by Anmol AhujaMay 23, 2022
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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)