GSAS, says her organization has been actively lobbying the University for housing.
“That was one of our big issues last year,” she says. “We made the point that the housing market was poor, that it makes Harvard not competitive when compared to other schools where student housing is more available.”
For example, she says, 18 percent of GSAS students work in labs in the Longwood medical area. But the only Harvard housing options there is a dorm meant for medical students, who get preferences over GSAS students.
Starting next fall, however, they’ll have another option—One Western Ave.
—Staff writer Svetlana Y. Meyerzon can be reached at email@example.com.