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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Parallel Universities

March-April 2005

Even as Harvard's planning consultants conclude the private phase of their development grid for Allston, it is possible to get a sense of their thinking about this prospective new campus. And a huge academic development rising rapidly at the opposite edge of the continent, in San Francisco's Mission Bay, makes tangible what kinds of challenges and choices Harvard faces in the near future.

Since Cooper, Robertson & Partners were hired last spring to create a framework for future development in Allston -- they are scheduled to report by the end of the academic year -- they have quietly assessed the property, infrastructure, and Harvard's academic plans. But firm principal Alex Cooper shared some of his views on campus planning generally in a November talk at the Graduate School of Design.

The 43-acre University of California at San Francisco's Mission Bay site today, with the city and the Bay Bridge beyond. A biomedical research campus is rising on an Allston-like site formerly occupied by warehouses and railyards.
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Above: The same site in March 2003 reveals how rapidly development there has progressed.

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Photographs courtesy of the University of California at San Francisco

One of the keys to successful public projects, he noted, is that "the table be set first," whether by connecting the lobbies of future buildings underground as at Times Square, or by laying out roads and parks as at Hudson Yards, also in Manhattan, where the streets were built with holes left for the developers. Sustainable development starts with infrastructure. Implicit in this introduction was the notion that Allston is a city-building project that, to succeed, will require the cooperation of Boston, the state, local residents, and other stakeholders.

Turning to the immediate assignment, Cooper outlined a series of campus archetypes from the English model, as at Oxford, to the dense urban campus typified by Columbia. Between these, he said, are wide variations in size and density. Looking just at the Ivy League, Yale at two and a half miles long is twice the length of the present Harvard in Cambridge and Allston. And the number of square feet per student ranges from 340 at Columbia up to 1,300 at Princeton, neatly bracketing Harvard's total of 739.

Campus planners face seven generic issues, Cooper continued; the toughest is the question of campus character. "Everyone wants to know what it will look like," from faculty members to donors. The red brick and white-framed windows of Harvard's Cambridge campus have been transplanted across the river by the Business School, whose campus he called "very corporate" and "not at all dense." "It is hard to imagine the language of McKim, Mead and White traveling very far," he said, hinting at least at what is not likely to happen in Allston. MIT, by contrast, he termed "very institutional," with large streets and large buildings.

The second important planning issue, key for Allston, is the question of connections. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte built a loop road and garages, and began to understand what it could create based on the roads. Yale planners worked to develop a system of pedestrian walkways. Pedestrian connections will certainly be an important part of Allston, and probably shuttle buses, but Cooper didn't rule out other forms of transport. How Harvardians cross the Charles to Allston may well involve the business school campus, University planners have previously hinted, noting that it is roads rather than the river that present obstacles to pedestrians. (One citizen's group has even suggested construction of a tunnel to divert traffic from surface roads along the river.)

Historic settings are the third campus planning issue. Duke's original buildings, for example, were constructed entirely of special stone from a single quarry; there is none left. But with clever use of materials, it is possible to evoke the earlier buildings by simulating Dukestone, and using a close match for the trim.

Fourth, Cooper listed "opportunity sites," as at UCLA, where an open-space evaluation turned up lots of places where new buildings could rise, thus diminishing the need for a new campus. Combined with selective demolition, he said, lots of space can often be found.

Town and gown relationships invariably confront campus planners. Under this rubric, Cooper spoke first about the way institutional architecture meets the surrounding built environment. The Sorbonne in Paris, where one community dissolves into the other, is a perfect town-gown fit. Harvard Square, he said, is the same way, making the town-gown issue vanish, at least from an architectural perspective. Politically, he acknowledged, town-gown relationships are "usually fractious."

Cooper termed "stewardship of place" a sixth concern. In a relatively pristine setting, that means preserving natural wonders. But landscapes can also be improved by new construction: at Yale, a sewer project presented the opportunity to create new paths and parks.

Finally comes the issue of security, for residents and for specialty workers. "There will be a lot of science in Allston," said Cooper, and "scientists, like architects, often work late into the night."

Following his presentation, Cooper fielded questions about transportation, the river, and the landscape. "The river will not be moved," he said, laughing, "despite Rem's suggestion." (Architect Rem Koolhaas had suggested this "thought experiment" as a way to unify the Cambridge and Allston campuses. Horrified Harvard administrators suppressed his report.) Cooper observed that the Charles, because it is dammed, is already more a lake than a river. Many parts of Harvard's Allston property are very wet, but can't be drained to the river because they are too low. He went so far as to say that the form of the campus may be shaped by the water-management solution that planners devise. What that means, he said in response to a question, is not "Venice in Allston" -- but "water on the ground one can imagine." More specific he has declined to be until the firm reports to Harvard administrators.

 

Allston plans will likely include -- in addition to undergraduate housing and sites for the schools of public health and education -- a significant science component, because science is the most rapidly growing area of research at Harvard. And an excellent model for understanding how Harvard might expand is coming together right now a continent away, in what is the country's largest academic biomedical expansion. The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Mission Bay campus, which includes student housing and a large community center, is devoted to science, and has already addressed many of the same issues that now face Harvard in Allston and Cambridge. Physically, the sites are remarkably similar: railyards and warehouses; low wet ground that has to be squeezed dry or packed with fill before structures can be built; inadequate infrastructures; a location hard by a highway and bordering water; a place separated from what has traditionally been the main campus by both distance and heavily trafficked roadways.

Redevelopment of Mission Bay, originally owned by a railroad, was proposed as early as 1981, but the land lay fallow for years. Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, M.D. '62, S.D. '04, explained during an interview in January how "UCSF urgently needed to expand" from its cramped quarters at Parnassus Heights, a hospital district not unlike the Longwood medical area in Boston. UCSF considered several new sites, Mission Bay among them, but initially the land there was astronomically expensive. It was also across the city from the main campus, which overlooks Golden Gate Park.

Then an enlightened partnership was formed among the city, UCSF, local business leaders led by biochemist William J. Rutter '49, the former UCSF professor and Harvard Overseer who founded Chiron, and landowner Catellus Development Corporation. In 1997, Catellus agreed to donate 3o acres in the middle of its 303-acre industrial holdings to UCSF, and the city agreed to donate 13 more. Catellus was convinced that a new campus at Mission Bay would attract biotech investment.

The result was a "win-win-win," said Regis Kelly, UCSF's former executive vice chancellor. The city, which brokered the deal, stood to benefit from the increased tax revenues associated with eventual commercial development in the area. Catellus received a tax credit, staged to take advantage of increased land values attributable to USCF's presence. Catellus further agreed to provide infrastructure for the UCSF site: water, sewers, electricity, and fiber optics. These improvements, completed in advance of construction, were financed through a deal with the city that froze the tax base, explained Catellus senior vice president Andrea Jones.

Increased tax revenues from incremental increases in the underlying land value (due to the development) are being used to pay off low-interest bonds that financed the improvements. When the bonds are fully paid, the city will collect the full tax revenue on land that will be much more valuable than it is today. The overall site will eventually include 6,000 units of housing, 5 million square feet of office and biotechnology laboratory space, 50 acres of open space, and the 43-acre UCSF campus.

Whether Harvard and Boston could form such a creative partnership remains an open question. Harvard, moreover, is serving as its own developer in Allston. But Harvard has acted with enlightened self-interest before, from the donation of land along the Charles for a public park a hundred years ago to recent donations of property for a public library branch in Allston; it did so again when it granted the state's local transit authority access to its Allston rail holdings.

California dreaming. Above: The first phase of UCSF's Mission Bay campus takes shape around a quad; it includes a community center that sells memberships to the public. Below: The community center's roof will include an outdoor pool. At bottom: The 434,000-square-foot Genentech Hall, the site's first building, was completed in 2003. It features laboratory "neighborhoods" clustered off loop corridors.

MAJED / University of California at San Francisco


Even taking the fortuitous gifts of land and infrastructure to UCSF into account, the progress of the Mission Bay campus has been remarkable, in part because the university felt pressure to uphold its commitment to provide an economic stimulus to an underdeveloped area. Said Bishop, "That, along with the academic needs, is what propelled the vigor with which we developed the site. What we have achieved there in five years is just wildly beyond anyone's expectations. There were a lot of people who doubted that we could, first, get the academic community to decide what to do, and second, build half a dozen buildings in that time, finance it, pay for it -- but we have."

The original plan was to start with a modest 72,000-square-foot building (a bit smaller than the Inn at Harvard, in Harvard Square). But a 44-member faculty committee decided in the course of two years that the scheme with the least negative impact on the university overall was to move one of the two graduate programs and a major portion of its core faculty, essentially dividing the scientific community in half. The first phase of construction was scaled up dramatically to include half a dozen buildings, including four research facilities, a community center, and a housing complex. Forty-three percent of the nearly $1-billion price tag has been funded by philanthropy and the rest by equity (indirect cost recovery on research grants). At full buildout, in about 15 years, some 9,100 people are expected to work and study in 20 buildings at the site.

There were two poles of opinion among the committee members who came up with the plan for the initial move, said Keith Yamamoto, a faculty leader who is now executive vice dean of the UCSF medical school. "One group said, 'Pick up programs and move them intact and very carefully put them down. We have great programs; don't screw them up.' The other pole said, 'No other academic medical center has the opportunity to develop 2.5 million square feet from a blank slate. This is a chance to do something really bold and exciting,' symbolized, for example, by mixing clinical and basic scientists elbow to elbow in a whole new way in order to truly integrate these disciplines."

In the end, the initial moves approximated the conservative approach of moving programs nearly intact. "But in our report," said Yamamoto, "we noted that this was just the first step, and that the final product would look very different. We have already begun salting in physician-scientists among the basic researchers." These efforts will be greatly enhanced with the next phase of development, which will include the construction of several research buildings focused on specific health problems. There will also be a building for ambulatory outpatient care and "translational" research. "The practice of medicine," predicted Yamamoto, "will increasingly interface in a direct way with research," as it does now in certain elements of cancer care, so researchers will actually involve patients in their investigations.

For now, "it is too early to judge how well this division of graduate programs has worked" from a science perspective, said Bishop. "What has worked is that the people who moved to Mission Bay are very happy. And the secret to that was to move enough people in a short enough span of time that there would be a critical mass, an adequate intellectual community." Allston planners have reportedly raised this issue of "critical mass," implying that construction there will have to be fast-tracked and on a large scale. Achieving that at Mission Bay required an ambitious construction program, starting with Genentech Hall's 434,000 gross square feet. The building at capacity holds 1,100 researchers and support staff.

For all the similarities between Boston and San Francisco, Mission Bay is much farther from Parnassus Heights than Allston is from Harvard Square. A shuttle ride of 20 minutes divides the two California campuses, so Bishop adheres to a principle of autonomy: "People talk of sustaining the connections, but however laudable that is, the rock bottom for success is that both sites have to be self-sufficient in certain ways, and in large ways, intellectually even. They can enrich each other, but they should be good enough that if an earthquake removed one of them, the other would continue to thrive.

"The major negative impact," he adds, "and it wasn't a secret at all, is that if you move a lot of people from a site like Parnassus Heights, that site has been diminished until they are replaced. The main angst is among the people who remained. They wonder, 'When are we going to be reconstituted into the kind of community that we were before?'" President Lawrence H. Summers, who has visited UCSF, and the Allston planners have to contend not only with this issue, but with wider community concerns as well.

 

Harvard has never suggested that it might construct an academic health center in Allston -- after all, the Longwood medical area is not far away -- but Summers has expressed the hope that Boston could become a center for the biotechnology industry. Regis Kelly, who is now executive director of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research, located at the Mission Bay campus, said the concept of an academic health center has gone from a two-tiered to a three-tiered structure, with basic science research, the biotech industry, and the clinical community working together to advance health science. In order to facilitate such interactions, Kelley regularly interviews every scientist in his institute. Then he talks to venture capitalists, "industry's equivalent to a knowledge broker,...to see whether they have got a company that might be interested in something we are doing. Then we can set up a confidentiality agreement." The result, he says, is good for UCSF, for patients, for industry, for venture capitalists, for the city, for developers like Catellus, and ultimately, "for the California economy."

Even the laboratories at Mission Bay are set up to facilitate this kind of technology transfer. "We group people according to scientific overlap," Kelly said, "so they can be from clinical departments, academic departments, even different schools. That, I have to say, is an administrative nightmare, but we had to make a decision: Are we here to make life simple for the administrators or for the scientists?"

Much as Allston is still in the future, UCSF Mission Bay is only a beginning, even with buildings up and running. In its next phase, UCSF aspires to integrate the research and clinical work even more closely together, and to establish additional links to adjacent commercial biomedical development. Likewise, what is being planned for Allston right now involves only the core of Harvard's extensive land holdings. Over time, it is possible to imagine closer collaborations between clinical and pure researchers there, and perhaps even spillovers into the private sector that might give life to Summers's aspirations for a major bioindustry center.