Architect Explains Vision for Allston

The architect responsible for the first piece of Harvard’s new campus revealed his philosophy for green design to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences last night—and how it will extend to his designs for Allston.

With a slight staccato lilt that hints at his German origins, architect Stefan Behnisch, known for his environmentally-sound designs, explained that for him sustainability does not simply refer to numerical measures of energy consumption.

“It’s more than that. It has a qualitative aspect,” he said. “It has to do also with usability of the building, how people use buildings.”

For Behnisch, famous for his use of tall glass panes that flood light into buildings’ nighttime surroundings, buildings should also foster a sense of place and encourage interactions between people.

“We can’t force people to communicate,” he said, “but we can create the opportunities for them to do it.”

Behnisch designed the Genzyme Center in Cambridge, where glass chandeliers reflect light and reduce energy use. Now, he will be leaving his green imprint on Harvard’s new campus in Allston.

Behnisch is the architect of Harvard’s planned science complex, a 589,000-square-foot building that received approval from Boston last month.

The complex—which will include winter gardens, skybridges, and an enclosed courtyard—will be the first project built across the Charles River.

As the first architect to take a crack at the Allston campus, Behnisch faces the pressure of living up to the image of a university better known for brick and ivy than glass and limestone.

According to the chief operating officer for the University’s Allston Development Group, Christopher M. Gordon, architecture is a top concern for alumni.

“I can go on for hours about the engineering and the technical aspects, and all the questions are about architecture,” he said of alums who are concerned about a move away from the Georgian style that dominates the Cambridge campus.

Behnisch said that his perceptions of the University’s buildings did not initially match up with others’ ideas.

He said when he thought of Harvard, images of the modern concrete and glass of the Carpenter Center came to mind rather than the red bricks of traditional Harvard buildings.

“What amazed me the most Harvard perceives itself architecturally,” he said.

He told the audience that his team analyzed the Yard to navigate the architectural past of the University and develop his vision for its new campus.

His design, he said, would eventually form part of a campus which would also provide multiple viewpoints on different buildings.

“It’s like a string of pearls curved through, meandering, and it’s always a surprise,” he said.

Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Robert Campbell said that he was excited about the imprint that Behnish would leave in Allston.

“I think he’s done a wonderful job of taking this very repetitive collection of laboratory spaces and finding ways to create variety,” he said. “I’m very optimistic.”

Construction on the science complex is expected to begin by the end of 2007.

—Staff writer Laura A. Moore can be reached at