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A temporary gig with Harvard

May 21, 2006|Scott Timberg

EASTERNERS visiting Southern California typically used to focus on dusty palm trees and ribbons of concrete. But recently, a trip to the Southland helped persuade Harvard University officials to hire the Santa Monica architectural firm Daly Genik to design a temporary art museum for the university in two existing buildings in Allston-Brighton, Mass. The firm beat a number of major operations, including Mexico City's Enrique Norten and Santa Monica's Morphosis, for the project.

"It's one of these funny circumstances where new cities have a story to tell, places with a much longer urban history," Daly Genik principal Kevin Daly says. "I think public access and connection of the site to the neighborhood is really important to Allston."

Daly Genik, whose projects are sometimes called "reclamations," is best known locally for the renovation for the Art Center College of Design's South Campus of a former World War II aircraft wind tunnel. The result has been hailed for its raw aesthetics, connection to the neighborhood and environmental sustainability.

Starting in 2008, the new museum will house most of Harvard's permanent collection while the university's Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums close for refurbishment by Renzo Piano. The museum might then become the nucleus of an arts-and-science campus.

Harvard Art Museums director Thomas Lentz toured both South Campus and the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, which Daly Genik refurbished from an old mini-mall. "Their ability to transform [the sites] into something completely new and different was, I thought, astonishing," Lentz told the Boston Globe. He said he hoped to "catch somebody on their way up."

Daly says there's another reason a Southern California firm may have made sense for Harvard: L.A., led by Frank Gehry's design for the Museum of Contemporary Art's interim building, has become a kind of world capital for temporary art spaces.

"There's a tradition in California architecture of examining what the true definition of interim is," says Daly. "A lot of the buildings out here fall into a zone between permanent and provisional."

-- Scott Timberg

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