Task Force Seeks to Enhance Cambridge Campus

President Drew Faust on April 24 appointed a University steering committee to explore improvements in Harvard’s Cambridge campus...

President Drew Faust on April 24 appointed a University steering committee to explore improvements in Harvard’s Cambridge campus, with the aim of making better use of existing spaces to foster faculty-student interaction, social life, and artistic and cultural performances.

The task force co-chairs are Lizabeth Cohen, Jones professor of American studies, whose scholarship and teaching are deeply involved with American urban design and physical planning (see her home page and c.v. at www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~history/facultyPage.cgi?id=9), and Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the Graduate School of Design, who is professor of architecture (see “A New Dean Designs without Borders”).

The steering committee will work with the University Planning Office, which is identifying sites capable of being improved physically and put to new programmatic uses. Among the spaces that come to mind are the plazas in front of the Science Center and those to the front and rear of Holyoke Center; there is also extensive space south of Malkin Athletic Center and in the lawn area between that building and Kirkland, Eliot, and Winthrop Houses.

The steering committee’s work will also complement the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ current planning for wholesale renovation of the undergraduate residential houses during the next decade or so; that effort includes evaluation of what new kinds of uses and spaces should be accommodated within the residences. President Faust has also commissioned a task force on the arts at Harvard, scheduled to report this autumn (see http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/01/approaching-the-arts-ane.html); its recommendations could obviously contribute to fresh thinking about spaces that could be enhanced for performance uses.

In her charge to the committee, Faust wrote:

As we engage in the exciting project of contemplating new buildings and spaces in Allston, I think it is important that we take a focused look at our historic spaces in Cambridge to ensure that we are taking full advantage of the ways in which our physical environment can support the kinds of engagement that enhance and sustain the vitality of the Harvard community. Creating spaces that invite interaction is particularly important as the University becomes more diverse and some of the most exciting work of our students and faculty crosses departmental and disciplinary boundaries.

With these considerations in mind, I have convened this steering committee to guide a planning initiative that will lead to the transformation of certain physical spaces in Cambridge so that they support and enhance our sense of engagement and community. Our goal is to provide spaces that will draw people together for work or pleasure in a spontaneous and informal way. The project will depend on the energy, creativity, and expertise of our students, faculty, alumni, and staff, all of whom we hope to involve in this project.

The task of the steering committee will be to provide direction and oversight for a feasibility study – to be carried out under the direction of the University Planning Office – that will form the basis for future physical improvements. The study should explore ways of achieving the following goals, and the committee should make recommendations to me based on the outcome of the study. Specifically, the feasibility study should explore ways to:

  • Develop campus gathering places – I hope that we can create visible, attractive, and inviting campus “focal points” that will improve our Cambridge campus and create a sense of place that is distinctly Harvard’s, yet open to the city and surrounding communities.
  • Program the spaces – The committee should discuss what kinds of programs will enliven the design improvements.
  • Complement existing activities – The committee should consider new spaces as vital parts of the Harvard whole and ensure that they complement the undergraduate House system and space and facilities within the College and the professional Schools.
  • Encourage people to meet and linger – Our new spaces should be considered, above all, as gathering places that are open and inviting to everyone, so that undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors see them as appealing spaces to meet, talk, sit, read, work, reflect, or rest.
  • Ensure that our improvements are accessible, visible, and memorable.

The working group will include two undergraduate and two graduate students.

Faust asked that the group’s recommendations be drafted on an interim basis by this winter, with detailed feasibility studies prepared by the planning office to be completed by the fall of 2009. If that timing holds, the recommendations could be incorporated into the goals for a forthcoming Harvard University capital campaign, expected to take shape by the end of the decade.

The steering committee is receiving suggestions at [email protected].

For the text of the news release on the steering committee, and the committee's members, see here.

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