Allston Planning Firm Selected

The firm responsible for planning Boston’s seaport area will lead a team that includes noted architect Frank O. Gehry in creating a master plan for Harvard’s Allston campus, the University announced Friday.

The New York-based planning and design firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners, along with Gehry and landscape architect Laurie Olin—who designed Yale’s Science Hill—will flesh out the broad vision released two weeks ago in a series of task force reports on Allston, as the University enters the next phase of planning its future campus.

The four reports recommended the development of an integrated campus in Allston anchored by science, professional schools and undergraduate housing. Over the next 12 to 18 months, the planning team will take these recommendations—as well as the recommendations of a neighborhood task force—and develop scenarios for the location of buildings, the use of open space, connections to the local community and methods of transportation between the two sides of the Charles River.

Although Gehry is best known for his daring buildings—including the Guggenheim Museum in Spain and the new Stata Center at MIT—University officials said the role of the planning team will not be to design specific structures, but instead to create a framework for where different types of buildings might go.

“We are not at the stage of designing buildings,” University President Lawrence H. Summers said in an interview on Friday. “We’re in the stage of weighing alternatives of layouts and broad visions, and it’s in that role that we’re looking for Frank to make a contribution.”

Gehry told the Boston Globe that he would “add some design DNA to the overall project…but we’re not going to design 80 Gehry buildings.”

A committee of administrators and faculty members chose Cooper, Robertson from a group of four finalists, out of the original 26 firms that submitted proposals last December.

Cooper, Robertson Managing Director David McGregor said all of the finalists were asked to answer a series of questions, including how the development could be phased “in such a way that people didn’t feel that they were being sent out to the frontier.”

According to former Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, a member of the selection committee, the candidates only had a few weeks to prepare their responses and were unable to provide much in the way of detailed ideas.

“But [Cooper, Robertson’s] analysis of the challenges and issues that face us was impressive,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The committee visited sites that each of the finalists had worked on and conducted interviews before recommending Cooper, Robertson. Summers said he “spent a few hours with the team to confirm the recommendation,” and the Harvard Corporation also gave its approval to the selection.

“We had a number of very strong candidates, but what we were looking for was people who function well in an academic setting, who work well with the community, who bring a very broad vision and creativity,” Summers said.

Cooper, Robertson previously worked with the city of Boston to create a master plan for the 1,200 acre area along Boston Harbor, giving them ties to the city agencies and politicians that will be involved in the Allston planning process.

“Having worked with Cooper, Robertson on the Boston Seaport Master Plan, I know firsthand that they bring to this project a high level of expertise, professionalism, and a sensitivity to the fabric of urban life,” Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement. “I am looking forward to an exciting and innovative planning process for one of our most vibrant neighborhoods.”

McGregor said the work at the seaport shows the firm’s experience dealing with planning in an area located next to a residential neighborhood.

“What we found then, and I’m sure he’s no different now, is that the mayor is a fierce defender of neighborhoods and will be watching to make sure that what we recommend to the University is something that is gentle to the community,” he said.

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