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Still Trying to Bridge the Gap

Plans to Connect Fogg and Sackler on Hold

By Thomas J. Winslow

Noticeably missing from this weekend's opening festivities at the Sackler Museum will be James Stirling's other legendary piece of architecture, the one that never made it.

The Fogg Bridge connector, an overhead pass linking the old museum with the new, was designed, funded, and ready to go until one group got in the University's way: the people who live around the Sackler.

Residents of the area, known as Mid Cambridge, had charged that a bridge spanning Broadway St. would reduce sunlight, create a traffic hazard, and in general, detract from the aesthetics of their densely crowded neighborhood.

Museum officials, however, have said the connector would actually add to the appearance of the site, calling it "an architectural accent for the area where the neighborhood and the University meet."

Out of deference to the community, Harvard met with local leaders in an expensive, two-year effort to negotiate a compromise.

"We wanted to work closely with the neighborhood to come up with a plan that was acceptable to people in the immediate area," said Philip Parsons, assistant director for operations at the Fogg. As a result, the English architect revised his plans for the proposed bridge and the University promised to landscape a sizable portion of Broadway.

But the Fogg connector never got off the drawing board.

In a vote taken 18 months ago, the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association took no formal position on the overhead pass because no majority would either endorse or oppose the bridge. University officials decided to postpone construction until Harvard can muster wider community support for the proposal.

"We have no immediate plan to build the bridge," Sackler spokesman Peter C. Walsh said last week. But museum officials say they may try once again to persuade the community to let them build the bridge sometime next year.

Striped in stucco to match the exterior colors of nearby buildings, the proposed bridge would start at the Sackler's Early Chinese art gallery, from the mammoth window overlooking Broadway, and join the Fogg on the second floor. According to plans, the 18-foot-wide and 150-foot-long connector would house two galleries and a lounge.

Stirling's proposal is similar to one linking old and new German museums in Stuttgart's New State Gallery. Inside, the world's other Stirling bridge functions as a gallery through which visitors cross unaware of their trek from one building to the other. criticism tells its toll, the Sackler likely will not be viewed as one of his masterpieces.

"You don't tell Mr. Stirling how to design a building any more than you tell Picasso how to paint a painting," said President Derek C. Bok. But even Picasso had some bad days.

The first historical problem with the Sackler--a problem forced on Stirling--is its location, according to Floyd.

"The fundamentally sad thing is that the site would have better been where the Carpenter Center is. That is the initial tragedy," Floyd said.

"The second tragedy is that the Allston Burr Lecture Hall [which was torn down to make room for the Sackler] was an enormously important building. They demolished a fine piece of architecture," she said.

"In terms of campus planning it was a great tragedy," said Floyd. For at Harvard more than anywhere, campus planning means finding a great architect, giving him a proper site, giving him enough money, and hoping he comes up with something brilliant that also fits in.

The scene in which Stirling was to work was painted for him. And he was limited by not enough space and not enough money, said Philip Johnson, a noted American architect. So he dealt brilliantly with the interior of the building and poorly with the exterior, said Floyd.

"The spacial developments are brilliant. It's very beautiful on the interior," said Floyd.

Indeed by every account--positive or negative on other aspects--the Sackler's interior is a jewel.

The building serves as a museum and an office building. However, Stirling was asked to keep the two functions separate, so that the galleries could be climate controlled and the offices self controlled for economic reasons.

And in dealing with those two functions he created a Disneyland of rooms and galleries--constant surprises, wonderful colors, lovely offices--a magical mystery tour of an Indian, Chinese, Japanese and modern art collection.

And on the exterior?

"The exterior is a disaster, an absolute disaster. It's a very egocentric building," said Floyd. "The slick hard finished brick is purposefully a color that doesn't go well with Memorial Hall or the Fogg. Its machine made quality is the antithesis of the touchy, textural quality of Harvard buildings," said Floyd.

Floyd said the original pink and moss green brick colors Stirling wanted would have been a vast improvement.

Walsh said the University couldn't find pink and green bricks that would withstand the harsh Cambridge winters.

Stirling has drawn similar criticism for designing an excitingly vibrant entrance and a tremendously dull side and back.

"This slick finish, the bright green2

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