Architecture in a Class of Its Own

August 27, 2014
The new Harvard Art Museums facility

This November, when we open our new facility, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, our rich collections will be put to work as a teaching and learning resource for students, faculty, scholars, and the public. But even with the doors closed, our building at 32 Quincy Street has been offering educational opportunities.

On a sunny afternoon earlier this month, Charlie Klee, principal at Payette (the local architectural firm working with Renzo Piano Building Workshop), and Peter Atkinson, our director of facilities planning and management, discussed the Harvard Art Museums renovation project with a group of students in a Harvard Summer School class, The Architecture of Boston.

“The theme of the course is how Boston pushes to the future to be a contemporary place, but at the same time how it preserves and protects its cherished historic spaces,” said instructor Alexander von Hoffman. “Right now on Harvard’s campus, we have a Renzo Piano building, which is a perfect example of this. What a great opportunity.”

During the class, Klee and Atkinson spoke of the challenges of renovating the historical, “idiosyncratic” Fogg Museum building. Klee pointed out the various additions made to the original building over the years to accommodate evolving needs. He also outlined the key elements of its transformation into a 21st-century teaching and research institution.

But for this group of students, perhaps the most compelling part of the class was getting a view into Renzo Piano’s process—from his consideration of the defining features of Harvard’s campus to his very visible integration of function and design.

At the end of class, Klee took the students on a tour of the exterior of the building. For many, it quickly became clear why this has been the project of a lifetime.

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