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Across River, Science Plans Move Forward

By Clifford M. Marks and June Q. Wu, Crimson Staff Writerss

After months of construction delays, the Allston science agenda is moving forward.

Harvard broke ground this spring on a much-touted science complex after strained community relations pushed the start date back by months, while also laying preliminary plans for a second science building nearby, University officials said.

Kathleen M. Buckley, associate provost for science, said a second building is under discussion, but that the new deans—at key constituencies like the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School—are still debating how and when planning might proceed.

In the meantime, which schools and departments will occupy the additional buildings remains uncertain. And in advance of the fall deadline for the revised institutional master plan, which must be approved for other construction to begin, the schools with science programs are struggling to answer that question.

The Medical School in particular, which Dean Jeffrey S. Flier said will remain based in its current Longwood home, must strike a difficult balance between maintaining ties with affiliated hospitals near its current campus and participating in what Harvard has heralded as a revolutionary cross-disciplinary science community in Allston.

“The Medical School has its own intrinsic activities but has deep collaborative connections to the hospitals in the Longwood area but also needs, because of the changes in science, connections to physics and chemistry and engineering and applied math,” Provost Steven E. Hyman said in interview. “Allston can serve as a place where those kinds of connections can be more easily made.”


With the first science building largely programmed and much of its space devoted to non-research activities, such as a power plant, departments and programs considering the move to Allston have begun considering ways to use a new building.

Buckley said earlier this spring that microbial and infectious disease research had both been floated as potential occupants.

They would join a host of programs already slated to make the move to the first science complex, which began construction this spring.

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the Medical School’s systems biology department, and bioengineering have all been allotted space in the new building, which Harvard said will open in 2011.

And those buildings won’t be alone, though it’s still unclear just how much company they’ll have.

The newly christened School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), which will lose its founding Dean Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti in September, is contemplating its own Allston building, Buckley said, though she added that discussions were at a very preliminary stage.

“How expensive that [building] would be, whether SEAS is limited on the Cambridge campus in terms of the space, all these things are up in the air and would be decisions to be made by President Faust, Provost Hyman, the next dean of SEAS, and HUSEC,” a committee chaired by Hyman that has taken the lead on science planning in Allston.

The School of Public Health is also expected to relocate to Allston from its cramped quarters in Longwood, but University President Drew G. Faust said its planning would have to wait until the school’s next dean is chosen. (Dean Barry R. Bloom announced his intention to step down last November after nine years at the helm.)

Flier said the Medical School will wait for the plans of its Longwood neighbor to solidify before his school finalizes its own.

Later this month, Harvard’s science school deans will present strategic plans to the Harvard University Science and Engineering Committee.

Hyman said these plans will drive the vision for science in Allston and that a second building would “certainly” be on the fall master plan, but added that the plan would remain flexible after submission.

“A master plan is not irreversible, it’s a living document that will evolve over time,” Hyman said. “A master plan is not as determinative as people might believe.”

Though final decisions on which programs will relocate may be a while off, the bulk, like systems biology, will be picked for their interdisciplinary nature, a recent focus of University science planners.

And even if some desiring a change of location are left out of a second building, all hope is not lost.

“I think it’s a fair assumption that there will be a second and a third,” Hyman said.

—Staff writer Clifford M. Marks can be reached at
—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at

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