Harvard’s new Science and Engineering complex is sheathed in hydroformed steel

Behnisch Architekten adopts sustainable design principles for the Science and Engineering Complex at Harvard’s Allston campus, reducing its carbon footprint by half.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jul 07, 2021

Within the context of an irreversible cycle of climate change and an unprecedented advancement in technology, architects are constantly in search of ways to use new, alternative materials and building technologies to deliver energy-efficient buildings. There is now a growing interest in adopting a multidisciplinary approach to design by combining knowledge from art, science, engineering, and technology. The Science and Engineering Complex at Harvard University’s new Allston campus in Boston across the Charles River is a fine example of sustainable architecture employed through the aid of cutting-edge building technology. This newly constructed eight-level, 544,000 square feet building by Germany-based Behnisch Architekten houses the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

  • The Science and Engineering Complex is built on Harvard’s new Allston campus in Boston | New Harvard building | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    The Science and Engineering Complex is built on Harvard’s new Allston campus in Boston Image: Brad Feinknopf
  • Located along Western Avenue, the building opens up on the other side to terraced gardens and an immense landscape populated with native species | New Harvard building | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    Located along Western Avenue, the building opens up on the other side to terraced gardens and an immense landscape populated with native species Image: Brad Feinknopf

In keeping with the university's dedication to environmentally conscious design, cross-disciplinary approach to research, a strong collaborative culture, and advanced academic and research activity, the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) is innovatively designed to deliver on all aforementioned fronts. With its distinct, clean form and sustainable design strategies, which significantly reduce the building’s heating, cooling, and lighting requirements, the building is envisioned to reflect the university’s aim of academic excellence and set a new precedent for future developments on the campus.

  • The complex and layered façade design of SEC is pivotal in maximising its energy efficiency and maintaining a comfortable temperature for the interior spaces | New Harvard building | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    The complex and layered façade design of SEC is pivotal in maximising its energy efficiency and maintaining a comfortable temperature for the interior spaces Image: Brad Feinknopf
  • The facade system is precisely designed to reduce the building’s overall energy load while also reflecting daylight deep into the interior spaces | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    The facade system is precisely designed to reduce the building’s overall energy load while also reflecting daylight deep into the interior spaces Image: Brad Feinknopf

Apart from its intended aesthetic value, SEC’s façade design plays a crucial role in further enhancing its overall energy performance, achieving a comfortable interior temperature for the occupants, and creating a strong architectural identity. Within the same complex assembly, different typologies of solutions for the treatment of the facade have been employed for different parts of the building to achieve maximum efficiency. 

  • A precisely fabricated 1.5 mm thick stainless-steel screen composed of 12,000 panels in 14 different profiles is used to encase the laboratory blocks | New Harvard building | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    A precisely fabricated 1.5 mm thick stainless-steel screen composed of 12,000 panels in 14 different profiles is used to encase the laboratory blocks Image: Brad Feinknopf
  • Schematic diagram indicating how the façade panels orientation help in maintaining the interior temperature of the building | New Harvard building | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    Schematic diagram indicating how the façade panels orientation help in maintaining the interior temperature of the building Image: Behnisch Architekten

The three laboratory blocks on the upper level are wrapped in a highly sophisticated and specialized 1.5 mm thick stainless-steel screen. A total of 12,000 panels in 14 different profiles are precisely fabricated and sculpted by hydroforming using pressurised water. This protects the interiors from harsh solar radiation during the summer months while allowing the winter sun to penetrate throughout the interior spaces, significantly reducing the building’s cooling and heating energy load during respective months. The screen also allows for a constant visual connection to the outside through the large punctures in its own edifice. The main entrances of the building with multi-storey spaces employ a steel frame system with triple glazing and openable windows at upper levels for ventilation of the interior public spaces. The two atriums sandwiched between the laboratory blocks have long-spanning glass walls whose structural and shading requirement is met with a custom-made shading device. When viewed from the street, the metal screen encasing the laboratory blocks helps break the monotony and create a visual break on the building’s 500 feet long façade abutting the street. 

The terrace gardens, the deep overhangs, and fixed horizontal sun-shading element all help in maintaining thermal comfort inside the building | New Harvard building | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
The terrace gardens, the deep overhangs, and fixed horizontal sun-shading element all help in maintaining thermal comfort inside the building Image: Brad Feinknopf

The lower two floors and the south facing terrace garden façade have a fully transparent floor to ceiling glazing. The fenestration here uses an aluminium system wherein two successive modules are glazed, while the third one is opaque with openable windows for natural ventilation. While also functioning as design elements, the vegetated roof terraces, the deep overhangs of the floor slabs and the fixed horizontal sun-shade help in maintaining thermal comfort inside the building.

To facilitate a more interactive and engaging culture, classrooms, amenities, and makerspaces are accommodated on the lower floors in proximity with the street and surrounding landscape | New Harvard building | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
To facilitate a more interactive and engaging culture, classrooms, amenities, and makerspaces are accommodated on the lower floors in proximity with the street and surrounding landscape Image: Brad Feinknopf

The spatial organisation of the building is defined by SEC’s aim to create an interactive space open to the public on the lower levels as they are closer to the street and the surrounding landscape while moving the more private functions on the upper levels. The lower floors accommodate the classrooms, makerspaces, teaching labs, and amenity spaces which are dedicated to showcasing student’s work, engaging the community, and providing collaborative spaces.

The interior spaces employ a monochromatic colour and material palette with only few furniture items brightly coloured | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
The interior spaces employ a monochromatic colour and material palette with only few furniture items brightly coloured Image: Brad Feinknopf

The upper levels, which are more secluded and secure, house the wet and dry research laboratories. Two and three-storey breakout spaces are created between the laboratory blocks for students and faculty to relax and interact. To maintain the dynamic nature of the building, interiors are designed to vary in size and layout, with fixed seating to flexible spaces which can be reorganised according to the requirement. The interior spaces follow a simple, monochromatic palette with hints of bright colours used for some internal walls, and furniture items.

  • The site plan indicating the location of the Science and Engineering Complex in the new Allston campus within the Harvard Institutional master plan boundary | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    The site plan indicating the location of the Science and Engineering Complex in the new Allston campus within the Harvard Institutional master plan boundary Image: Behnisch Architekten
  • The Ground floor layout of the building accommodating the classrooms, teaching labs, and seminar rooms | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    The Ground floor layout of the building accommodating the classrooms, teaching labs, and seminar rooms Image: Behnisch Architekten

Intended to be the greenest and “the healthiest building on the Harvard campus”, SEC is designed to meet the LEED platinum and Living Building Challenge standards. Unlike the other historic buildings on the campus, the Science and Engineering Complex, with its technologically advanced and sustainable design methods, is an important step forward and an affirmation of Harvard University’s vision of innovation and excellence.  

  • The south facing façade of the building which opens onto the surrounding landscape | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    The south facing façade of the building which opens onto the surrounding landscape Image: Behnisch Architekten
  • The North-South section of the building cutting across the landscape | Behnisch Architekten | STIRworld
    The North-South section of the building cutting across the landscape Image: Behnisch Architekten

Project Details

Name: Harvard University Science and Engineering Complex
Location: Allston, Massachusetts, USA
Gross Area: 544,000 ft2
Net Floor Area: 326, 450 ft2
Client: The President and Fellows of Harvard College
Architect: Behnisch Architekten, Boston
Design Team: Stefan Behnisch, and Robert Matthew Noblett (Principal Partners), Magdalena Czolnowska, Michelle Lee, Chup Chiu, Michael Cook, Yewon Ji, Heinrich Lipp, Niki Murata, Ryan Otterson, Laetitia Pierlot, Abigail Ransmeier, Jaime Sevilla Lugo, Martin Werminghausen, Piper Ainsley, Chang-Ping Pai, Abhishek Sakpal, Christian Voermann
Structural Consultant: Buro Happold, New York, NY / Boston, MA, USA
Climate Consultant: Transsolar Inc., New York, NY, USA
Façade Consultant: Knippers Helbig, GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany / New York, NY, USA
Landscape Consultant: Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects Cambridge, MA, USA
LEED Consultant: Thorton Thomasetti, Portland, ME, USA

(Text by Khushboo Patel, intern at stirworld.com)

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