Academic Allston, At Last

From left: Nitin Nohria and Francis J. Doyle III
From left: Photograph ©Susan Young/Harvard Business School;
Photograph by Eliza Grinell/School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

More than a quarter-century after Harvard began banking land for expansion in Allston, beyond the Harvard Business School (HBS) campus, academic growth there is reliably under way—and the faculties immediately involved are fostering intellectual collaborations ahead of their physical colocation.

The flagship project, housing much of the engineering and applied sciences faculty, received regulatory approval in April. Construction will be under way this summer, with occupancy expected in 2020. The complex includes 445,300 square feet of new classrooms, laboratories, and related facilities atop part of the subsurface footings where building stopped in 2010 during the financial crisis and recession; 51,500 square feet of renovated offices and classrooms at the existing 114 Western Avenue; and a 47,000-square-foot “district energy facility” to provide electricity and heating and chilled water. Total project costs are estimated at $1 billion.

Interestingly, the energy plant has been relocated from underneath the science complex toward the eastern edge of Harvard’s landholdings—and it will be built at grade. According to the regulatory filing, these changes reflect both University studies of “climate resiliency” in an era of global warming (the area is filled land, at the level of the Charles River), and utilities planning for future academic growth and the anticipated siting of an “enterprise research campus” with significant commercial office and laboratory development—much of it on land at 100 Western Avenue, now in an extended process of environmental remediation.

Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-neighboring academic colleagues were getting together. As HBS dean Nitin Nohria wrote in his 2016 message to the business faculty, “One key area of integration about which we are deeply excited, and for which we are now laying the groundwork, is that with the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), which will be moving to Allston….We see tremendous synergy among our faculties in the area of innovation and entrepreneurship, and are planning a joint research symposium…to spur collaboration.”

That gathering—a reconfigured version of HBS’s annual faculty symposium, which focuses on fellow professors’ research—took place on May 12, and brought together many of both schools’ professors. It built on work Nohria and SEAS dean Francis J. Doyle III had already undertaken (symposium materials noted that Doyle met with Nohria before accepting Harvard’s job offer, and that their common interest in their schools’ possible collaboration influenced his decision), plus various teaching and research interactions among faculty members. The day highlighted research presentations, informal opportunities to discuss emerging areas of inquiry and opportunities for pedagogical collaboration, and other introductions: what one participant characterized as a “first date.” Its potential outcomes were importantly underwritten in June 2015 when John A. Paulson, M.B.A.’80, made a University-spanning, river-crossing pledge of $400 million in unrestricted endowment funds to foster the work of SEAS.

In a brief conversation a few days later, an enthusiastic Doyle noted that although the schools differ significantly in scale and approach (the engineers and scientists seek precise solutions to intellectual puzzles, while the management professors learn from businesses in operation and expect to influence practice through application and revision), they have much in common. Commenting on three faculty members’ May 12 presentations on their data-related research, he said, “I would have challenged an outside observer to tell which one was from which school.” He and Nohria, he added, “left there elevating our already very, very high expectations for these collaborations,” given their colleagues’ excitement.

Such collaborations, particularly on curriculum, may need a few years’ gestation, so it is timely to get them under way before much of SEAS is across the street from HBS. Doyle mentioned the possibility of fruitful “intellectual collisions” in data science (given SEAS’s large computer-science faculty), in the emerging “Internet of Things” (about which HBS professors are already writing, and SEAS has interests in materials, robotics, and communications technologies), and in the full spectrum of new pedagogies and teaching (from undergraduate to doctoral courses and modules). HBS’s prowess in executive education, he noted, is a whole new vista for SEAS. In a word, the day spent together promoted “very exciting dialogue between the schools,” with ample momentum to pursue joint opportunities.

Separately, on April 21, HBS formally broke ground for construction of Klarman Hall, its new conference center, auditorium, and community-convening complex. Beyond its educational import, Klarman is an expansive step, extending the HBS campus south, into current parking lots. Huge classes like SEAS’s Computer Science 50 could draw undergraduates across the Charles into the high-tech Klarman facility, if HBS is willing. When Klarman and a second part of the facility are built and the existing Burden Hall is razed, HBS will have an extensive new quadrangle east of Spangler Center—and the makings of a new roadway along the southern edge of its campus. Its extension west will accommodate the sites for future HBS academic buildings, according to its campus plan.

Nor do those projects exhaust sidewalk superintendents’ opportunities in Allston. Scaffolding is going up for the beginning of the four-year renovation of the Soldiers Field Park graduate-student housing complex at the eastern edge of HBS’s campus. And work was well under way this spring to install the “life lab,” a temporary, modular facility, complementing the iLab complex on Western Avenue, where entrepreneurs will have access to wet labs and related biology facilities. The Klarman, housing, and lab projects together represent another $370 million of anticipated construction investments.

Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg

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