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HLS Undergoes Renovations

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.

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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.

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“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.

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