Without Allston, Cramped in Cambridge

Science departments in FAS are feeling the squeeze after plans for Allston expansion are put on hold

Peter R. Girguis and seven of his colleagues in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology currently occupy a work space the size of a traditional master bedroom.

“We’re sort of bursting at the seams,” Girguis says. “We’re pretty cozy.”

Girguis’ constrained work space is, in many ways, an indirect consequence of the indefinite halt on construction of the Allston Science Complex, a project with a $1 billion price tag that was meant to be a hub for interdisciplinary science research.

Harvard began construction on the Allston Science Complex in 2007 as a means of expanding the space accessible to science laboratories. But when the economic crisis of 2008 forced construction in Allston to slow and eventually cease altogether, administrators and faculty across the University scrambled to readjust existing space in Cambridge.

That space now seems to be running out.


“We’re crammed in like sardines,” says Daniel E. Lieberman, chair of the Human Evolutionary Biology department. “If I were an undergraduate, I’d be complaining.”

But with administrators projecting a minimum wait of ten years before laboratories can move to Allston, faculty and students may have to get used to the crunch.


The Allston Science Complex was meant to be a mecca for stem cell research, a place where interdisciplinary collaboration would work to solve real scientific and medical problems.

For Douglas A. Melton, co-chair of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department, collaboration between laboratories, which was part of the University’s vision for Allston, is a key element of the scientific process. “Sparks often fly when you have two scientists right next to each other,” Melton says.

Melton and his colleagues in the SCRB department are currently scattered between the Longwood Medical Campus, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Cambridge campus.

Some of the department’s laboratories were going to be moved to Allston to foster centralization, according to Kathryn L. Link, the executive director of SCRB. With construction in Allston halted, SCRB laboratories have been given two buildings in Cambridge—the Sherman Fairchild Biochemistry Building and the Bauer Laboratory. These will be occupied in August, when renovations to Fairchild are scheduled to be completed.

“[The labs] will be moving into state of the art facilities. [Fairchild] is a building that will set standards in terms of its greenness,” says Senior Communications Officer for University Science B.D. Colen.

Melton says utilizing the space in Allston would have “allowed for greater growth,” but for now, his department has more than enough space.

“I would expect we would fully occupy this space within a year or two,” Melton says of Fairchild and Bauer.