Harvard Unveils 50-Year Plan For Allston

University officials yesterday unveiled their most detailed plans yet for the development of a new campus in Allston over the next half century, and said they hope to gain the City of Boston’s approval and begin construction across the Charles River before the end of the year.

The Institutional Master Plan released yesterday outlines in detail the university’s proposals for four new undergraduate houses in Allston, along with a science complex, art museums, and graduate student housing.

In all, the blueprints propose a 20 percent increase in the University’s floor space, which is already 24 million square feet, over the next two decades.

Boston requires institutions of Harvard’s size to submit long-term plans for large developments of Allston’s scale before it later revises and grants approval for individual projects.

Most such plans project five to ten years in the future, but the Allston plan is remarkable because it consists of a detailed 20-year plan that fits within a broader 50-year framework, according to Gerald Autler, the project manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority who will oversee the review process.

“It’s definitely different from the norm,” said Autler, who added he expects it will take a year for the plans to be reviewed and approved.

LIVING ACROSS THE RIVER

The 74-page report, which is filled with colorful artists’ renderings of what the finished campus might look like, would build four new undergraduate houses over the next two decades on top of the sports complex that today includes Blodgett Pool, Briggs Cage basketball arena, Dillon Field House, and Palmer Dixon Courts.

These displaced facilities would relocate just south of where they now stand.

Under the plans, the three Quad Houses would be converted into graduate students residences and faculty housing, according to University Provost Steven E. Hyman.

In a conference call yesterday, Hyman emphasized that though Harvard is physically expanding, there are no current plans to enlarge the College’s student body.

“The number of undergraduate students will stay the same,” he said.

Though many of the recommendations for the use of the land are not new—Allston has long been seen as a future locus of science research—the degree of detail in the plans is unprecedented.

One notable part of the blueprint that remains unresolved, however, is how the new campus in Allston will be physically bridged with the existing one in Cambridge. Though several solutions have been proposed, a favorite has yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, the total cost for the proposed campus is unknown as well, according to Gordon, who did say that “it’s a multibillion dollar project for sure.”

Funding for Allston construction will likely come from a combination of existing Harvard funds and new philanthropy, he said.

THE FOUR POINTS

The report states that four themes informed yesterday’s proposal—a commitment to Harvard’s teaching and research mission, with a particular emphasis on interdisciplinary study; the creation of “new places for the Harvard and public communities to meet”; an emphasis on sustainable development; and the goal of generating local and regional economic benefits.

Hyman emphasized increased academic collaboration across departments and schools as a driving motivation in Allston planning.

“It’s going to bring together different parts of the University...[and]...help foster interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship,” he said.

Harvard’s chief planner for Allston, Kathy Spiegelman, said the plans would create a “professional school corridor” by relocating the School of Public Health and the Graduate School of Education nearer the existing Business School site.

The close proximity of the Kennedy School of Government and the proposed Science Complex would also promote interdisciplinary work, Hyman said.

To realize its goal of environmental sustainability, Harvard has hired Stefan Behnisch to design the four-building Science Complex that will be built in Allston.

Behnisch is “arguably the most sustainable architect in the world,” according to Christopher M. Gordon, the head of Harvard’s Allston Development Group.

Gordon also said that the University would seek certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system, a national benchmark for sustainable construction.

Harvard’s relationship with residents of Allston, and Charlesview in particular, remains fraught. Occupants protested the building’s board of directors’ decision to cooperate in a land swap with Harvard last November.

But Spiegelman said Harvard believes “there is no reason we can’t improve the quality of life of people who also share the Allston community.”

Gordon said that the existing 20-year plan would bring 4,500 jobs to laboratories and other facilities, as well as 700 to 800 construction jobs per year.

“[Allston] could be a much more vibrant area,” Gordon said, “not just for Harvard by for the community and region.”

Harvard currently owns 350 acres of land in Allston, 140 of which are currently being used. The master plan proposes expanding to a total of 210 acres in the next 20 years.

Gordon said that yesterday’s proposal would not require Harvard to acquire any new land in Allston.

“Institutions are always looking at property, but there is nothing else we need for this particular...plan,” he said.

—Staff writer Ariadne C. Medler can be reached at amedler@fas.harvard.edu