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Old Quincy: A Test Project

What the plans for Old Quincy reveal about House renewal

By Monika L.S. Robbins and Hana N. Rouse, Crimson Staff Writers

A crack on the wall to the right of the door and the presence of a boarded fireplace—a long-unused relic from the past—speak to the age of one dorm room in Old Quincy.

The former occupant of the room—Anna R. Veverica ’13—says that she never had a problem with allergies until she began living in her room in Old Quincy, rumored to have a problem with mold.

During the first few weeks of the year, Veverica regularly noticed cockroaches throughout her two-person suite originally built to be a single.

When she approached someone working in the Building Manager’s office about the bug infestation, he told her the problem was not uncommon.

“He promised that once people started using the rooms and the showers, all the cockroaches would go away,” Veverica says, and according to her, after a week or so, they were gone.

But the physical problems with the room remained. The small size of the bedroom forced Veverica and her roommate to put one bed in what was meant to be a common room, creating the “walk-through” style rooming arrangement often criticized by students and administrators alike.

Veverica says that although she and her roommate coped with the setup—which had her roommate walking through Veverica’s bedroom to reach their in-suite bathroom—she knows friends whose sleep schedule was regularly interrupted by a rowdy roommate.

Come 2013, when the first stage of a series of renovations across the Houses is complete, gone will be the walk-through room setup and cramped quarters that plague so many inhabitants of Old Quincy.

The renovated building will boast a number of new amenities, like an outdoor terrace, two elevators, and a “multipurpose” room in the basement well-suited for events ranging from meetings to House activities to study sessions.

Though the administration has made no explicit promises to remove the roaches, it does say that the renovation of Old Quincy—slated to begin shortly after Commencement in 2012—will drastically improve the quality of life of an Old Quincy resident.

The College has termed Old Quincy a “test project,” meant to help implement the College’s plans in the other Houses.

Although Harvard announced its ambitious plans to renovate the 12 residential Houses in April 2008, the College remained silent on the nature and scope of renovations until recently.

But now that the College has announced a swing space to house displaced students and has released floor plans that offer some image of a final product, the question becomes—what will the renovations of Old Quincy mean for the other 11 Houses?


Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith says that the plans for Old Quincy were created with an eye towards the ability to replicate them on a larger scale.

The plans for Old Quincy have been modeled in Lowell House, one of the oldest of the residential Houses, Smith says.

New designs like the hybrid horizontal-vertical entryway setup—characterized by horizontal hallways connecting vertical entryways—can be translated to larger scale plans, according to Smith.

But he says that although many aspects of Old Quincy are indicative of future renovations, the building lacks things like a dining hall, a Master’s residence, and junior and senior common rooms that will need to be addressed when the College tackles entire Houses.

Quincy has two separate buildings—one old and one new—which allows contractors to dive into construction while leaving the majority of the House relatively untouched.

Administrators plan to continue renovating Houses at least one building at a time. For some Houses that exist in a single building, like Lowell and Eliot, the entire House population will likely need to be relocated so that they can be renovated.

“Honestly we would prefer to do them all together,” Smith says of renovating portions of a House at a time. “It disrupts the House to do half of it.”

Smith says that the three Harvard-owned apartment buildings designated as swing space for the renovations of Old Quincy—Hampden Hall, Fairfax Hall, and Ridgely Hall—are a temporary fix to finding a temporary home for students displaced by renovations.

Ultimately, Smith says, Harvard will have to create a swing space. But whether Harvard will construct a new building or designate existing space for that purpose remains undetermined.


One of the most drastic changes to the setup of Old Quincy, touted by administrators as benefiting House and student life, is the elimination of the traditional vertical entryway.

While the physical location of the staircases will remain the same, entryways will be connected by horizontal hallways.

Students interviewed for this article were critical of the traditional vertical entryway—a common setup in nine of the residential Houses.

“I think it is not conducive to social life within your dorm,” Robert M. Hero ’13 says of the current setup. “There is something about walking up and down stairs that is so much more unappealing than walking across the hall.”

Pforzheimer House Master Nicholas A. Christakis says that the horizontal hallway setup—common to Pfoho—promotes a strong sense of community in the House.

“They famously said that part of the renovation was so that any student in Pfoho House could get to anywhere from anywhere else in their pajamas or less,” Christakis says, in reference to a statement attributed to former House Master J. Woodland Hastings when renovations connected the House’s formerly separate buildings.


Although Smith says that the Neo-Georgian Houses—Adams, Cabot, Dunster, Eliot, Kirkland, Winthrop, and portions of Leverett and Quincy—were always to be the first priorities of House renewal, House Masters say that the financial crisis may have affected the order in which Harvard renovates the Houses.

According to House Masters, an unprecedented 27.3 percent loss in the University’s endowment and the accompanying FAS budget cuts may have caused Harvard to focus on more small-scale projects like Old Quincy.

Originally the College closely examined larger Houses like Lowell and Dunster, the oldest of Harvard’s 12 residential Houses, according to Lowell House Master Diana L. Eck.

House Masters say that they think Old Leverett, similar in structure to Old Quincy, will likely be the next House on tap to be renewed.

Old Quincy was a part of Leverett House until the 1960s, when the construction of Leverett Towers and the rest of Quincy House resulted in the two being split into separate Houses.

When asked if Old Leverett would be renovated next, Smith declined to answer the question.

“What wonderful speculation,” he said with a smile. “Sounds good to me.” Smith added that the final decision about which House to renovate next had not yet been made.


House Masters say that the impending renovations are meant to do much more than just renew the physical components of the Houses. They are meant to reinvigorate House life as well.

“When you think about House renewal, it also means thinking about the renewal of the community. What is it that is really right about the House? What works and is good for students? What draws them into a community and enables them to express themselves and allows them to flourish?” Eck says.

Christakis—who calls House life “a key part of the student experience”—says he is proud of the improvements he has made to House community with the limited resources available to Houses prior to renovations

Walking through the hallways of his House, he spoke of House-specific innovations like the creation of a “Happy Room” and the Pforums, a speech series that brings important speakers directly to the home of undergraduates.

“When we talk about House renewal we’re not just talking about the physical plan,” Christakis says. “We’re thinking about how to position resources: money, people, advising resources, all these things–in the Houses so that the students have a very stimulating experience.”

Quincy House Master Lee Gehrke says that although House renewal should result in every student having the same standard of housing quality, the project is not meant to destroy the “individual character” of the Houses.

“The goal is to make it better,” Adams House Master John G. “Sean” Palfrey ’67 says. “Yet not take away those things that current occupants and old alumni mention.”

—Staff writer Monika L.S. Robbins can be reached at

—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at

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House LifeStudent LifeCollege AdministrationFASYear in ReviewHouse RenewalCommencement 2011