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New Harvard Art Museum, Concerns

Posted by Geoff Edgers  February 5, 2007 05:25 PM

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Jeffrey Bryan, an Allston resident, has sent Harvard a letter with his concerns about the university's plans to build a new art museum at "Barry's Corner."

Bryan writes, in part:

...The reason given for rushing the start of this building is that Harvard needs to refurbish the Fogg and hence a need for storing that art collection during the reconstruction. Harvard needs an art storage facility/warehouse, which is fine but why put it in the middle of Barry’s Corner? With all the available land in North Allston, or elsewhere, that Harvard has purchased surely there is a more appropriate location.

On the other hand if Harvard was truly building an art museum that would be a significant cultural facility for the neighborhood and region then why out of a 130,000 sq. ft. building only 10,000 sq. ft., according to your last public presentation, is allocated for Gallery space? This small amount of space does not make a museum. Also, I think the architect’s idea of a roof garden is wonderful but why have it overlook Dunkin Donuts and neighbor’s backyards? Why try to cram a large building into this limited space? Let’s look at some possible alternatives before the rush to build something expedient rather then world class.

American University in Washington, D.C has built the Katzen Arts Center that has the same amount of space as you are proposing: 130,000 square feet. Their building has a 30,000 square foot Gallery, a 33,000 square foot Performing Arts Space, a 37,000 square foot Studio/Fine Arts Space, a 6,000 square foot Sculpture Garden, and only 13,00 square foot for Support Space. Now that would be more what the neighborhood, the city, and the region would call a significant cultural facility. Why not look at the land usage across the street where Harvard has the mail facility and build an Art museum there? You could take the Radcliffe Pottery Studio out of their small basement into a new space, still have a roof garden that would look out over Smith Field and perhaps a view of the river, and have enough outdoor space for a great sculpture garden/park like the Decordova or the Hirschorn plus gallery and performing arts spaces. Another example closer to home is the Porter Square Exchange Building in Cambridge. They have lively restaurants and retail shops on the first floor with Leslie University occupying the second floor. Harvard could have an interesting mix of retail and cultural in one space much like other museums, notably the MOMA and Guggenheim have successfully done. There are many other examples that could fulfill both Harvard’s and the community’s needs.

You need to go back to the drawing board and get this right. Harvard, with all its resources, can to do better for the neighborhood, for the city, and for itself.

Respectfully,

Jeffrey Bryan

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About Exhibitionist Geoff Edgers covers arts news for The Boston Globe..
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