Warehouse or Museum?

Harvard's Bout With Modern Architecture

It runs 160 feet along Quincy St., 128 feet along Cambridge St., and carries a $6 million price tag. The New York Times calls it "the architectural event of the 1980s," but some say the striped building looks more like a parking garage. About a year and a half ago, President Bok tried to cancel plans to build it. And it may never get the connecting bridge the University wants to protect and transport its priceless contents.

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, which next fall will become home to the University's collections of Islamic and Oriental art, is nearing completion--maybe.

Today, two large, cylindrical columns stand expectantly outside the Sackler, facing its sister, the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum. Right now they serve as ventilation towers for the Museum's heating and air conditioning systems, but, the Museum staff hopes, they may someday become supports for the connecting bridge.

But without the bridge to insure the sate transport of artworks, the University will have to undertake an elaborate moving scheme next month, in which unmarked security vehicles will move some 30,000 artworks across Broadway, from the Fogg building to the Sackler.

The building itself needs only minor work on its floors, lighting system, and climate control system to ready it for public perusal. The more complex process of packing, moving, loading and unpacking thousands of delicate and irreplaceable art objects by truck will continue through the fall and winter.


According to Elizabeth Buckley, construction coordinator for the Sackler, the migration of artwork will be "at a slow and easy pace," with each collection transported separately. Acting Director of the Fogg John Rosenfield terms it an "inconvenience," but says, "The new building is designed to work with or without the bridge." The Museum's security staff will supervise the operation, and Buckley says the Museum rented a van to move the faculty offices, library materials, and early Christian Coptic reliefs into the new building.

Aside from the initial move, Fogg officials estimate that 3470 art objects will need to move annually between the two buildings. Although the Sackler building is ostensibly autonomous, Chairman of the Fine Arts Department Neil Levine says that, for both functional and aesthetic reasons, "the building would be immeasurably helped by the bridge."

While the Fogg and the Sackler have yet to be physically joined, the two museums operate as a single entity, with a single director and a unified program. Each contains galleries for the general public, storerooms for art works not on display, a library, classrooms, and faculty offices. Most Museum service departments, such as Photography, Registrar, and Carpentry, are in the Sackler.

The construction of the Sackler doubles the Museum's office and classroom space and allows a 75 percent increase in display space for the Museums' collections--the Fogg building can only accomodate 3 percent of its holdings. When the Sackler opens permanently next fall, it will house the University's collection of Islamic and Oriental art. The Fogg building will be reserved for American and European art, while the Busch-Reisinger Musum, the third component of the University Art Musum, will continue to display Northern and Central European art.

"We have one director, one budget and one deficit," says Rosenfield.

Museum officials and members of the Fine Arts Department agree that construction of a connector bridge is essential to the psychological unity of the institution. They add that an estimated 1000 visitors, students and Museum staffers will pass from one building to another every day, and this flow of pedestrains could cause traffic problems on Broadway.

Plans call for the bridge to be 150 feet long, 18 feet high, and 20 feet wide. The proposed bridge would provide more gallery space, a resting place for visitors, and an easy way to transport art objects, Harvard officials say. The blueprints for the bridge show that it would be a long gallery, top lit and lined with showcases. Halfway across, large round picture windows on both sides would provide an "orientation/restroom" area for visitors. The bridge's stucco-coated exterior would be colored red and buff, to echo the colors of the Sackler building.

In order for the University to construct the bridge, the Cambridge City Council must approve its plan. But because of apparent community opposition, Harvard has not yet sought the Council's permission, nor does it have any immediate plans to do so.

Rosenfield says that "we are not going to do anything that would rupture the community's increasing good feeling toward Harvard," and adds that it is possible the bridge may never materiallize.

Last April, Harvard attempted to gain approval from the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association, a local forum that helps influence the Council's decisions. Only a two-thirds majority vote would allow the Association either to endorse or oppose the bridge plan, but the vote--with 98 members opposed and 74 in favor of the plan--proved inconclusive.