Campus & Community

Harvard selects design firm for Allston

4 min read

To do preliminary framework plan

Harvard University has selected the nationally acclaimed planning and design firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners to create a preliminary planning framework for its future development in Allston.

“Cooper, Robertson has an impressive track record, and they have assembled a team with a strong combination of local experience, world-class urban planning expertise, vision, and creative talent. I am confident that the team will serve the University and community well in this next stage of our planning process,” said President Lawrence H. Summers.

The Cooper team, which includes landscape architect Laurie Olin and urbanist/architect Frank Gehry, will help Harvard translate the ideas of its faculty task forces into a planning framework for Allston. Rather than designing buildings, the team will produce a flexible planning framework to guide Harvard’s long- and shorter-term physical planning. The team will consider potential building locations and guidelines, scale, connections within the campus and neighborhood, and offer a conceptual vision for transportation, streets, and the development of open space. The objective is to have a plan that can guide future building and other projects, not to design the projects themselves.

“Having worked with Cooper, Robertson on the Boston Seaport Master Plan, I know firsthand that they bring to this project a high level of expertise, professionalism, and a sensitivity to the fabric of urban life,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “I am looking forward to an exciting and innovative planning process for one of our most vibrant neighborhoods.”

The Cooper team will join in Harvard’s continuing engagement with the Allston neighborhood and the city of Boston as a shared vision for Harvard’s future in Allston – with cultural and retail amenities, public green spaces, housing, and improved streetscapes and transportation – is developed.

“Our challenge will be to integrate a campus situated on both sides of the Charles and blend it with a thriving neighborhood,” said Alex Cooper of Cooper, Robertson & Partners. “To do this, we will need to develop a strategic planning framework that provides flexibility over the next 50 years. We look forward to working with faculty, students and Allston residents as we lay the framework for a future that will serve the University and contribute to the area’s vitality.”

In December 2003, Harvard invited 26 planning and design firms to submit qualifications to lead the next phase of planning for Harvard’s properties in Allston. The Cooper team was ultimately selected from among four highly regarded finalists for their thoughtful approach to complex planning challenges, their planning and development experience in the city of Boston and beyond, and their repeated successes in urban and higher education settings.

“Any one of our distinguished finalists would have been an exceptional asset to our team in planning the next phase. But Cooper, Robertson and their team offer depth of experience in academic and urban environments, and the ability to bring imaginative thinking to a decades-long project that will produce a vibrant community for research, teaching, and living. On these critical dimensions, our chosen team is superb,” said Sally Zeckhauser, vice president for administration and chair of the group of faculty and administrators that helped select the firm.

Cooper, Robertson & Partners completed the Boston Seaport Master Plan in collaboration with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The plan preserved Boston’s sense of scale and character with small block sizes, narrow streets, and a variety of public open spaces along the water’s edge for a 1,200-acre site along Boston Harbor. In addition to developing master plans for urban redevelopment, such as Battery Park City in Manhattan, Cooper, Robertson & Partners has completed master plans for Yale University, UCLA, and the University of Chicago, among others.

Though best known for his signature architecture, Frank Gehry’s projects reflect a thoughtful approach to urban planning and space use. Laurie Olin has developed open space plans for several urban campuses, such as the University of Pennsylvania and at MIT, and partnered with Harry Cobb of Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners for Harvard’s Center for Government and International Studies now under construction in Cambridge.

“The group assembled by Cooper, Robertson is a remarkably strong team with the disciplines of planning, architectural creativity and landscape design on equal footing – the key resources in the development of a solid planning framework,” added Alex Krieger, chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design for the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and member of the working group that helped select the team. “This is not about designing individual buildings, but about creating settings. We need both practicality and creativity as we approach such a complicated and important long-term venture and Gehry, who plans environments in a beautiful, vibrant, and alive way, and Olin, a masterful designer of open spaces, are essential components of this team.”