Masterpieces or Misfits

As a new wave of Harvard architecture nears completion, area critics and scholars are pondering whether the buildings comprising the new skyline are...

As three new buildings along the eastern edge of campus near completion, local architects and critics are busy debating the merits of the latest additions to the Harvard skyline.

There is no doubt that the Inn at Harvard in Quincy Square, the DeWolfe St. housing complex and Werner Otto Hall, the annex to the Fogg Art Museum--all of which are expected to be ready for use by the fall--will make a strong architectural impact on campus. But rather than exploring radical new territory, many critics say, the projects for the most part represent an affirmation of Harvard's traditional architectural style.

Whatever their opinions about the new construction, critics agree that the University has at least been paying proper attention to the projects. They point to the fact that Harvard has been working on them for several years with some of the Northeast's premier architectural firms.

The Inn was designed by Graham Gund Associates, a well-known Boston firm. Goody Clancy and Associates Inc.--which has designed other Harvard projects in the past, such as the Center for European Studies and the Law School's Austin Hall--planned the DeWolfe St. project. Werner Otto Hall is the product of the award-winning New York firm Gwathmey Siegel and Associates, which designed the recent addition to the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.


"It's very clear that there's surge in the level of ambition and seriousness of intention that there didn't use to be" at Harvard, says Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New York Times.

A New Landmark

The most visible of the new buildings is the Inn, which is situated at Mass. Ave. and Harvard St., the former site of a Gulf gas station.

Rick Bechtel, the supervising architect for the project, says the Inn "will be seen as a real landmark for that end of Harvard Square." The Inn will be administered by Doubletree Hotels and may in the future be converted into an academic office building.

The design for the Inn includes red brick, pitch grooves and dormer windows and is sized "to respond to the character of a transitional building between the residential and commercial areas" of Harvard Square, Bechtel says.

The use of red brick and surface details such as window trim and balconies is designed to make the Inn blend into the surrounding traditional buildings, Bechtel says. "It is intended to relate to the existing houses along Mass. Ave. as well as the river," he says.

However, Bechtel adds, "people will know it's a new building. We've abstracted some of the details that you'd find in a Harvard building."

But critics of the Inn say that it may fit in too well.

"As a facade it relates to the river houses," says R. Philip Downs, an architect in Brighton and an outspoken member of Cambridge Citizens for Liveable Neighborhoods. "But it's a quadrangle facade ... with no quad."

"It's a neo-Georgian ripoff," he adds.