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Student-designed “WE ALL” debuts in Allston

The Harvard Graduate School of Design announces the opening of “WE ALL,” an inaugural design-build installation at the Grove in North Allston. “WE ALL” is first built project to occupy a newly expanded section of the Grove, a site at the intersection of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue that serves as an entry point from Cambridge into Allston. It was designed by Master in Design Studies trio Francisco Alarcon (MDes '18), Carla Ferrer Llorca (MDes '17), and Rudy Weissenberg (MDes '18), and was selected via a two-stage competition in Fall 2016.

“WE ALL” presents a communal open space framed by a segmented, vibrantly colored wall, comprising hundreds of PVC and plexi-glass tubes that illuminate at night to create a lively and dynamic atmosphere. Amarillo-yellow ground paint and a series of benches activate the corner as a gathering space.

“WE ALL” triumphed in a two-stage GSD student design competition initiated in November 2016, in partnership with the Harvard University Office of the Executive Vice President, Harvard Campus Services, Harvard Planning Office, Graffito SP, and the Zone 3 initiative. Production of “WE ALL” commenced in March 2017 and concluded in late August, with the finished installation measuring nearly 200 feet long and eight feet tall, framing 7,000 square feet of gathering space.

“Public art at Harvard makes our campus a unique destination,” says Marika Reuling, jury member and Chief of Staff to Harvard University’s Executive Vice President. “This project is an exciting capstone to our efforts to create the Grove and enhance the public realm in Allston for the benefit of the University community and the neighborhood. It creates a moment for spontaneous conversation, community building, and joy in the urban environment. And it extends the intellectual life of our university far beyond the classroom walls.”

As the competition jury noted, the “WE ALL” student design team best responded to the core competition ideal: merging art, design, and interaction, while also considering the context of the neighborhood and its residents and stakeholders. The jury weighed a variety of other factors, including project feasibility, community activation, and aesthetic appeal, among others.

“In this moment,” says Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design at the GSD, “we have a special opportunity to create a space together with our neighbors that fosters commonality and connectivity, speaks to the history and vibrancy of the Allston neighborhood, and advances the intellectual project of the GSD. It is our hope that this project is not only aesthetically beautiful, but also a testament to the community-building powers of design and public art.”

In its competition submission, the team states that the “ALL” in the project title is intended as a shortening of “Allston,” meant in turn to generate a moment of introspection and encourage a participatory reconstruction of its identity. By adding the “WE,” they aim to suggest inclusivity, diversity, and representation.

“This statement hopes to stir a sense of locality, pride, and responsibility,” the team writes. “It is a spatial, empathetic embrace.”

Central to the competition process was a community-engagement exercise required of each team, calling for students to interview members of the Allston-Brighton neighborhood in order to better understand what they wish to see at this public site. Community members were invited to an exhibition of the competition’s five finalist proposals, and offer their feedback, during a public exhibition in February 2017.

The Grove opened as a public space in August 2014. Its first phase of work was guided by landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand, Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture at the GSD, who served on the jury for the competition.

“I like to think of the Grove as the middle of Barry’s Corner—the middle of everything. It’s a gathering space and crossroads—both literally and figuratively,” Hilderbrand said in 2014. “It is part of the future of North Allston.”

“WE ALL” represents not only the first built project at the Grove, but also a critical milestone for the Harvard-sparked Zone 3 initiative. The hub of Zone 3 activity is currently the series of buildings at 267 Western Avenue. Formerly a dry-cleaning facility and an auto-body garage, these buildings were transformed in 2015 through Harvard-led efforts.

Recent Zone 3-inspired activities have included outdoor movie nights with the Brattle Theater, innovative art installations, community fitness classes, and pop-up cultural and retail events. Zone 3 continues to explore new programs and canvasses, all as part of Harvard’s effort to connect the creativity and energy of the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to its ongoing cultural and academic work at the Harvard Ed Portal, on Harvard’s campus, and throughout the community.