The School of Design's New Design

Structural Faults Plague Two Modern Harvard Buildings

It will soon no longer be necessary to wear coats to class, nor will plastic sheets be needed to cover student projects from water leaking from the ceiling.

These are just two of the problems officials hope will be solved by the on-going $5.7 million renovations of Gund Hall, the principal building for Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD).

Officials attribute the need to repair the 11-year-old structure--constructed at a cost of $8.2 million--both to poor maintenance and flaws with the initial design.


But on this latter score, at least, Harvard appears to differ little from other schools of architecture around the country. For despite the award-winning design drawn up by architect John Andrews (a 1958 GSD graduate), Gund Hall has fallen victim to a problem faced by a number similar structures around the country--the so-called "pioneer syndrome."

Because architecture schools often attempt to display in their own buildings striking examples of the most advanced architecture of the time, experts say, these buildings are more prone than most to unforeseen difficulties.


This happened at among other places. Yale's School of Architecture, which opened in 1963 to widespread attention as an innovative architectural achievement but which soon ran into structural problems.

And more recently, the University of Florida completed a new architecture complex in 1979 and has already had to repair part of it because the correct materials were not always used in the construction, according to John McRae, chairman of the architecture department of that school.

At Harvard, much the same thing appears to have happened, with some of the seeming innovations of the building at fault for the current woes.

The structure, consisting as it does of four levels of studios built under a glass sky lit roof, has been widely recognized as an innovation in architecture.

But the glass roof, just to name one example, is an example of a technique that was "not yet fully proven," according to GSD Dean Gerald McCue.

"To let the daylight in, we used a greenhouse type roof," McCue explains. "These are fine in warmer climates, but up here it makes maintenance problems very difficult."

In addition, the glass stepped roof did not allow water to run off effectively, causing pools to form.

Specifically, all this meant the roof leaked often, a problem that has been rectified by the renovations thus far (they are 95 percent complete, officials say). "Wastebaskets were used more often to collect the leaking water than for trash," remembers one harried administrator.

Other repairs have included fixing up the building's cooling and heating system, updating the electrical system, and installing a new lighting system and audio-visual facility.

Many of these changes, according to William A. Doebele, a GSD professor, are akin to "getting the bugs out of a space capsule." He explains that because the overall building design was so unorthodox--"the first of its kind constructed anywhere"--certain technical problems have arisen that have got steadily worse.

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