Some people are looking at Harvard's Allston slowdown and wondering why Harvard hasn't already built more than a hole for the Science Complex. For years, Harvard has suggested that major new museums will someday be built in Allston, but none of those ideas are close to reality today.
What happened to the art building originally proposed by Harvard in 2006? In November 2007, Harvard planners and HUAM director Thomas Lentz spoke with Boston Globe arts reporter Geoff Edgers about their decision to postpone construction of a building in Allston.
The Dow was over 13,000 back then, almost twice its current value, so one could think that money wouldn't have been a limitation for Harvard's ambitions. But financial limitations came into play more than once as Harvard's plans changed.
As Faust's Arts Task Force report makes clear, a year later Harvard is still working on answering the "big thorny questions" that Lentz mentioned to the Globe.
In February 2006, the university disclosed plans to renovate a former bank and add a second building on an Allston site 2.5 miles from the Harvard campus, at 1380 Soldiers Field Road. This site would temporarily house staff, store materials, and serve as a satellite museum while work took place on Quincy Street. Then in December, the university decided to change course because the Soldiers Field Road project was considered too expensive for a temporary home.
When asked whether the projects' costs were a factor in the delay, Spiegelman said, "The decision was driven more by the timing and the planning. But obviously the university is cost-conscious of everything we're doing."
Cost, Lentz acknowledges, is an issue with the Allston project. So are proposals for a range of other cultural facilities in Harvard's expanded Allston campus.
"I think a wider, overriding concern is how it is all going to work in Allston? How do the art museums relate to performing arts facilities or theater facilities or music facilities?" Lentz said. "Those are all big, thorny questions to grapple with."
So even though Harvard seemed publicly certain in its proposals to request zoning approval from the City of Boston in 2006, the Globe story shows that internally the decisions were far from final. This is consistent with Harvard's history of proposing projects that often end up not materializing.
Table 2-5 (page 2-13) of Harvard's 2006 IMP Amendment lists projects that Harvard proposed in its 1997 IMP. Of 8 projects that were proposed, 3 were not completed and not scheduled:
- Long-Range Executive Education Housing, 50-70,000 square feet
- Cotting Hall renovation, 15,000 square feet
- Storage & Locker Room Facilities, 10-15,000 square feet
That these projects were left on the drawing board is not a complaint but a recognition of the reality that plans made by Harvard (or any other large, complex organization) are highly subject to change for internal and external reasons. These three projects from the 1997 IMP weren't dropped because of vigorous community opposition. I doubt that more than a few people in the community knew about them or would have cared if they did know.
Harvard's proposals for the art building, the Science Complex, and many projects before them changed significantly after first being proposed. For an outsider to try to find a simplistic and singular explanation for these changes is a tea-leaf reading exercise at best.