MDes students design, build first-ever installation at the Grove in North Allston

Current project rendering of WE ALL, designed by a trio of Harvard GSD Master in Design Studies students.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design announces an inaugural design-build installation at the Grove, a publicly accessible green space located at the nexus of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue in Allston, expected to open to the public in summer 2017. The chosen design, entitled WE ALL, was selected through 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.

The WE ALL team comprises three GSD students in the Master in Design Studies (MDes) program: Francisco Alarcon (MDes ’18); Carla Ferrer Llorca (MDes ’17); and Rudy Weissenberg (MDes ’18). They are working with Daniel Borelli (MDes ’12), Director of Exhibitions, and Daniel D’Oca (MUP ’02), Associate Professor in Practice of Urban Planning.

WE ALL will be the first built project to occupy a newly expanded section of the Grove. It calls for a communal open space framed by a segmented, vibrantly colored wall, comprising hundreds of plexi-glass tubes that illuminate at night to create a lively and dynamic atmosphere. Amarillo-yellow ground paint and wooden benches activate the corner as a gathering space.

Production of WE ALL is currently underway off-site, and the finished installation will measure nearly 200 feet long and six feet tall, framing 7,000 square feet of gathering space. An opening event will be held upon completion this summer. The space will be free and open to the public thereafter.

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.”

“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.”

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 competition jury comprises: Dan Borelli (MDes ’12), Director of Exhibitions, Harvard GSD; Dan D’Oca (MUP ’02), Associate Professor in Practice of Urban Planning, Harvard GSD; Jo-Ann Barbour, Executive Director, Charlesview Residences and Charlesview, Inc.; Silvia Benedito (MAUD ’04), Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard GSD; Bridgitt Evans, Co-founder and President, VIA Art Fund; Gary Hilderbrand (MLA ’85), Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture, GSD; Marika Reuling, Chief of Staff to the Executive Vice President, Harvard University; Jeffrey Schnapp, Founder/Faculty Director of metaLAB (at) Harvard; and Elizabeth Sisam, Associate Vice President for Planning, Harvard University.

The Grove opened as a public space in August 2014. It was designed by Hilderbrand.

“I like to think of the Grove as the middle—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.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for WE ALL will be held in summer 2017, with details to come. Please visit the project’s webpage for further details.