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‘One Harvard’ initiative injects new life into campus center

The university’s Smith Campus Center now offers a centralized gathering place with several dining options.

April 29, 2019 |

The “front door” of the Smith Campus Center at Harvard is distinguished by a two-story curtainwall. Image: Courtesy of Consigli Construction

In early March, the 80-seat Heights Restaurant & Bar opened on the 10th floor of the Smith Campus Center at Harvard University, in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass. This is the latest addition to a “common spaces” initiative that Harvard’s former President Drew Faust launched in 2008 to create a singular area on campus where thousands of faculty, students, staff, and visitors can congregate.

Harvard now boasts 385,000 sf of dedicated community space within the H-shaped Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center. The public can access the first floor and most of the second floor of the Center, which along with the 10th floor underwent a 36-month reconstruction and renovation that was completed last September, and entailed the excavation of 975 tons of demolition debris.

This project’s community and user outreach was extensive, with 25 focus groups and a survey that received 600 responses. The University also conducted a furniture showcase in the fall of 2016, around the same time that construction began.

Harvard University's “One Harvard” concept creates a gathering place for students, faculty, staff, and the community. Image: Courtesy of Consigli Construction


These efforts helped inform the redesigns by Hopkins Architects. (Bruner/Cott & Associates was the executive architect.) Consigli Construction executed the complete gutting of the 10th floor, and selective remodeling on the two lower floors that include the Moise Y. Safra Welcome Pavilion and Plaza, says Todd McCabe, Consigli’s Vice President-Project Services, who with John Lehane, the firm’s Project Manager, spoke with BD+C last week.

The renovation recreated the building’s Arcade (where most of the restaurants are) from a dungeon-like “two stories of concrete,” says Lehane, to a more inviting space with “more glass, new programming, and a large landscape area” with three or four green walls irrigated with UV-filtered rainwater. (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates was the landscape architect.)

He says that one of this project’s biggest challenges was restoring the building’s façade and expanding the former Holyoke Center, which required the structural demolition of a two-story annex over a parking garage and then putting a three-story building in its place. The building’s “front door” is now highlighted by a two-story curtainwall. There’s also a three-story curtainwall on the Holyoke Street side of the building.

The remodeled building includes several green walls that are irrigated by UV-filtered rainwater. Image: Consigli Construction 


Outside, new plazas open onto two thoroughfares.

Lehane notes that “what often gets overlooked” in projects like these is the MEP system. Working with engineer Arup, Consigli dedicated a MEP manager to “trace out” the system in order to keep it operable, as 500 people continued to work in the Center during the renovation, and thousands more walked through it every day.  (The Center houses several of the university’s departments as well as Harvard University Health Services.)

All told, there were between 20 and 25 Building Team members on this project, says McCabe, including Consigli’s VDC team, which used virtual design tools for communications and planning, especially for occupied areas within the building.

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