With the loss of Loker Commons, Lamont Cafe has become what some students consider the closest thing Harvard has to an official student center. The issue of social space has also recently emerged at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where certain faculty members are seeking to increase awareness of the both the importance and existence of overlooked spaces. And just last month, the Undergraduate Council assembled a task force on social space. The issue of campus space has been on the table for decades among undergraduates, but lately it’s been gathering steam.
DEALING WITH A SPACE JAM
According to UC representative Senan Ebrahim ’12, the UC began to focus on the problem of social space following a Town Hall meeting of various student groups, where participants expressed their frustration over the lack of gathering space for meetings and events.
“It has become increasingly difficult for student groups to find spaces for events on a medium to large scale. Any kind of student group plan, when they try to plan it, becomes very difficult for them to find a space,” said Ebrahim.
Ebrahim also noted that out-of-date guides to resources and limitations on booking common rooms create obstacles to securing gathering places. In addition to working toward creating new spaces, the UC will also tackle the organizational aspect of the issue by making current spaces more accessible.
According to UC President Andrea R. Flores ’10, although the UC itself cannot look at real estate, it can encourage Harvard to investigate particular locations.
In particular, the UC is currently working on determining the fate of the Democracy Center, at 45 Mt. Auburn Street.
“In terms of the Democracy Center on Mt. Auburn, the owners of that building are having a dialogue with some student groups,” said Flores. “Hopefully it does not get sold to some sort of group that wouldn’t allow students to use it. The real estate initiations are confidential, but both the owners and student group leaders that they have talked to are all in agreement that it should go to someone who would allow students to use it.”
FINDING THE SPACE BETWEEN
While students are leading their own efforts, Harvard faculty members are also taking on the issue of social space. Recently, Harvard Graduate School of Design professor Jerold S. Kayden and assistant professor Martin Zogran shared the results of their joint study during a lecture on social space, entitled “Social Spaces at the Academy.”
Together, Kayden and Zogran have been working with a team of students to identify existing social spaces and evaluate how to best enhance them to benefit the Harvard community.
Zogran described the connection between the richness of student life and the existence of social spaces.
“I think that in the recent past there has been some sort of feeling that somehow student activities and general welfare outside of coursework is a little bit lacking,” said Zogran. “So being architects and urban designers, we tend to look at the structure of the physical environment to see if that is a contributing factor.”
Zogran noted that current spaces on campus can be transformed to make them more conducive to student gathering.
“The big picture isn’t a lack of social spaces, but rather a lack of use of existing social spaces,” said Zogran.
In their lecture, they suggested that simple implementations like benches or more comfortable chairs can be the key to improvement. They also explained that while most social spaces are planned, some arise spontaneously.
According to Flores, due to the lack of social spaces at Harvard, certain venues arise as inevitable fall-backs.
“You get a reliance on social clubs, and that isn’t a bad thing. Social clubs provide a community, but they’re not all inclusive. So there are not a lot of centralized social spaces that any student can rely on for the weekends,” said Flores. “We really don’t have that because suite parties are harder to have without the party funds, student groups are competing for four main party spaces on campus, and everything else has to be in final clubs.”
A recent panel discussion entitled “Sex, Real Estate, and Power” took a look at this side of the issue, attempting to dissect the implications of the current system.
Co-sponsored by HBOMB and the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, the discussion centered around the intersection between sexuality and space at Harvard.
“We wanted to explore how power functions through sexuality in these spaces where people are owning the real estate, and to try to delve into the mystique of a lot of these social spaces,” said Colette S. Perold ’11, who moderated the panel.
A SPACE OF ONE’S OWN
Yet while perspectives may differ, each of the current efforts to address the issue of social space at Harvard centers around the idea of awareness.
According to Zogran, there are a number of existing spaces at Harvard that have the potential to become dynamic gathering places: they are just waiting to be recognized.
A paticular existing social space that Zogran identified are the shuttle stops, which he described as “a really interesting network of social spaces that typically one doesn’t pay attention to.”
In their lecture, Zogran and Kayden offered simple suggestions for altering the shuttle stops, which included adding elements such as building block seating, swings, and tether ball poles.
So, next time you find yourself anxiously awaiting the morning shuttle at Currier to attend Ec10, just look around: you may just have all the space you need.