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Harvard University Science and Engineering Complex

De rerum natura

Behnisch Architekten

Fourteen years after winning the competition, Behnisch Architekten has now completed Harvard University’s new Science and Engineering Complex. As I have already said, and will continue to say, this German firm produces technical architecture that always finds a way of embracing the natural elements of a site, making them an integral part of the project in hand. Not only do they demonstrate that environment, technology and architecture can be melded, they also show that the aesthetic results can be equally excellent.

Here, once again, the practice has produced a complex state-of-the-art facility that seconds the natural order of things and where man’s technical expertise imitates and resonates with the best natural features of the site without forcing itself on the landscape in the name of heedless aseptic progress. More than ten years ago I defined Stefan Behnisch’s work as a new trend in architecture, dubbing it “techno-natural”. Over the years though, the firm has so refined its design prowess that these two “made-in-Behnisch” features have now blended into a single element. Which exempts us from the need to attribute labels! What they build is simply what contemporary architecture should be - and more especially, what can be achieved without yielding to compromise.

Located on the new Allston Campus in Boston on the banks of the Charles River across from the historic Harvard University, the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) comprises an almost transparent two-story plinth that reaches southward as a staggered three-story terrace, creating a broad courtyard in scale with the surrounding urban fabric. Behind this low-lying fan-like volume rise the three main upper blocks connected by full-height recessed glazed columns.

With a surface area of some 49,000 sq. m, the SEC comprises classrooms, teaching labs and amenity spaces on the lower plinth floors while the offices and research labs of...

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