Harvard University Science and Engineering Complex
- Behnisch Architekten
- 150 Western Avenue, Allston, MA
- The President and Fellows of Harvard College
Designed by Behnisch Architekten, Harvard University’s new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) is the cornerstone building of the school’s new Allston Campus, located directly across the Charles River from Harvard’s 300-year home in Cambridge. Its forward-looking design reflects the advanced, world-class spatial and technological solutions of its faculty and staff who are meeting the complex, changing requirements of scientific inquiry. The 544,000-square-foot research and teaching facility housing the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) sits at the heart of the campus in one of Boston’s last undeveloped neighborhoods, setting a distinctive architectural tone for future development and establishing the university’s commitment to sustainability, cutting-edge academic and research activity, and high-quality urban design.
As a relatively new school within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, SEAS lacked a consolidated footprint and adequate space in Cambridge. The SEC presented the opportunity to locate the majority of the school under one roof with the goal of further fostering an already robust culture of collaboration and interdisciplinary working. A generous landscaped yard allows ample area for future development and provides a strong connection to the forthcoming greenway specified in the university’s master plan.
Reflecting the dynamic, interdisciplinary nature of research, the building is designed to be as flexible and adaptable as possible, through a series of environments that support collaboration and create vibrant public spaces at a variety of scales. The eight-level SEC is situated prominently along Western Avenue, a primary thoroughfare. The massing organizes the laboratories into three four-story volumes that are connected by glazed, multi-story atrium lounges. This creates a visual rhythm along the nearly 500 feet of street frontage analogous to more traditionally scaled structures, while maintaining the continuity of the program in a single building.
Plan and Program
Classrooms, teaching labs, and amenity spaces occupy the lower floors closer to the street and courtyard, while research labs in the upper volumes have more solitude and security.
Makerspaces and teaching labs located along Western Avenue highlight the active learning methodologies used by SEAS, showcase the work being done by students, and engage the community. Classrooms and meeting spaces are in varying sizes and layouts, ranging from typical, theater-style classrooms with sloped floors and fixed seating to active-learning spaces that can be reconfigured at will to allow for flipped classroom scenarios and student-led discussions.
The upper floors house 69,120 square feet of open wet research laboratory space accommodating biological, chemical, physical, optical, electronics activities, as well as 24,000 square feet of dry research laboratories for computer science researchers. Modular, flexible laboratory environments, smart zoning of highly ventilated zones from dry space, and robust delivery of centralized lab services ensure the future adaptability and continued use of laboratory space for decades to come. Two- and three-story lounges between the laboratory blocks provide connection points and respite for researchers at a more intimate scale. Simple materials such as exposed concrete, glass, and open acoustic ceilings keep the spaces open and flexible, while wooden flooring and stairs, seating areas, work bars, and benches emphasize the areas for collaboration and gathering.
Light and Air
Flooding the interior with daylight and facilitating natural ventilation, the central atrium connects all levels of the building, transitioning from the more public teaching floors to the more private research floors at the upper levels. A large café and a stepped, wood-lined seating area look out to the courtyard and the collaboration spaces at the lower levels, reinforcing the connection of teaching spaces on the building’s lower three floors. The western atrium acts as a secondary organizing element for the building, creating additional spaces for events and collaborative working while daylighting all of the above-grade floors on the western half of the site. Deep overhangs and fixed horizontal sun-shading define the landscaped terraces, culminating in a series of storm water gardens at ground level that surround the central courtyard.
Sustainability and Energy Performance
Sustainability and performance are high priorities for Harvard; the SEC has received LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certifications. Complementing the energy-conscious HVAC and lighting systems and the vegetated roof terraces, the façade design seeks to balance technical and aesthetic goals in a way that celebrates its performance-oriented aspects and makes a strong statement about the university’s presence in Allston. The layered design of the façade calibrates the scale of the large volumes that constitute the research program of the building, creates an identity for the complex, and plays a crucial role in the energy performance of the building as well as occupant comfort. Four principal façade types are used at the building:
● Laboratory Screen Wall: Research areas on the upper floors are sheathed in a 1.5mm thick stainless-steel screen fabricated by hydroforming. It is precisely dimensioned to shield the interior from solar heat gain during warmer months while admitting beneficial sun during the winter, thus significantly reducing cooling and heating loads on the mechanical plant. The screen is calculated to reflect daylight towards the interior while maintaining large view apertures.
● Garden Façade: The lower two floors and all of the south-facing portions of the building feature highly transparent, one-story glass ribbon windows that span floor to ceiling. Every two out of three modules of the unitized aluminum system are fully glazed; the third module is opaque. Operable windows are integrated into every third unit.
● Double-Height Entry Façade: Installed on multi-story spaces at major building entrances. this triple-glazed, steel-framed system produces a very clean interior appearance. Operable flaps at the upper levels of this façade support automated natural ventilation.
● Atrium Façade: The six-story wall of the main atrium is approximately 75 feet wide by 65 feet high, and the three-story wall of the west atrium measures about 45 feet wide by 55 feet high. The challenge—integrating the structural requirements of these long-span glass walls with the exterior sun-shade required to maintain thermal comfort in the atria spaces—is met with a custom shading element that also acts as a rigid wind collector beam. Both the shading system and the triple-glazed wall behind it are suspended from the overhead roof structure.
A showcase for sustainability and learning, Behnisch Architekten’s design for the SEC pulls together a number of threads of contemporary life, which will certainly influence future generations: engineering’s decisive influence on the discovery and resolution of some of the world's most pressing problems, the critical importance of cross-disciplinary efforts to achieve major research initiatives, and genuine leadership in the area of sustainable design and urban development.