SEAS Task Force Report Outlines Preliminary Vision for Allston Campus

A year after University administrators announced that the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences would move to Allston, faculty members and administrators from the school outlined a vision for an innovative campus across the Charles that accommodates the needs of 21st-century academics and marries the leafy quads of Cambridge with Silicon Valley’s adaptable infrastructure.

The vision, laid out in a Jan. 20 draft report by the SEAS Teaching and Community Space Task Force obtained by The Crimson, calls specifically for the creation of classroom spaces that will allow for “active learning” and the incorporation of recreational areas that would help make the campus a destination for College students and a round-the-clock education center.

In planning the Allston campus, which is not expected to open until the 2017-2018 academic year, the report emphasized the importance of avoiding spaces that could only be used for one purpose or “state of the art” rooms that resisted structural changes. Instead, the report’s authors advocated for easily partitionable areas that could be upgraded as technology improves, such that the building could change along with the School.

“Right now nothing is as big a constraint on pedagogical innovation in SEAS as the difficulty in finding flat-floor classrooms that can be fitted with lightweight tables and chairs,” they wrote.

At the same time, designing spaces where students can rest and socialize between classes is an important priority, the task force reported. To that end, the draft includes plans for spaces like a forum, a permanent dining facility, a fitness center, and even showers. It also calls for an interior courtyard with possible game spaces and underground parking facilities, in addition to more conventional office and meeting space.

“Allston should feel like home to both students and faculty,” the authors wrote. “A home is not luxurious necessarily, but is fully appointed with the comforts and attractions of a place students and faculty want to go to, return to, and never leave.”

The document emphasizes the need to attract College students, in particular, to Allston, which Computer Science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 said had the possibility of becoming an “engineering ghetto.”

Lewis, also the report’s lead author, added that, "[Allston] has to be seen as a cool place to go for undergraduates so they will go and hang out and stay.”

According to physics professor David A. Weitz, creativity is key in making the prospective SEAS campus attractive to students.

“As long as we make it the most exciting place there is, you’ll come, you’ll not mind,” he said.

While the draft acknowledged that Allston’s distance might appear challenging at this point in time, it emphasized that the potential benefits of the area have yet to be explored.

Co-signed by 13 SEAS faculty members and administrators, including the School’s dean, Cherry A. Murray, the draft report was circulated to both University President Drew G. Faust and Provost Alan E. Garber ’76, according to Paul Karoff, the School’s communications director and a co-signatory. Karoff characterized the response to the paper as very positive.

“[The draft] does a nice job of encapsulating the aspirations of faculty and staff,” Karoff said. Lewis said that faculty members have also reacted positively to the paper’s proposals.

Many faculty members were taken aback by news of the move to Allston when it was announced at a Faculty meeting in February 2013. At the time, the decision was characterized as the “Allston Bomb” by many SEAS faculty members. Garber subsequently created three task forces to examine issues related to the move.

—Staff writers Dev A. Patel and Steve R. Watros contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff Writer Francesca Annicchiarico can be reached at francesca.annicchiarico@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @FRAnnicchiarico.

—Staff Writer John P. Finnegan can be reached at finnegan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @finneganspake.

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