Tata Hall — Seeds of an evolving campus

Tata View from Kresge - by William Rawn Associates
Tata Hall View from Kresge - by William Rawn Associates

The decision to plant the Seed. In his path to immense business success, Ratan Tata came to HBS in 1975 and completed the Advanced Management Program.  So impressive were his career accomplishments that he was awarded our School’s highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, in 1995. Tata’s affinity to HBS was made quite obvious when, in 2010, he made the largest ever single donation to HBS. With it came the stipulation that a new building be constructed to further Harvard’s capability to educate future leaders. It was from this point that the first real impetus was given to build a new structure to house Harvard’s growing Executive Education program. The new structure would provide relief to Baker and McArthur Hall’s overflowing residence suites.

 Picking a Seed suitable to its surroundings. Mr. Tata and HBS agreed that a building that had a modern feel and was true to the architectural heritage of the Campus reflected HBS’s mantra as a cutting edge institute grounded in unchanging values. This building would be forward thinking and would honor the architectural legacy set by McKim Mead & White and the Olmsted Brothers. The result was a design that includes:

  • A mostly glass-walled ground floor that minimizes visual impairment of the river view and gives an inclusive feeling to the building (visually accessible to passers-by)
  • A light stone color for floors 2-7
  • 179 en-suite bedrooms (organized into apartment-style “living groups” where groups of 8 executives learn and live together)
  • Two 99-seat tiered classrooms (much like the ones most MBA students attend in Aldrich Hall)
  • Three main gathering spaces (an atrium, main lounge and pavilion)
  • A tunnel connection (an extension of the “Green line”)

With a footprint about the size of Spangler Hall, it is needless to say that this is a major project, and as such we will need to be prepared for the inevitable disruptions that will result. Work among HBS Operations, Executive Education, and the contractor has led to a plan that will create the minimal disruption possible to students, faculty, staff, and all other stakeholders on the HBS campus.

 Phase I: picking a location to plant the Seed <early Nov (’11) – Dec 5th(’11)>

Tata Hall will be nestled between McArthur, Kresge, and the Soldiers Field Park residences. You may have already noticed the construction fence on the field that has been put up in that area — its purpose is to delineate the separation between the off-limits construction area and the rest of campus. Our student parents may realize that this enclosure will impact the existing playground area next to SFP 2. Fret not! For the next two months, a temporary playground will be used, while the old playground is reshaped and renovated.

During this time, pedestrian access to the Weeks Bridge will be affected. From the SFP area, instead of walking directly through the field or on the path along Kresge & MacArthur, pedestrians will have two options. They can either go directly East (from SFP), connecting to Soldiers Field Road earlier than they would have otherwise. They will then walk along this path to reach Weeks Bridge. Or, they can go through campus via East Drive and then through the existing path between Kresge and McArthur.

 Phase II: watching the roots grow: <Dec 5th (’11) – Jan 9th (’12)>

There will be a 5 week period from December 5th to January 9th when this construction site will be a moderately noisy one. Construction teams will be driving “H piles” (long steel beams that have an “H” cross sectional shape) into the ground to link the building to the stable bedrock found a little deeper, below the fill and peat layers. The H piles connect Tata Hall to the bedrock (think of an oil rig in the ocean with its legs connecting it to the seafloor). The bad news is that this process is inherently loud.

There’s quite a lot of good news. First, the ground on this site is relatively soft, which means the pile driving will not be as loud. Second, the contractor will be employing best practices (turning the pile drivers away from the SFP complex) that will significantly reduce the noise level directed at campus. Lastly, the construction team has compressed this activity into a 5 week period when classes have finished and most of us are gone. They will be operating 5 days a week, from 7 AM to 3:30 PM.

Tata Campus Location - by William Rawn Associates
Tata Hall Campus Location - by William Rawn Associates

 Phase III: digging a pit around the roots <early Jan (’12) – late Feb (’12)>

Excavating a pit gives a building additional stability since part of the structure is anchored underground. During this period, our campus will experience significant truck traffic and some level of noise disruption as the trucks move mounds of earth off campus.

The construction team will first vibrate sheets of metal into the ground that will form the outer boundary of the pit that will be dug. These sheets form a water-proof boundary that stops water leaking into the excavation pit. That’s why we call the pit with the metal sheets around it a “Cofferdam.” And remember those H piles? They are used to anchor our building into the ground- without them the pressure from the water in the earth would cause our building to slowly pop out of the ground — much like a banana comes out of its peel if you pinch it from the sides.

In this period, disruptions will come in the form of heavy truck traffic and a slight smell. On average, 40-50 trucks will be entering and exiting our campus daily. My TOM skills tell me that’s a Cycle Time of ~10 minutes— lots of trucks passing through campus every day. To minimize the presence of those trucks, waiting trucks will be queued off campus (no waiting trucks on campus). Once cleared, trucks will come in off Western Avenue, continue straight past the taxi-stand, into the excavation site, pick up the excavated earth, and then exit through the visitor parking exit area.

 Another disruption will be the slight eggy smell coming from the sulfur in the peat that will be excavated. It will be a mild problem as it is a relatively shallow pit (no underground parking) and will not dig up much peat. Also, the construction team will be spraying a foam blanket over the pit to mitigate this problem. So if you smell something slightly eggy this Spring, don’t automatically assume it’s your neighbors bad cooking.

 Phase IV: out of the ground sprouts a Tree <early Mar (’12) – late Aug (’12)>

During the second half of Spring semester, between March and May, there will be continued heavy truck traffic as concrete is poured into the building’s foundation (these trucks will have a revolving drum on the back as opposed to an empty container during the excavation phase).

Expect less truck traffic starting around June when the building finally breaks ground, when you will see a steel “skeleton” gradually take shape. Corrugated steel sheets will be used for the floors on each level, and drywalls will create the floor plans within the building interior. During this phase, expect trucks carrying steel and drywall elements.

 Phase V: pruning the Tree < Sep (’12) – summer 2013>

By this time, the current RC’s will be EC’s, and current EC’s will have started their dream job in their dream industry. For Tata Hall, the building exoskeleton will be completed, and the “internal nervous system” (mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems) as well as external cosmetics (cladding) will be applied to the building. Expect minimal disruption during this period, as a screen will be placed around the building to minimize noise and any loose materials dirtying the immediate surroundings. Final touch ups related to landscaping (grass, trees, plants, walkway) will be made during the summer of 2013.

 Phase VI: the Tree bears fruit <early 2014 – …>

The building will go through inspections and testing before it is cleared for occupancy sometime around early 2014. While none of the current MBA students will still be students when this happens, many of us may one day use this facility in the Executive Education programs, and date ourselves, reminiscing about the fact that “in my day, I used to play flag football on the field that this very building was built on.”

There you have it. You now know each step in the construction of Tata Hall (great for cocktail drinks when company rep’s are asking what on Earth is going on with all the noise and trucks) as well as how it will impact your daily campus life. A website has been created for you to keep track of progress and be aware of any updates/alerts. Please access it at: https://inside.hbs.edu/Departments/operations/ourcampus/Pages/TataHall.aspx.


 Samir Mikati earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Civil Engineering before starting his career as a consultant in Bain & Company’s Dubai office. He is currently an RC Senator on the Housing Committee and is keen to keep the student body up-to-date about housing/construction activities.

If you have any housing related questions, please reach out to any member of the Housing Committee members- John Smith-Ricco, Jyot Bawa, Rodrigo Suarez, or Samir Mikati.