Renovation Update: It’s Actually Wood

September 6, 2013
A view of the Harvard Art Museums renovation and expansion project, showcasing the new Prescott Street wood facade. Photo: Antoinette Hocbo.

If you’re returning to campus this fall, you may have noticed the striking facade of the new wing, designed by Renzo Piano. People keep asking us, “What’s it made of?” We’ve heard various guesses, such as ceramic, corrugated cardboard, and steel. You might be surprised to know that it’s actually Alaskan Yellow Cedar. A common reply we get is “That’s wood?”

Renzo Piano arrived at his choice of wood after a great deal of research. He wanted a material that would fit in with the residential neighborhood and distinguish itself from both the brick of our historic building and the concrete of the Carpenter Center next door. He picked cedar because it is certified for the sustainable nature of its cultivation and harvesting by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit organization that protects forests for future generations.

Working with wood scientist Ron Anthony, the design team chose the cedar for a number of structural reasons as well. It’s a dense, straight-grained species, which makes it resistant to abrasion from weathering and to fungal and insect attack. Its toughness makes the wood easy to cut and mill to exact shapes and sizes. Its stability reduces the likelihood of warping, twisting, shrinking, and splitting, and the cedar has a documented history of excellent performance in challenging climates.

Yes, that’s wood.

  • of The Alaskan Yellow Cedar siding of the Harvard Art Museums renovation and expansion project. Photos: Zak Jensen. 
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