Friday, December 11, 2009

Harvard Allston Science Complex: foundation and that's it

Under Lawrence Summers, Harvard University decided to spread across the river to Allston. Google maps will show you that Allston is on the Southwestern side of the Charles River while Cambridge, the main locus of Harvard, is on the Northeastern side of the same river.

This building by the Behnisch Architekten was supposed to be the Harvard Allston Science Complex, a future center of life sciences at Harvard. The USD 1 billion object on this locus near the Western Avenue would have had 49,000 squared meters of floor area above the ground and 14,000 additional square meters below the ground and all kinds of parking, energy, mechanical, loading facilities.

According to The Associated Press and others, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust announced that she will only build the foundations, and then terminate the project. Other officials gave the same recommendation. The altered financial landscape was cited as the reason.

From the peak around USD 37 billion, the endowment went to USD 26 billion in June 2009. However, I am confident that the figure may be back above USD 30 billion right now, unless the managers sold the assets when they were at the bottom.

Once again, I think it is stupid that the individuals and institutions with big resources in the black numbers (such as Harvard) use the "crisis" as a justification to reduce their investments while those that are deeply in the red (well, for example, the U.S. government) use the crisis to escalate their borrowing. It should be exactly the other way around, shouldn't it? The crises should be the moments when the subjects that have been in the red in the long run die or get heavily reduced, while those that have been in the black continue to thrive.

The endowment exists exactly because it should be consumed during the hard times such as those we have seen in 2009 - so that the long-term thinking, visions, and ambitions can be kept. On the other hand, one of the reasons why the debt exists is to tell the guys who owe a lot that they should really stop living above their means when things get serious - because these moments are the most appropriate ones to inform the indebted subjects that their lifestyle is unsustainable.

However, the natural selection is upside down in the world where we live: bad people, ideas, institutions, companies rule while the good ones are being systematically suppressed.

Thumbs down for the Harvard as well U.S. government officials. All of them just suck. The U.S. government is ready to follow the path of the Titanic - they think that the year with a USD 2 trillion deficit is a good time for a socialist healthcare and a fight against climate change, among other expensive idiocies - even though the government budget has clearly been unsustainable in the long run.

On the other hand, without a good reason, the Harvard University officials are abandoning the great visions of the once great university whose expected smooth, multi-centennial survival was being worked out by top scholars and managers in the past.

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