Maya Lin tapped for Novartis expansion, councillors say
The biotech company Novartis has tapped Maya Lin, the famed designer of the Vietnam War memorial “wall” in Washington, D.C., to help design its expansion in Cambridge’s Central Square, city officials said Monday.
The construction proposal includes a 140-foot building — as tall as some older buildings in Cambridge, but not in that area — and a research campus and courtyard, replacing a parking lot and vacant Analog Devices building on Massachusetts Avenue between Albany and Windsor streets, according to a letter from Jeff Lockwood, global head of communications for Novartis.
“Is Kendall Square’s density marching all the way to Central Square? Is that our view of the city? This really pushes the questions we’ve been having about vision,” councillor Henrietta Davis said.
Others, with the departure of Vertex Pharmaceuticals for Boston in mind, had fewer reservations about the project. “There is 10 percent unemployment out there. We are very lucky a business like Novartis is bringing new jobs to Cambridge,” councillor Leland Cheung said.
But it was Ken Reeves, the councillor most connected with development in Kendall and Central squares, that noted Lin’s involvement as another sign of Novartis’ string of successes in and for the city. Outside council chambers, councillor Sam Seidel confirmed Lin’s involvement.
“For me that is like a home run,” Reeves said of the company’s track record, including good architecture by a young, black, female architect and a proposal to bring more sidewalk dining to Central Square by hosting ground-floor restaurants in its workspace. “They have enlivened a whole part of the city and shown they know what they’re doing.”
Lin, who has an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1981 when she was a 21-year-old Yale undergrad. She runs Maya Lin Studio in New York City.
While the design of the war memorial —a stark wall of soldiers names sunk into the ground — was initially controversial, it has become a legendary piece of American architecture.
Novartis is the fifth-largest employer in the city. In 2009 it had nearly 2,000 workers here creating treatments for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, infectious disease and cancer.