Why Harvard really hasn't built and Allston art building (and a few other projects)

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.


  1. Anonymous4:07 PM

    I agree that Harvard is extremely cost-sensitive. And yet we in the neighborhood often treat them as a cash-cow. How many times has someone demanded that they pay for our ideas because they have all those billions?

    I'm grateful for the link to the article, and believe that it strengthens the case for moderation. Of course we should push Harvard to take our community's interests into account. But we have to remember that every demand ends up on the cost side of the ledger. Apparently Harvard is far more sensitive to costs than many have supposed.

  2. Anonymous11:02 PM

    In this instance, the abandonment of at least the art building is likely due to the so-called community activists that are living out their little communist dream by impeding Harvard's progess.

    The handful of little Che's is hurting this part of Allston. Hopefully, Allston will turn out to be more Bolivia and less Cuba for the little Che's.

  3. Ah Bolivia, the high Andean spine, llamas and alpacas, tin mines and coca fields ... It's a stretch for Allston, but in partnership with Harvard all things are possible.

  4. Anonymous6:58 AM

    The Task Force and the community were right on in stopping the progression of Harvard wanting to build the Art Museum at the old Verizon Builing. If Harvard had not backed down, we would now have TWO BIG DIGS in Allston. Also, the museum was more of a storage facility and not like the Museum of fine Arts. Thank your lucky stars that level heads prevailed on that one. One construction project at a time. The recent letter that went out to Allston residents from Director Faust stated that construction on the Science Center will continue to the point of one story-street level. I still believe that if Harvard would like to make amends that they should let anyone in Allston go to Harvard for free as long as they have the grades and ambition to continue their education.

  5. Anonymous9:50 AM

    I'm sure if anyone from Allston had a 4.0 GPA, 2400 SAT, and 5's on several AP exams - along with a host of other talents in community, athletics, and arts, then I'm almost certain Harvard would accept this holy child from Allston. However, none of the public schools around here are producing these kids with any regularity. And, if they did, their parents income probably already qualifies them to send their kids to school for free.

  6. Anonymous10:02 AM

    Boston Latin School is producing kids that are qualified to get accepted into Harvard. Harvard gives one full scholarship to the senior class president or the top student.

  7. Anonymous10:32 AM

    It's really terrible that these communists are self-appointing themselves leaders of Allston and standing up in community groups yelling. If only a brilliant, charismatic federal employee would speak out, I'm sure the people of Allston would flock to his banner.

  8. Anonymous10:46 AM

    In previous posts I've acknowledged that Boston Latin is one of the only public schools worth noting in the city. But, Boston Latin isn't in Allston, is it?

    If I wasn't busy trying to spend President OBummer's spare change I can believe in, I'd happily take 5 minutes from my schedule, sign off on every Harvard proposal, and be done with it. It's time to let Harvard move forward with whatever they want to do. Because, in no way, could it be worse than it is now.

  9. It's so bizarre that someone on here is obsessed with the idea of communists in our midst. What else is he upset about? Talkies? Suffragettes? Refrigeration?

    Oh, and the plural of Che would be Ches. An apostrophe preceding the "s" indicates possession or a contraction (Che is). You're probably writing "Che's" because "Ches" looks stupid, but if what you're writing looks stupid you may want to reconsider writing it.

  10. Anonymous11:12 AM

    If the people in Harvard is so smart how comes they lost all doze moneys

  11. Anonymous12:12 PM

    Actually, a kid from Allston-Brighton did get into Harvard last year. His name is Ruo Chen and he graduated from Brighton High, not Latin. You can read the story on the AB Tab website: http://www.wickedlocal.com/allston/archive/x19914395/From-China-to-Harvard-Brighton-High-valedictorian-says-others-helped-him-succeed

  12. Anonymous12:45 PM

    Several kids from Latin Academy usually get into Harvard. They tend not to go for financial reasons though.

  13. Anonymous8:36 AM

    First of all, I know of a lot of kids who where very smart in school. When I graduated from Brighton High, the guidance counselors were not very helpful in counseling you in your future career. I did not even know what SAT's were and I was in the college courses. I transferred to the Business Courses because my family could not afford any college tuition. I went to Boston Business School on Comm. Ave. It was free to any Boston resident who graduated from a Boston High School and it was also free if your parent was a veteran. I qualified under both. Best education I ever received that was free and I graduated from there with a 4.0 GPA. Everyone did. You had to have a 4.0 in every class in order to continue to the next course and as far as I know, all the students in my classes were all from Boston public high schools, including Brighton High.
    If I was given the opportunity to go to Harvard now for free, I would jumpt at it. Maybe Harvard should make it available to us who could not afford it back then, so that when the economy improves we can get a better job.