New Face of Hilles, Artsy Café, Debuts

De facto student center at Hilles opens to much fanfare

Students performed rap, played pool, sipped espressos, and made ice cream sundaes yesterday at the opening of the Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH), which offered a glimpse of the future of Harvard’s organizational life.

“It’s really an amazing amount of space for the students,” said Campus Life Fellow John T. Drake ’06.

The new Penthouse, located on the fourth floor of Hilles, features performance space, a recording studio, band practice space, and an eatery.

The Coffee Bar offers fare like flatbread pizzas, fruit smoothies, ice cream, pastries, sandwiches, and drinks.

While the Penthouse Coffee Bar offers students relaxation space, the second and third floors of Hilles offer a more professional environment for student groups, whose offices are enclosed with translucent walls.

Two collaborative zones on each floor provide open spaces for group meetings and brainstorming, as well as computers and copy machines.

“I am extremely optimistic that it will transform the way that students will work together,” said Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd.


In his speech at the SOCH opening, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 said that there was originally not enough funding for the project, which was three years in the making. Ultimately funding came from various sources including Faculty of Arts and Sciences Physical Resources and former University President Lawrence H. Summers’ Office, according to Gross.

Gross declined to make the total cost of the project public.

Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II said he had wanted to remodel the Hilles courtyard as an outdoor cinema and raise the fourth floor balcony railing, but these projects were “value-engineered” out of the budget.

He also said that the Hilles building posed a challenge for renovations due to its entirely concrete skeletal structure.

McLoughlin added that renting out SOCH’s facilities, especially during the summer, may generate income toward improving the space.


The SOCH will be open from 7 to 4 a.m. seven days a week, while the Coffee Bar will be open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. A coffee machine will run 24 hours a day.

According to Director for Culinary Operations Martin T. Breslin, the flatbread pizza was created especially for the Penthouse.

“We’re offering a variety unique to this place,” Breslin said.

Student artwork and photography on display in the cafe area will be rotated, according to McLoughlin, who said he plans to have cards and board games available for student use as well.

“It’s an exceptionally well-intentioned space, and that’s going to show through,” said Mary J. Hester ’08, a Coffee Bar barista.

Director for Retail Operations Jim E. Dezutter said that student managers and operators will run the Coffee Bar.

“Our desire is to try to encourage the students to take ownership of the place, make it theirs,” he said.


An obstacle that faces Hilles now is whether students, especially non-Quadlings, will be willing to use it.

Some students say that the Quad has more appeal after the SOCH opening.

Camille I. Mason ’10, who went upstairs after a Kuumba Singers of Harvard College rehearsal to chill in the Penthouse yesterday, said that before SOCH, she would likely have only travelled to the Quad for rehearsals and parties.

But now, “I’m hoping to get put up here,” Mason said. “It seems like a tighter-knit community.”

But another student said that the SOCH may still not justify the trek.

Though appreciative of the new student space, Mia Midenjak ’07, a Cabot House resident, said, “I don’t see too many river-dwellers making the trek up here, especially with the winter.”

McLoughlin said that because the SOCH will be a central hub for student groups, students will naturally flock there. In response to the anticipated surge in Quad shuttle-riders, McLoughlin said that Global Positioning Systems will be installed in the shuttles by February. Students will be able to see the shuttles’ locations en route in real time.


Despite speculation about future plans to move some undergraduate housing from the Quad to Allston, College administrators said that SOCH will be used by undergraduates for many years to come.

Kidd said that any move of undergraduate housing to Allston, if it were to occur, would be “at least 10 years away.”

“You’re here now. This is your time. Here’s what we can do,” said Kidd.

“The SOCH is what students will use for at least the next few generations,” said McLoughlin.

—Staff writer Elaine Chen can be reached at

—Staff writer Joyce Y. Zhang can be reached at