Renewed, and New

Adapting and changing, Harvard undergoes a building boom.

The university is now clearly embarked on an historic spurt of physical growth and transformation. Even before a shovel of earth is turned in Allston, where enormous campus expansion is envisioned, work just completed, under way, or about to start in other Harvard precincts suggests a building boom not seen since the growth of the 1960s and ’70s (see "Harvard by the Numbers"). But during the past year, the nature of that activity has changed, as an agenda of renovation projects aimed at student amenities and undergraduate life has suddenly come together, promising a rapid-fire adaptation, reuse, and renovation of many familiar College haunts. That burst of construction—much of which will be in full swing this summer—coexists with the long-planned creation of new academic space, particularly in the sciences, and additional University housing, particularly for graduate students.

Under ground and on columnar "stilts," the LISE building will frame a new science quad.
Computer rendering courtesy of Harvard FAS Communications Office

The College is in an especially student-friendly mood these days. At spring break, a renovation of the Quadrangle Recreation and Athletic Center began; by the time classes resume this fall, a former basketball court will have been transformed into split-level rehearsal space and a performance venue for the active undergraduate dance program. (It lost its current home, in the old Rad­cliffe gym, as part of the terms of creating the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study). Hilles Library is also in for a makeover: the library is being downsized to a single floor, and the remaining space will become the home of student activities, organization offices, and casual meeting areas.

Downtown, so to speak, the summer will also bring about three other projects of immediate interest to student users. Just after Commencement, Sever Hall—the orangey brick classroom building to the right of the Commencement stage—will be prepped for a thorough exterior renovation, and the top floor will be remade into film and video studios and offices for the burgeoning film concentration; beyond careful historical and architectural studies, the exterior work will require a high level of expertise in masonry, metalwork, and other skilled building crafts. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and Harvard Law School are also cooperating, financially and otherwise, on a stem-to-stern renovation of Hemenway Gymnasium (at left) this summer, to assure that young scholars, barristers-to-be, and their faculty mentors can keep physically fit in comfort, without having to get themselves over to the Malkin Athletic Center or across the river to the main athletic facilities. Finally, in what will be a remarkable feat of urban engineering, the all-but-collapsing Hasty Pudding Theatre will be shorn of everything but its façade, making way for the delicate two-year construction of a wholly new 272-seat theater within the current building’s footprint (see "Brevia"). Expect a couple of years of din and daring crane work in the narrow con-fines of Holyoke Street.

A refurbished Hemenway Gymnasium will provide more attractive physical-fitness space.
Computer rendering courtesy of Harvard FAS Communications Office and Sasaki Associates


Meanwhile, FAS, the faculty with the most large-scale new construction in the works, has hardly taken a breather since dedicating the renovated Widener Library last fall. The transgenic-mouse laboratory facility, underneath the Biological Laboratories lawn, is nearly finished, despite a construction-related fire in the structure during the winter. Like that facility, much of the new science construction on campus is below-grade, so the Laboratory for Interface Science and Engineering—behind the Science Center and Music Building—looked like little more than a particularly complex mudhole this academic year. Yet much work has been done on this 137,000-square-foot physical-sciences and engineering building, with vibration-proof underground spaces suitable for ultraclean, nanoscale research. The same story applies to the 460,000-square-foot Northwest Building, the large flexible laboratory space entering construction north of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, part of a complex that includes a huge subterranean garage. (In the future, this “precinct” will include new Law School space, now being planned along Massachusetts Avenue and Everett Street, where another garage awaits burial; more science labs; and perhaps Divinity School space.) Leading the pack toward completion and occupancy are the twin terra cotta-clad Center for Government and International Studies buildings on either side of Cambridge Street. Commencement visitors may find only finishing work underway come June, so the government and international scholars can be repatriated from their temporary exile at 1033 Mass. Ave (toward Central Square)—FAS’s swing space of choice these days.

The Center for Government and International Studies should open by late spring.

As to the question of where to house everyone, that is being addressed, too. Cambridge has approved plans for townhouse apartments on various parcels along Banks and Cowperthwaite Streets, near Mather and Dunster Houses, and along Memorial Drive at Western Avenue (although the latter parcel is entangled in litigation by neighbors). And—creating a perk that others on the campus may envy—Harvard is partnering with a developer to own one-third of the apartments in a high-rise complex rising now near the Longwood Medical Area. Those from out of town may better know the neighborhood as the Fenway, home to the world-champion Boston Red Sox. Will the doctors-in-training be diverted from their studies by peering out of their tower windows to catch another David Ortiz home run arcing into the night lights? It’s at least a possibility, in the Harvard campus and facilities of the not-distant future.

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