How can we breathe new life into a historic student residence while preserving its unique character?
Harvard initiated the House Renewal program to breathe new life and relevance into its aging but noble student residences while optimizing spaces to support a highly valued living and learning model. The second residence in the House system to be renewed (after the Stone Hall pilot project, which is a primarily residential structure), McKinlock includes student residences as well as a large dining hall, housing for a House Master, and common spaces for the community. In keeping with the other renovations, the challenge here was to strike a balance between preservation and renewal in a context in which the culture and character of student residences are extremely important to the university. Each Harvard House is unique, and it was vital to maintain their distinctive character through the renovation process.
McKinlock Hall was built in 1925 and is typical of the red brick neo-Georgian River Houses. An addition was completed in 1930, but for more than 80 years, the building had not been significantly updated. One of its major challenges was its circulation patterns, which prevented through-circulation and often required students to travel outside the building to reach a destination on the same level. This pattern inhibited a feeling of cohesiveness among the residential community. Each section of the building was siloed by its entryway, impeding spontaneous encounters and limiting community building. A crucial part of overcoming this challenge was the negotiation of several different floor elevations (including as many as eight on the first floor alone). With the renovation, circulation was reimagined to meet life safety and accessibility codes in a seamless and invisible way while achieving the social benefits of connecting students to one another in a more open and well organized building.
All areas are now fully accessible. In response to a desire path, the social spaces on the first level—including the dining hall, seminar room, common rooms, study niche, and games room—are newly linked. The building's formerly unused lower level spaces have also been activated and fluidly connected to the rest of the building. An area that students have nicknamed the “rabbit hole” (the rabbit is the house mascot) includes an informal lounge and entertainment room and a student kitchen. There are also music practice rooms, art rooms, a gallery space, and a newly accessible theater that can now be opened to public events.
The insertion of a light court to transform a dark alleyway between the residential hall and the dining hall was a pivotal addition. The previously unwelcoming space now serves as an active entryway to the dining hall and a common space in its own right, with two additional public spaces—a seminar room and a common room—adjacent on the same level. With this new entryway, accessibility is achieved through site topography and a gently sloped sidewalk to the historic iron entry gate. The space is glass enclosed, allowing daylight to flow into the interior and offering views to the green of the courtyard beyond.
This and other additions to the building allowed for added common space while preserving the existing bed count. As with Stone Hall, the residential strategy preserves the original character of mixed singles and doubles, suites, room clusters, and tutor spaces. Student rooms have been rebuilt, but the new spaces are detailed to match the originals, with replicated trim and paneled doors and some of the decorative hearths preserved. The historic residence is now fully technologically enabled, with comfortable study niches distributed on residential floors to encourage both independent and group study.
Sustainability was a guiding principle of the renovation. The design team worked with the Cambridge Historical Commission to restore the entire outside shell of the building, ensuring enhanced thermal performance to greatly reduce energy use. All mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems were replaced, and the courtyard was replanted while conserving significant mature elm trees. Additional sustainable strategies include efficient plumbing fixtures, rainwater reuse for courtyard irrigation, natural ventilation, increased insulation, and energy efficient lighting design.
The next project to be completed will be Dunster House, the first whole-House project in the renewal initiative.