A Place to Gather 

A gift from David Rubenstein will establish Harvard’s first University-wide conference center, adding a dynamic, sustainable hub of convening and collaboration to campus

Rendering of David Rubenstein Treehouse

A Place to Gather

The seeds of Harvard’s planned Enterprise Research Campus in Allston are starting to grow with the announcement of the David Rubenstein Treehouse. When completed, this state-of-the-art, nature-inspired conference center will provide new spaces for undergraduate, graduate, and executive education students across Harvard’s Schools to learn, reflect, and connect with the entire University. It will also serve as a venue for collaboration with government, industry, and world leaders. 

Announced in December 2022, the conference center is made possible by a gift from Harvard Corporation member and philanthropist David Rubenstein. A longtime Harvard volunteer leader, Rubenstein chairs Harvard’s Global Advisory Committee, the Harvard Kennedy School Dean’s Executive Board, and Harvard Business School’s Board of Dean’s Advisors, and he led recent capital campaigns for both Schools as well as the University. Over the years, Rubenstein has given generously to Harvard and to support the arts, health care, education, and the restoration of several national monuments.

“I am honored to help Harvard with a conference center that will serve as a convening place for academic and business visitors, as well as Harvard faculty and students, at the exciting new Enterprise Research Campus Harvard is building in Allston,” says Rubenstein. “Even with all that is possible virtually today, having a space to come together and collaborate unlocks the potential of the brightest minds. I appreciate Larry Bacow’s commitment to the future of Harvard, the Enterprise Research Campus, and Allston.”

The David Rubenstein Treehouse will include multiuse gathering spaces throughout as well as a public ground floor where members of both the local community and the Harvard community can engage and interact. The Harvard facility will provide an affordable convening option and a focal point for programs ranging from international summits to alumni events, conference receptions, and workforce recruiting activities.

“David and I have had many wonderful conversations about Allston’s role in Harvard’s future. With this generous gift to support a world-class conference center, he is helping to bring together entrepreneurship, innovation, and research for the benefit of everyone,” says Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow JD ’76, MPP ’76, PhD ’78. “David is a true friend—to Harvard and to me—and I am deeply grateful.”

David Rubenstein

An Enterprising Endeavor

The David Rubenstein Treehouse is part of the “Phase A” development of the Enterprise Research Campus (ERC), a critical element of Harvard’s plans in Allston led by developer Tishman Speyer. The ERC consists of 900,000 square feet of mixed-use development, including residential areas—25 percent of which will be affordable housing—offices and labs, a hotel, restaurants, and retail locations, as well as new publicly accessible open and green spaces. Contributing to a thriving neighborhood that is home to academia, engaging public and community venues, and the arts and sciences, the ERC is part of an emerging corridor of creativity driving economic growth and innovation along Western Avenue. 

Jeanne Gang MArch ’93—lead architect of Phase A and founding principal of Studio Gang, a world-renowned architecture and urban design firm headquartered in Chicago with offices in New York, San Francisco, and Paris—says the center is designed as a beacon and welcoming “front door” to the ERC, reimagining the conference center as a low-carbon, community-centered hub for convening. An alumna of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Gang is also a professor in practice at the GSD, where her areas of focus are sustainability, reuse, and resiliency. 

As its name suggests, the building’s design was informed by the branching structure of a tree and the experience of climbing up into and inhabiting a treehouse. Wood, a renewable material, will serve as a core component of the building’s design aesthetic and sustainability approach. Most notably, the building will use mass timber for its above-ground structure instead of conventional concrete or steel, the manufacture of which emits significant carbon. The wood columns and beams will be part of an open, transparent interior that showcases the building’s sustainable design from an embodied carbon standpoint.  

Gang notes that the building adheres to Harvard’s Healthier Building standards and the University’s Sustainability Plan. This all-electric building will receive its power from Harvard’s lower-carbon, climate-resistant District Energy Facility. The building’s roof and bioswales will be used to harvest rainwater, and its photovoltaics will provide an alternative clean power source. The building will also be integrated into the ERC’s Greenway plan.

“Here, we felt this convergence,” says Gang, “a confluence of momentum around sustainability and convening that led to this incredible building, which will embody both of those aspects.”  

{ Q+A }

Jeanne Gang

An architect and MacArthur Fellow who was named WSJ. Magazine’s 2022 Architecture Innovator and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2019, Jeanne Gang discusses the vision behind the David Rubenstein Treehouse.

Jeanne Gang

Q: How is the David Rubenstein Treehouse situated within Harvard’s campus and the Allston community more broadly?

A: Because this building is part of the Phase A development of the larger plan for the Enterprise Research Campus (ERC), we wanted it to create a dense cluster of activity that could make the area feel vibrant from day one. The conference center will be compact and pedestrian-scaled, with a transparent ground level that makes it feel open and welcoming.

In addition, we’ve enhanced an existing plan to create a Greenway that connects Allston and the ERC to the Charles River, making this outdoor space larger and adding functionality. From a landscape design perspective, we collaborated with SCAPE [a landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco] to consider the many ways in which the Greenway can be used and to make sure it’s active all year round with seasonal programming. We also established bike, pedestrian, and auto connections along Western Avenue to make the building very accessible from that side as well.

Q: How did you approach the design to support the conference center as a place to convene and exchange ideas?

A: Conference facilities are often completely closed off from their surroundings or are part of a larger structure, like a hotel. This one will be different—conversations and exchanges happening inside will be elevated by the spatial environment that’s strongly connected with the outdoors. That’s why together with Harvard and Tishman Speyer, we wanted the building to be freestanding and visually notable, a beacon.

The interior reflects this as well. The third-floor gathering space, for example, feels almost suspended within the surrounding tree canopy, like being in a tree house—a very special destination. The building’s visible mass timber columns and beams emphasize the branching structure; you can see the V-shaped columns reaching out and the diagonals of the cross-bracing reach all the way to the roof, becoming finer the higher they rise.

The elevated meeting space is further enhanced with natural daylight, great views, and a balcony where you can step outside and look out over the landscape and the campus. I hope the design will encourage collaboration and fluid communication, setting up the kind of open-minded interactions that can help solve some of the most pressing problems in the world.

People will be attracted to this facility and want to convene here—not just in the designated conference spaces but also along the different pathways we’ve designed: the central staircase and elevators and the open mezzanine. These are all places that encourage serendipitous encounters and conversation.

Q: How has nature inspired your work?

A: Living structures provide so many clues for design. For this building, the tree and its branching patterns inform our structural ideas, while the efficient systems found in nature inspire our water harvesting and sustainable approach to services. Designing architecture is also like designing a habitat that must serve the culture of the organization and be a part of the place where it is located. Practicing architecture gives you the opportunity to marry your own interests with the field’s history and values—and I learn a lot by observing nature, but I also think that we humans are part of it, not separate from it. With my students, we try to see architecture as an ecology—that is, how buildings can create relationships among people, but also among humans, our environment, and the larger networks of living things.

Q: How did your experiences as a GSD alumna and faculty member inform how you approached this project?  

A: My familiarity with the campus and Allston was very beneficial, as was my experience studying at Harvard—especially knowing the weather! There are times when we want to use outdoor spaces fully, but then there is a desire for cozy indoor spaces as well. So, it was really about providing a variety of indoor and outdoor opportunities for students and visitors.

Thinking long-term about the campus and how it connects to—or doesn’t connect to—certain spaces in the city certainly informed my approach as well. The Greenway’s connectivity will be very critical as the campus grows. As an alumna and faculty member of the GSD, I can see how the program of this building will accelerate collaboration and invention, offering a convening space that serves cohorts from different Schools and visitors.

The way I practice is strongly aligned with the habits of mind I developed while at the GSD—like trying to find the right questions for the project to address. What are the significant things it can accomplish besides being a beautiful building? What are the boundaries it can push? Here, we felt this convergence—a confluence of momentum around sustainability and convening—that led to this incredible building, which will embody both of those aspects.

Harvard’s Innovation District

Building on Harvard’s long-standing presence in Allston, new campus additions are creating opportunities for creativity and collaboration—strengthening Harvard’s mission and laying the foundation for future discoveries. 

Allston Map


  1. Harvard Ed Portal (opened in 2008)
  2. American Repertory Theater (coming soon)
  3. Harvard ArtLab (opened in 2019)
  4. Harvard Stadium (opened in 1903)
  5. Science and Engineering Complex (opened in 2021)
  6. Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence (established in 2022)  
  7. Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab (opened in 2016)
  8. Harvard i-lab (opened in 2011)
  9. Launch Lab X GEO (opened in 2018)
  10. Harvard Business School (established in 1908)
  11. Enterprise Research Campus (coming soon)
  12. David Rubenstein Treehouse (coming soon)
  13. District Energy Facility (opened in 2019)