Construction May Endanger Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

Harvard's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C., the site of the World War II conference that resulted in the formation of the United Nations, is still widely known for two things: decorative gardens and its research centers on ancient art.

Now, in trying to expand one, the University has aroused fears that it will destroy the other--and since the gardens possibly in peril were designed by famous American designer Beatrix Farrand, this construction plan has become a national concern.

To create more space for its art library, Harvard hopes to build directly below the manicured gardens, tearing up walls and fountains that they plan to replace once construction is finished.


The prospect has mobilized landscape architects, Farrand scholars and neighbors to protect the site from renovation.

Harvard's plan calls for the construction of a 25,000-square-foot underground library adjoining the main Dumbarton building. The two-story building will be visible only in scattered ground-level skylights.

The library will consolidate all the books from the various collections as well as many of the artifacts themselves, a goal that Harvard has held since the 1940s when it first floated a plan for a library on the site.

Dumbarton Oaks consists of a mansion and the surrounding grounds that were donated to Harvard in 1940, along with a large art collection. Since then, Harvard has added to the collection and used the site as a center for a small group of research fellows to study both art and literature about art in an intimate and intensive environment.

The purpose of Dumbarton Oaks, according to Dumbarton director, Edward L. Keenan, is to allow its 18 research fellows to "study the museum objects and very specialized libraries that have been built around these objects."

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