Harvard Creates Mass Timber University-wide Conference Centre

16 April 2024

Harvard has announced the creation of its first University-wide conference center, a state-of-the-art convening and innovation hub that will serve as a universally accessible “front door” to welcome visitors to the University’s planned Enterprise Research Campus (ERC) in Allston.

Named in recognition of philanthropist David Rubenstein, the David Rubenstein Treehouse will be a venue for sharing and learning across disciplines and for collaboration with government, industry, and world leaders. A gift from Rubenstein will support the creation of the Center. He has a long history of giving and service to Harvard, including as a leader in the Harvard Campaign, and has served as a member of the Harvard Corporation since 2017.

As its name suggests, the building’s design was informed by the branching structure of a tree, and the experience of climbing up into and inhabiting a treehouse. “The building’s visible mass timber columns and beams emphasize the branching structure — you can see the V-shaped columns extending out and the diagonals of the cross-bracing reach all the way to the roof, becoming finer the higher they rise,” said Gang. The resulting spaces on the upper levels “feel almost suspended within the surrounding tree canopy, like being in a treehouse — a very special destination.” Gang describes them as being enhanced “with natural daylight, great views, and a balcony where you can step outside and look out over the landscape and the campus.” The building will also be integrated into the ERC’s Greenway plan.

Wood, a renewable material, will serve as a core component to the building’s design aesthetic and sustainability approach. Most notably, the building will use mass timber for its above-ground structure instead of conventional concrete or steel, the manufacture of which emits significant carbon. The wood columns and beams will be part of an open interior, showcasing the building’s sustainable design, Gang explained. “Visitors will really be able to see it and feel it — and know that they are in a timber building.”

Gang said she hopes her design helps “encourage collaboration and fluid communication, setting up the kinds of open-minded conversations that can help solve some of the most pressing problems in the world.”

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