How can we set a sustainable, economical paradigm for the renewal of Harvard Houses that supports twenty-first century living and learning?
Conceived in the 1920s, Harvard's House system has become the cornerstone of the university's undergraduate life—and has set the standard for residential liberal arts education in the US. Yet, as with any building of nearly 80 years, the Houses' original infrastructure needed updating. After a comprehensive physical assessment, Harvard initiated the House Renewal program to breathe new life and relevance into an aging but noble building type, while optimizing spaces to support Harvard's highly valued living and learning model.
Our work began with a House Renewal Peer Benchmark and Comparison Study, which compared the construction costs, renovation scope, and pre- and post-renovation program features for comparable buildings at peer institutions. This report, together with other planning documents, enabled Harvard to make informed decisions regarding the comprehensive renewal of its River Houses.
We are responsible for the first three House Renewal projects: Stone Hall, Leverett McKinlock Hall, and Dunster House, all of them part of a National Historic District along the bank of the Charles River. With the renovation of Stone Hall, the pilot project, our charge was to set a paradigm for renewal that established standards and policies related to sustainability, building restoration, residential and social programs, space and resource management, and systems design.
Special emphasis on resource management emerged early in the project as a response to the increasing pressures of climate change and economic stewardship. Our goals were to preserve historic character and House culture; to renew House life experience; to connect spaces and nurture communities; to provide modern lodging and sustainable operations; and to accommodate the future. Our intent has been to do more with less—by designing the renovation to last another 80 years while maintaining relevance within rapidly evolving educational models.
To introduce full building accessibility, new corridors and elevators connect the historic vertical entry stairs that separate residential suites. The new hybrid circulation system maintains the vertical entryway culture so important to this building type while modernizing the interior environment to promote social interaction and connectivity.
Formerly underutilized basement spaces were converted to daylit social and academic spaces. A new social corridor was formed along the courtyard wall, connecting a new smart classroom, music rehearsal spaces, meeting room, study spaces, and a community room with a new outdoor terrace. The terrace brings daylight and access to the outdoors for the social program of the lower level and gives Stone Hall a greater presence in the context of Quincy House and the larger district. The smart classroom further advances the trend toward integration of living and learning and expands use of the building.
Since the Stone Hall project is a renovation and not a new building, we needed to develop a nuanced understanding of the site and building conditions in order to make fine-tuned alterations. Though subtle, these improvements will ultimately make substantial differences when deployed across the entire House Renewal program.
The building achieves Harvard's goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs by 30 percent. It conserves existing building fabric and reduces reliance on air conditioning in favor of passive ventilation. Given the Houses' location, stewardship of the Charles River is fundamental. Measures have been taken to reduce flood risk, limit potable water use, and improve water quality discharge to the Charles River.
The renovation of Stone Hall sought a delicate balance between preservation and transformation. The new design draws students out of their rooms and into communal and study spaces, fostering a community that truly integrates living and learning—while preserving the historic character of an enduring building.