The new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC), located on Harvard University’s emerging Allston campus, integrates one of the country’s most diverse and exciting engineering programs into a single 500,000 square foot structure that will accommodate teaching and research laboratories, classroom space, faculty and staff offices, and a host of amenity spaces. Built on top of the existing foundation of a previously-designed life sciences complex that was suspended in 2008, the new facility represents Harvard’s first major academic building project in Allston and as such establishes a strong precedent for the development of outdoor space, street activation, and integration with larger public space networks that are described by the University’s Master Plan. As the home of the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), it defines a new series of environments that support SEAS’ profound commitment to interdisciplinarity and collaboration both in teaching and research, and exploits these qualities to create vibrant public spaces at a variety of scales throughout the building.
The SEC stretches more than five hundred feet along Western Avenue and is situated on the northern one-third of the overall site. The massing of the building forms a new landscaped courtyard space suitable for outdoor recreation and events towards the site’s center, while the balance of the site to the south is preserved for future development. The building is expressed as a series of floating, highly flexible research boxes above a two-story transparent plinth comprised of the more public, active elements of the program. This plinth adopts an architectural language of terracing elements as it reaches south to define the courtyard, establishing a building scale that respects the adjacent residential fabric. Organizationally the building follows the massing logic, with classrooms, teaching labs, and amenity spaces occupying the lower plinth floors in order to take advantage of proximity to the street and courtyard, while research labs in the upper volumes maintain appropriate levels of solitude and security.
The below grade levels are occupied by additional teaching spaces, fabrication shops, core research facilities, and a loading dock. All six above-grade and both below-grade levels are connected vertically by a central atrium space facing south towards the courtyard, that delivers daylight to all floors and serves as the communicative heart of the complex. Smaller distributed atria punctuate other areas of the building away from the atrium and define more local neighborhood groupings.
The façade design calibrates the scale of the SEC, creates an identity for the complex, and plays a crucial role in the energy performance and occupant comfort in the building. All three façade systems incorporate operable vents for natural ventilation and require stringent levels of thermal performance to maximize energy savings.
In addition to the performative quality of the facades, the SEC integrates a highly progressive sustainability agenda. Ventilation rates, typically the strongest driver of laboratory energy consumption, are being scrutinized as part of a comprehensive risk assessment to determine appropriate air flow for all spaces in the building, with the goal of reducing ventilation rates by as much as one-third without sacrificing occupant safety.
The design of the Science and Engineering Complex project pulls together a number of threads of contemporary life certain to influence coming generations: the engineering enterprise as a decisive influence in the discovery and resolution of some of the world’s most intractable problems; cross-disciplinary efforts as critical to major research initiatives; and genuine leadership in the area of sustainable design and urban development.