Harvard Seeks to Reengage Allston Architect

Tensions Run High at Task Force Meeting

Harvard is in the process of reengaging the architect who originally had been tapped six years ago to design a new science complex in Allston the first time the plan was proposed.

At a Harvard-Allston Task Force meeting on Wednesday evening, Harvard’s Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Kevin Casey announced that Harvard is working to bring architect Stefan Behnisch back into the fold as the University restarts development on the planned hub of innovation and scientific work.

Harvard originally filed plans for Allston development in 2007, proposing, among other projects, renovation of Barry’s Corner and a $1 billion science complex to be designed by Behnisch. After putting these plans on hold in wake of the 2009 economic downturn, the University announced that it would resume planning development in the area and filed a new draft of its Institutional Master Plan for Allston development this past October. That draft was met with opposition from some residents, who filed a letter criticizing what they characterized as ambiguous and problematic plans.

And in Wednesday’s meeting, tensions ran high as many attendees called for swifter development and more details about the complex.

Task Force member Brent C. Whelan asked about the inclusion of parking space and the scope of public access at the site, calling these factors “absolutely fundamental” to gauging the impact of development on the surrounding Allston community. Like other residents of Allston, he also voiced concern about the “complex and massive” need for transportation restructuring.

Casey, on the other hand, heralded Behnisch’s return to the project as a step forward that is, in fact, ahead of Harvard’s original schedule for resuming development on the science complex.

“We continue to make progress even though [the completion of the project] is a little out of sight,” Casey said.

Another point of contention at the meeting, which also had been debated at the Task Force’s previous meeting in December, was the proposed relocation of various landscaping, storage, and other University facilities from 219 Western Ave. to 28 Travis St.

Residents said that they were concerned about how this development could impact the neighborhood’s atmosphere and cohesiveness.

“It’s the kind of facility that just doesn’t mix well with a residential community,” said Bruce E. Houghton, a Task Force member and Allston resident.

Speaking more broadly, Harry E. Mattison, another resident and member of the Task Force, said that Harvard needs to earn the trust of Allston residents.

That sentiment was echoed by attendees who argued that Harvard has not been completely transparent in its planning.

“What is it that’s being deliberated behind closed doors?” asked one man in the group.

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at nkansra01@college.harvard.edu.

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