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This Striking Design Is More Than Just a Façade

Harvard’s new science complex responds to the sun, admitting solar heat in winter, shading in summer, and allowing daylighting all year long.
Paula Melton
June 30, 2021

stainless steel facade of Harvard Science and Engineering Complex
Photo: Brad Feinknopf/OTTO. Used with permission.
Project: Harvard University Science and Engineering Complex

Size: 544,000 ft2

Type: Academic building that includes teaching and research labs, classrooms, and a library

Owner: Harvard University (Allston, Massachusetts campus)

Architect: Behnisch Architekten

MEP engineer: Van Zelm Heywood and Shadford Inc.

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Contractor: Turner Construction

In architecture, the sun can be your friend or your enemy. It all depends on how you design the building to respond to its position at different times of the day and the year.

Harvard University’s new Science and Engineering Complex features a unique way of managing the sun: a striking stainless-steel screen admits solar heat gain in winter and rejects it in summer while also allowing daylight into the building all year round. This short video shows how the screen was hydroformed and precision-machined in order to do the job just right.

The complex is certified LEED Platinum—quite a feat for a building that incorporates multiple laboratories, including both teaching and research labs. Classrooms, offices, a library, maker spaces, and common areas round out the program. The project is also achieved Living Building Challenge (LBC) Materials Petal certification. In its pursuit of the petal, the team vetted more than 3,000 products.

The project reuses stormwater onsite, relies on hydronic heating and cooling, and has several acres of green roof for occupant enjoyment. The building was raised two feet to support flood resilience.

daylit interior of Harvard Science and Engineering Complex
Photo: Brad Feinknopf/OTTO. Used with permission.

Date updated: 
Wednesday, June 30, 2021

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July 1, 2021 - 8:38 am

I'd love to see the daylighting models that helped dertermine the shape/configuration of the panels, and what choices went into where these would be used.

I also am having a gut response to use of stainless steel. A great product, absolutely, but also very high in carbon intensity. An institutional building has a longer life, so the investment was liley assessed - Did this project have a carbon budget? 

June 30, 2021 - 8:03 pm

The metal screens are a brilliant solution for solar control. I wonder if the facade was tested in a wind tunnel for flutter and acoustics (the perforations could whistle under certain circumstances)

June 30, 2021 - 5:06 pm

I worry about keeping this building clean.