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Harvard May Build Major New Museum

Project would house glass flowers

By Jonathan H. Esensten, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard has entered the planning stages of creating a flagship public museum that would draw from the collections of four of the University's science museums.

Dean of Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles told the journal Nature this week that the project--which has not yet gained approval from the Harvard Corporation--could run into the "hundreds of millions of dollars."

According to Joshua Basseches, the executive director of the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the new museum would present Harvard research and collections to the public.

"If this proved possible, we could share the treasures of our museum collections (e.g., the glass flowers, and many of the animal specimens and skeletons) more widely, and liberate space that is close to the Yard for teaching and research," Knowles' annual letter to the Faculty, which will be distributed next week, says.

The museum would draw from the 19 million specimens in the collections of the Peabody Museum, the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, the Botanical Museum and the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Its offerings would include the well-known glass flowers collection.

Basseches said the new museum would help ease a space crunch in the museum system that has kept many holdings out of the public view.

"Whatever plan we develop, we see it as a facility that will both create better access for undergraduates to the vast holdings of the museums and also represent a way that Harvard can contribute to the life of our community," Basseches said.

Knowles has met with heads of Harvard's museums to discuss the new museum, but University spokesperson Joe Wrinn said the project is still tentative.

"It's in the exploratory stages," Wrinn said. "We haven't begun to work with the neighborhood yet."

University officials said they would present any plans to city officials and residential groups once the plans are more complete.

One possibility would be to locate the museum on Harvard's vast land holdings in Allston. If an Allston site is considered, Director of Community Relations Kevin A. McCluskey said the project would be discussed with city officials and residential groups as part of a larger planning process.

"The idea behind the community master plan is to make sure the mutual interests of the community and the city of Boston are served as well as possible," McCluskey said.

In the past, the University has encountered opposition from community groups when it has tried to expand into surrounding communities.

Cob Carlson, a Cantabrigian who has opposed the University's plans to build an art museum on the riverside site of Mahoney's Garden Center, said that he found the University to be untrustworthy in its negotiations with the community.

"They say they are committed to the community," Carlson said. "But they are insincere."

The University has said it has made a special effort in recent years to improve communication with the Cambridge community.

"We've been very open and involved with the neighborhood" Wrinn said.

--Staff writer Catherine Shoichet contributed to the reporting of this story.

--Staff writer Jonathan H. Esensten can be reached at

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