Location, Architect Chosen for First Allston Building

Plans for new campus advance after extended lull

The University announced the future site and architect of the first building in its new Allston campus Friday, a move that revives a planning process that has yielded little progress since last May.

The 500,000 square foot science complex, which will house the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, will be located on the south side of Western Avenue adjacent to the WGBH radio station. It will be designed by Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, a German firm renowned for its environmentally-friendly modern designs.

In an interview Friday, Professor in Practice of Urban Design Alex Krieger whose company, Chan Krieger & Associates, is in charge of designing open spaces in the Allston campus, said the decision is the first concrete step taken since planners released a report last May outlining possible sites for several Harvard buildings in Allston.

“The planning team has been sitting on their hands for most of a year now,” Krieger said. “It’s very significant because it seems to be so difficult for the president and the provost to reach a consensus.”

Provost Steven E. Hyman said in a conference call that the University hopes to complete the design and permit process within the next 18 months. Construction is set to begin by early 2007.

“We may be able to get in the door within two years,” said Christopher M. Gordon, Harvard’s chief operating officer for Allston development.

Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner was selected from a pool of 40 initial applicants by a 12-member “architectural jury,” which included Paul Goldberger, the New Yorker’s architecture critic.

Gordon said the architects had not yet defined the style of the new building, but almost all of the firm’s prior work, including Genzyme’s glass headquarters in Kendall Square, eschews traditional design.

Krieger called the choice “slightly courageous” and “slightly controversial.”

“I don’t think they’re going to do anything particularly wild but they’re not going to necessarily reproduce the iconography of the Cambridge campus,” he said.

Hyman said the Harvard Stem Cell Institute needed its own space because federal restrictions on stem cell research make it difficult for scientists who study stem cells to share lab space with federally-funded researchers.

“It’s led to situations where a graduate student in the middle of an experiment can’t use a particular piece of equipment,” he said.

Harvard also confirmed Friday that it would temporarily locate some of the Harvard University Art Museum collections in the former Citizens Bank building on Soldiers Field Road, while the Fogg Art Museum undergoes renovations.

Though University representatives met with Allston residents on Monday, they did not name the architect or the location of the building.

Gordon said the University had waited to coordinate the news with the Mayor’s office.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino made the first public announcement of the recent decisions at a speech to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau Friday.

—Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman can be reached at