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Harvard Law School (HLS) is undertaking a long-term, multi-million-dollar development project that will create new meeting places for students and increase the number of classrooms as part of an ongoing effort to improve the student experience, Dean Elena Kagan said this week.
In addition to updating and expanding student facilities, the project aims to create a center for the HLS community, add faculty offices and enhance the northwest corner of the University campus, where the Law School has two buildings. Kagan said the primary purpose of the project, however, is to make the HLS campus more accommodating for students.
“We really need a lot more student spaces, whether it’s dining areas, spaces for student extracurricular activities, student law journals, or whether it’s group study spaces,” Kagan said in a telephone interview.
Last year, HLS conducted a feasibility study to determine whether it would be possible to build in the northwest corner of campus. The study concluded that construction could take place, though some buildings on the site would need to be moved.
HLS asked over 30 design firms from around the world to submit their qualifications. After quickly narrowing the field to four, Kagan said the selection committee visited the offices of each firm and viewed their recent projects.
Earlier this month, the committee of HLS faculty members and administrators selected Robert A.M. Stern Architects to oversee the development project. The New York-based firm designed the Spangler Campus Center at Harvard Business School in 2000 and is currently renovating that school’s Baker Library/Academic Center.
“We look forward to working with Harvard Law School and the School’s Cambridge neighbors to create a new identity for the Law School at this important gateway to the University, capturing the spirit of this great institution and honoring its diverse architectural heritage from the time of H.H. Richardson forward,” Robert A.M. Stern, founder and senior partner at Stern Architects, said in a statement.
Architect Henry Hobson Richardson designed many of Harvard’s most prominent buildings, including Sever Hall in Tercentenary Theatre and Austin Hall on the HLS campus, during the late 19th century.
Although HLS and Stern Architects have yet to discuss in depth how many and what types of buildings are to be constructed, Kagan said the plan must include “smaller seminar rooms and mid-size rooms, which we have a notable lack of right now.”
Another top priority of the development project is to renovate the student services offices.
“Our Office of Career Services, our Office of Public Interest Advising, our Dean of Students’ Office” are very cramped, Kagan said. “You want students to be able to come in and have a good and comfortable experience, and right now we’re just making do in too little and too old space.”
A spokesperson for Stern Architects said the firm is in the process of creating a schedule for planning meetings with HLS and that construction will not begin any time soon.
“I don’t think we’re going to be staring at a lot of building designs” during the next four to five months, Kagan said. “What I think we’re going to be doing is really talking to them in very concrete, specific terms about what space needs we have, trying to refine those needs, and how we can meet them. And to do that we really have to think of our campus as a whole.”
Kagan said the Law School is “a little bit like two campuses.” On one hand, the library and many classrooms are visually stunning, and faculty offices are spacious. On the other hand, she said, there are some buildings that one wouldn’t expect to find on a world-class law school’s campus.
For example, Kagan said Harkness Commons, which is “the closest thing we have to a student center right now,” is too small for 1,800 students. HLS is renovating “the Hark” this summer with the hope that it will be only one of many student spaces in the future.
Stern, who is currently dean of the Yale School of Architecture, told The Crimson yesterday that he hopes the 54-year-old Harkness Commons can be incorporated into a new campus center for students, faculty and staff.
“The Law School has a fantastic library, it has wonderful classroom buildings, some of which may need new attention…but what it lacks is a heart,” Stern said. “It doesn’t have a focus in terms of a campus, exactly.”
Though he could give few details about other aspects of the project because “we’re just beginning our work,” Stern said the parking garage in the northwest corner would be replaced with a new one and the two “modest” buildings in that area would probably be moved.
Kagan said costs for the project have not been calculated but that it will amount to several million dollars.
Stern Architects has designed buildings at many colleges and universities across the country. The firm’s work includes recent projects at Georgetown University, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, Stanford University, Pomona College, the University of Virginia, The College of William and Mary, and Rice University.
According to Kagan, one of the reasons the committee chose Stern Architects over the more than 30 other firms was because of the popularity of the Spangler Center at the Business School.
“We think that Spangler has worked extremely well for the Business School in terms of really improving student life,” Kagan said. “It’s really created places for students to go and to be where they enjoy being, where they hang out. So it’s created a real sort of physical center for the Business School campus, and that’s very much what we want to do.”
The Spangler Center opened in January 2001 and boasts a copy center, travel office, bookstore, post office, auditorium, lounge, courtyard, dining room and grille complete with television sets and a fireplace.
Student reaction to the center has been overwhelmingly positive.
Kagan attributes the popularity of the Spangler Center to Stern Architects’ meticulous attention to detail.
“They’re very good at actually sort of tracking students and figuring out where they go and when they go there,” Kagan said. “But, you know, you also have to talk to students, so I think the Stern folks are very committed to that and certainly I am and certainly the other people involved on the administrative side are.”
A NEW ERA
From her first day in June 2003 as head of HLS, students have heralded Kagan as a student’s dean.
“As soon as Dean Kagan came into office, students were across the board excited about the prospects for the school and she really did seem to usher in a new era for the Law School,” said third-year HLS student Thiru Vignarajah.
“Within months you saw the very real changes that she had implemented and really just sort of sent the signal to all of the students that Dean Kagan values students and that students were a top priority of hers,” he said.
Vignarajah, who is president of the Harvard Law Review, said the HLS campus has been in need of a “serious face-lift” for some time. He said the way a campus looks and feels is very important to everyone in the community, especially the students.
“I think when law students come to law school they come in hopes of some form of inspiration, and it may sound a little mundane but the buildings, the atmosphere, the environment that you are studying in…it’s nice when that’s a source of inspiration,” Vignarajah said.
He said Kagan “engineered very serious changes to a number of the buildings on campus and just made them much more inspiring” all the while keeping students abreast of the improvements and involved in the decision-making process.
The newest development project reinforces Vignarajah’s faith in Kagan and her vision of how students should live and learn at HLS.
“It sounds like the most recent announcement is consistent with Dean Kagan’s genuine effort to make the school the best possible place it can be for students,” he said. “And I think students, even on the way out, are really excited about the fact that the law school is going to be reenergized by her efforts.”
—Staff writer Andrew C. Esensten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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