Allston Plans Break Tradition

Architectural traditionalists will be relieved to know that the new campus in Allston will not resemble “a wild spaceship.”

But advocates of the red brick and white moldings traditionally associated with the Harvard seal may still be disappointed.

“What does the new Harvard look like? It can’t be a wild spaceship, and it can’t be a replica of a four hundred-year-old building,” Christopher M. Gordon, the chief operating officer of Harvard’s Allston Development Group, told members of the Harvard-Allston Task Force last night.

Preliminary sketches of the 500,000 square foot science complex that will set the tone for the rest of Allston depict modern glass buildings connected by aerial walkways. Pathways crossing grassy knolls, indoor gardens, and spacious atriums complemented the drawings of the outdoor facades.

“I am not a traditionalist, I can tell you that right away,” said Stefan Behnisch, the University’s architect for the first new Allston buildings, in a presentation to the task force last night. “I think every time has its challenges and every time has its answers. There is a right time for brick and masonry and there is a right time for glass.”

Last night’s powerpoint drew on the materials Behnisch presented during a competition with 75 other firms for Harvard’s contract, and Behnisch stressed that it “is not, will not be, the final design.” He has not yet submitted any formal blueprints for the science centers to the University.

“We thought it was very important to get him here before he does anything, so he could talk to you, hear your thoughts,” Gordon said.

The task force, composed of local residents appointed by the mayor, encouraged the architect to consider a more conservative approach, carrying over some of the brick and molding of the Cambridge campus.

“The feeling that you have when you step into Harvard is one of being enveloped in years of tradition. It’s a feeling of history,” said task force member Millie H. McLaughlin. “We would like to see some traditional elements.”

“Time and history are relative things,’ responded the architect, a Stuttgart, Germany, native. “The Italians would have a totally different conception of tradition.”

But Behnisch acknowledged the importance of continuity, arguing for the construction of smaller buildings with varied sizes to maintain the atmosphere of the Cambridge campus.

In order to begin construction in Allston, the University must file an amendment to its current Institutional Master Plan (IMP), a longterm development blueprint, with the city. Kathy Spiegelman, Harvard’s top Allston planner, said the University will file the amendment on Friday.

The University also plans to submit a draft of a new 50-year plan to the city within the next year and a half.

Gerald Autler, the project manager for Harvard’s Allston plans at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), said the BRA would not approve the amendment until the University indicated that it was close to being able to submit its new IMP.

Task force members had objected to the amendment earlier this month on the grounds that it bypassed the normal planning process.But Task Force Chairman Ray Mellone dropped his protest last night, saying he did not want to impede the construction of a facility for Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute.

“This is as workable as we’re going to get and I accept that,” Mellone said.

—Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman can be reached at nsherman@fas.harvard.edu.