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Embracing the endless potential of an adaptable space, this lab serves as a blank canvas upon which artists from all disciplines can bring their visions to life

Harvard ArtLab

Harvard University
Allston, MA
9,000 SF
Barkow Leibinger
©Iwan Baan
Additional Services
Interior Design
Completed 2018
Boston Society of Architects, Honor Awards for Design Excellence, Citation

Sasaki, in collaboration with Barkow Leibinger, worked with Harvard University to design the new ArtLab—a cross-curriculum space for the arts, located on the school’s Allston campus. Designed to be curated and adapted by its users, the 9,000 square-foot space is available to students, teachers, visiting artists, and the broader community. The building serves as an activator for this part of the campus, while providing much needed overflow spaces for the arts in all of their diversity on campus.

The driving concept and programmatic idea behind the ArtLab is to provide space dedicated to art making across different disciplines and forms of media. Conceived of as a laboratory for the arts, the building offers space for artistic and interdisciplinary collaborations, experimentation, and innovation, to Harvard’s faculty and students, and  also to the wider community. While the spaces are largely conceived of for art making and production, they are also expected to be used for gatherings, rehearsal, performance, and exhibition. The building is organized in a pinwheel configuration—it arrays artist’s studios, workshops, and media spaces around a common “Hub” space that frames artistic interactivity at the building’s center.  This central Hub space can be programmed in a flexible manner: the high-bay large span space can be opened or closed by a series of large sliding partitions, and daylight can be controlled to allow for a variety of uses, activities, and performance. Surrounding spaces provide recording studios, sound-editing stations, and rooms for rehearsal, improvisation, and informal performance.

The building is light and industrial in character, in-line with its use and intention. It sits on an open and porous site that encourages pedestrians to “short cut” through from North Harvard Street to Academic Way through its site or vice versa. The building sits as a “beacon” along North Harvard Street, drawing activity from Harvard’s historic Cambridge campus across the river to the community of Allston. On the exterior, the ArtLab provides additional program spaces in the ArtYard, for the making and experimentation of artwork outside. The geometries of the outdoor spaces are defined by the expanding lines of the building’s pinwheel configuration.

The building, which complies with Massachusetts’ high energy-efficiency standards, is constructed of lightweight steel columns and open web steel trusses on a concrete slab on grade. Framing is mechanically fastened, able to be assembled and disassembled easily and efficiently, allowing for the building to be transferred and given a second life when needed. The steel frame is clad in transparent insulated glass and lightweight high-insulating polycarbonate panels. These panels range from transparent to translucent to opaque, exploiting diffused natural light and a street-level view by day, emerging as a glowing “light box” by night. These materials emphasize the building’s ephemerality while providing a robust and adaptable space for the arts. The building relies entirely on electricity—no fossil fuels are supplied to the building. Energy is produced on site via a roof mounted photovoltaic array, and the building is designed with the goal of achieving Zero-Net-Energy.

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