Report Calls for College Houses in Allston

Task force recommends moving Quad Houses across the river

The thousand undergraduates who live up Garden Street will soon be a dying breed, under recommendations released yesterday that would move the Quad Houses to Allston and shift Harvard’s center from the Yard to the Charles River.

The undergraduate life task force’s proposal to build three to eight Houses across the River, first reported by The Crimson a month ago, came along with a series of other expected recommendations for the new Allston campus. In addition to this report on undergraduate life, three other reports on sciences, professional schools and culture were also released yesterday.

The recommendations for undergraduate housing, moving the public health and education schools and building a science hub of at least 1 million square feet affirmed and added details to the plan for Allston outlined by University President Lawrence H. Summers in October and first proposed last July.

A “critical mass” of at least 25 percent of undergraduates living in Allston Houses will be key to the success of the campus, the undergraduate life report found. The task force also concluded that locating the new Houses along or close to the River is “essential,” making an eventual relocation of some athletic fields likely. The four reports also lay out a detailed series of possible science components for the campus, from a planned stem cell institute to interdisciplinary research on engineering and the “origins of life.”

The campus would generate a University with three science hubs—Allston, the Longwood medical complex and Cambridge.

Summers emphasized last night that no decisions had been made, calling the reports a “terrific menu” of options. But both he and University Provost Steven E. Hyman said they were pleased that the undergraduate housing possibility—which was proposed internally last summer—had been so strongly endorsed by the task force.

“The task force got very excited about the idea,” Hyman said. “Undergraduates kind of give life to everything, and people saw the mutual benefit and the notion of students being closer to each other along the River and being potentially closer to new educational facilities.”

Summers said he was “impressed” that the task force and its leaders, including Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, Dean of the Divinity School William A. Graham and Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise, “came to the conclusion in as strong a way as they did.”

After Summers’ October letter recommended that undergraduates live in Allston, the task force conducted a survey that solicited students’ preferences for housing attributes in Allston without asking whether students supported the housing move.

The survey found that distance from the Yard dramatically impacts student life. River House residents were more than twice as likely to return to their dorms in the middle of the day as Quad residents. Quad residents are 10 times as likely to take a shuttle to class, while River residents are 50 percent more likely to exercise outdoors.

Quad residents lose an average of seven “close” River House friends over the course of their upperclass years.

River residents are about a quarter more likely to go out to clubs, while Quad residents are about 30 percent more likely to order food.

The top three student demands for Allston were more varied and late-night eating options, a student center and a better fitness center.

The report also recommends considering substantial improvements to Harvard’s athletic facilities at a time when some of the existing facilities will likely move farther from the River to accommodate the new Houses.

Summers said Scalise and others have been concerned about the quality of the University’s varsity athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium.

Scalise and Graham were out of town and could not be reached for comment.

The report suggested holding afternoon classes in and moving some Faculty of Arts and Sciences departments and student services to Allston, as well as the creation of a student center there.

In addition to stem cells, engineering and origins of life, the science report suggests that innovative computing, quantum science and technology, systems neuroscience and behavior, systems biology, chemical biology, global health, microbial science, environment, clinical research and collaborative science be among the “areas of inquiry” the Allston science hub will focus on.

Many of those recommendations are drawn from a report of science options issued earlier this year by Edward E. Harlow, chair of the Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Department at Harvard Medical School.

Dean of the Physical Sciences and Division of Engineering and Applied Science Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti wrote in an e-mail that he expected the University’s science priorities for the new campus to “evolve.”

“I am fairly certain new priorities will emerge over time,” he wrote. “As faculty get increasingly engaged, I would like to see new creative ideas proposed.”

Hyman, who chaired the science group, said new science proposals would be solicited in the fall. Faculty are eager to begin building the new centers, he said, although no timeframe has yet emerged for science construction.

“My scientists want to start digging tomorrow,” Hyman said.

Although it was initially difficult to get faculty focused on Allston planning, Hyman said he was impressed by scientists’ participation in the latest phase.

“Until something seems real, it is very hard to engage people,” he said.

He added that Allston would allow planners to “really think about new kinds of labs” that would allow professors to break out of the current mold of lab classes.

“They’re very cookbook,” Hyman said. “It’s not the way science happens.”

The professional schools committee endorsed the October plan of moving the public health and education schools to Allston. It also suggests fostering interschool collaboration, potentially through programs aimed at promoting leadership, and constructing a shared conference center that could host executive education programs and University-wide events.

The Allston life group suggests, in addition to the improvement of existing shuttle services and bridges, considering building a new bridge, installing a tram, creating a rail line from Allston to the Longwood medical campus in Boston or enhancing the bridge on John F. Kennedy Street to become a “Ponte Vecchio on the Charles.”

The Ponte Vecchio is a famous shop-lined bridge in Florence.

Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy Dennis F. Thompson, chair of the Allston life task force, said yesterday that while some of the options may seem unlikely, the committee only put its weight behind plans that were “win-win.”

“We put them there because we think they really will have benefits for the community as well as for Harvard,” he said. “We didn’t put any options that we thought a reasonable member of the community would reject.”

He added that the committee was very impressed by a potential SMRTram vehicle that holds 60 people and runs on an eight-foot-wide lane. Because the vehicle is so narrow, two-way shuttles could run in a single lane.

“The only problem is that it doesn’t exist yet,” Thompson said, adding that engineers have said it is feasible.

The task force also recommended that planners investigate the less likely proposals of bridging over Soldiers Field Road and developing a regional transportation center, with commuter rail, a T stop and Harvard shuttle stops, in the area.

The committee pondered three cultural scenarios ranging from merely moving the Museum of Natural History to creating a “museum of the world” that would combine the natural history museum, Peabody Museum and Harvard University Art Museums into a complex that would “exhibit 90 percent of the history of the world.”

The group’s report also recommends creating extensive arts space. Thompson, who is also senior adviser to the president, said that planners reached a consensus about the need to expand arts facilities.

“Everybody agreed that one of the things we need to do in Allston is to make up for some of the deficiencies in undergraduate arts space—dance, theater, practice rooms,” he said. “We need to do more in Cambridge but there’s not a lot of room.”

In moving to expand graduate housing, the group is contemplating modeling that housing along the undergraduate House, rather than the apartment, system.

The report also eyes the Quad as valuable space that would allow the University to meet its commitment to offering housing to 50 percent of its graduate students without much further housing in Allston.

For campus planning, the group outlined four models ranging from typical college quads to an integrated urban campus.

Summers said the University’s Allston master planner will consider the four reports after the planner is chosen in about a month. He said the committee charged with selecting a planner has completed most of its work but has not yet made a formal recommendation.

“The committee I think has some ideas as to where it wants to go,” he said Wednesday. “But we have not made a decision.”

The field for master planner has been narrowed down to four finalists: Foster and Partners; Cooper, Robertson & Partners; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; and Rafael ViÄnoly.

Professor in the Practice of Urban Design Alex Krieger, a member of the committee, said Summers had urged them to speed up the search so that ground breaking in Allston could begin as soon as possible.

“Larry’s been pushing for beginning development sooner—pushing us to conclude the search,” he said.

Hyman added that despite eagerness to get started, patience would be critical to the University’s planning.

“This is going to really recreate the face of Harvard,” Hyman said. “We need to do this right.”

—Alexander L. Pasternack and Lauren A.E. Schuker contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at marks@fas.harvard.edu.