Harvard Graduate School of Design
Mariano Gómez Luque
Cambridge is a green city. The blocks are literally surrounded by trees, which define a kind of dense, almost spongy tissue. Harvard campus is not the exception: strategically located, it is the picture of a delicate and precise mix of sobriety and sophistication. Its buildings are both sober and imposing, but they do not necessarily convey an uniform atmosphere; instead, they are families of autonomous entities, completely different in terms of form and style, which constitute an eclectic collection of episodes articulated and connected by a complex network of green interstitial spaces. Somehow, the tension between their individualities is counteracted by the homogeneity of the yard. What if we accentuated their inherent individuality by introducing a new “alien” element to the existing group? What if we created a radically different component as a form of mediation between the uniformity of the yard and the uniqueness of the buildings in order to reinforce both identities?
The new Center of Contemporary Architecture is located right next to the Gund Hall. It is by nature an interconnective device which adds new program without consuming ground, enhances the void of the yard without occupying it, and reinforces the existing building’s singularities without directly competing with them. It is a structure suspended over the ground which is visible from different points of the campus, and that paradoxically enhances and qualifies of the void of the yard by making its presence more explicit and noticeable.
Programmatically, it is a continuous ring that allows maximum flexibility by introducing the possibility of segmentation into smaller spaces of exhibition which can function both autonomously or in connection with the Gund Hall and the CGIS building.
Structurally, it is a metallic nest supported by two escalators and two bridges that anchor it to the adjacent buildings, and that together follow the principle of a reciprocal structure (a self-supporting entity made of three or more beams and which requires no center support). Such primary support structure generates a second ring inside that is defined by the materialization of the lines that connect the four points of access to the building, which is, at the same time, the system of circulation. Therefore, the sequence of shifting roles of support elements, programmatic components and circulation paths dislocates the conventional meaning of both structure and program, since there is a fluctuation from one condition to the other in the same organism.
The CCA introduces an element of instability on an otherwise extremely elegant and peaceful campus, and maybe can insinuate more of the real -and perhaps hidden under a heavy veil of prestige- daring and experimental nature of one of the most innovative universities in the world.