Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering (LISE)

Harvard University, Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS)

If, as many researchers contend, the future of academic science lies in breaking down the barriers between traditional disciplines, a stunning new building beginning to take shape along Oxford Street may become the most forward-looking to grace the Harvard campus—both in form and function.

Designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, the 135,000-square-foot structure known as the Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering, or LISE, provides a physical link between Harvard’s physics and Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS) communities, along with the Science Center. Architectural highlights include an unusual pearlescent façade that changes subtly with the day’s lighting, an underpinning of sculpted pedestals that skillfully preserves campus walkways, and an underground section designed to receive natural light.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences began site preparation for LISE in April and began construction of the foundation in August. LISE is scheduled for occupancy in the fall of 2006.

LISE bridges the gap between McKay, Pierce, Cruft, Lyman, Jefferson, and the Science Center, better integrating the scientific communities in each and replacing a small parking area that previously occupied the site. The new science hub is intended to boost collaboration in the areas of nanoscale and mesoscale science, the study of materials on an atomic scale or slightly larger.

The LISE project also indirectly benefits the Department of Music, whose building abuts the construction site; landscaping that is part of LISE construction is designed to accommodate an outdoor music performance space adjacent to the Music Building.

Laboratories are housed in the one-third of LISE that’s aboveground. The three-level basement houses a shared cleanroom (dust-free environment for microlithography and nanofabrication), facilities for materials synthesis, and a microscopy suite—all applications that are best situated far from outside light and vibrations. Also among LISE’s most eagerly awaited features is a ground-floor café and patio that give scientists from different disciplines a central place to meet and discuss their work. “This is a major improvement to the backyard of the Science Center,” says Professor of Physics Charles M. Marcus, who has been intimately involved in planning for LISE.

That’s not to say that two-thirds of LISE remain forever dark and gloomy, however. Several ingenious design features serve to bring natural light underground. The aboveground part of the building rests on three hollow pedestals, whose glass exterior walls serve to funnel light to the lower levels. Also, two of the four sides of the underground portion are exposed and lined with windows—essentially creating an L-shaped “moat” or light corridor around the portions of the underground perimeter facing McKay and the Science Center.

“What the building really does best of all—and I think Rafael Moneo would agree—is to solve a huge number of technical and logistical problems associated with putting a technically sophisticated building into a dense space, without losing any of its elegance and uniqueness,” Marcus says. “It really is a great achievement.”

The building envisioned by Moneo—winner of the 1996 Pritzker Award, architecture’s version of the Nobel Prize—promises to be a masterpiece. Its design succeeds in preserving the integrity of the system of campus “streets” developed decades ago by architect and former Graduate School of Design Dean Josep Lluis Sert. While the building’s footprint rests squarely on a well-traveled pathway that proceeds northward across the Cambridge Street overpass and through the Science Center, the path is spared by LISE’s placement on the three slender pedestals, which conform exactly to the existing walkway.

Because the building hovers atop these pedestals, Moneo—the architect behind the Los Angeles Cathedral, renovations to the Prado in Madrid, and the Davis Art Museum at Wellesley College—avoided a top-heavy stone or brick design that might have been more in keeping with some of the older neo-Georgian structures nearby. Instead, he chose to follow the lead of the mirrored curtain wall of McKay, creating a crystalline, architecturally airy structure in the process. Crisp and gutsy, the ultramodernist structure is clad in a treated multilayer glass that changes color with the sky while avoiding the excessive sparkle and glare sometimes associated with structures sheathed in glass curtain walls.

The five-story aboveground portion of LISE nestles into the northwestern corner of McKay, filling the niche between that building, Cruft, and Lyman. The much larger underground portion of the building occupies a more sizable footprint, set beneath the courtyard that now exists between McKay, the Music Building, and the rear of the Science Center. As part of the project, the courtyard surface is regraded flush with the north entrance of the Science Center, eliminating several stairs and further enhancing Sert’s “street” linking Harvard Yard with the science buildings further north.

LISE is one of a group of new science developments in the North Yard that has pulled Harvard and community residents closer together. This year Harvard and the Agassiz neighborhood formalized a working relationship in a Memorandum of Understanding affirming that new academic facilities can serve both Harvard’s and Agassiz’s interests so long as significant impacts are mitigated, the community is enhanced, and long-term predictability of future development is established for both the University and community. Among the community benefits negotiated in the memorandum is that Harvard continues to enhance its support of science education in the Cambridge public schools as new science buildings like LISE are created.

—Steve Bradt, Harvard Gazette, June 2004