Historical Commission Approves Campus Center Plans

After an hours-long presentation and at times tense back and forth between Cambridge residents and University planners, the Cambridge Historical Commission approved planned renovations to Harvard’s Smith Campus Center late on Thursday.

The Commission heard two cases on the campus center, which Harvard administrators expect to undergo construction from 2016 to 2018, at a public hearing on Thursday. The first case detailed plans for restoration and repair of the building’s concrete exterior and windows, while the second included the bulk of the construction plans.

Smith Campus Center Front
A preliminary rendering of the renovated Smith Campus Center shows a remodeled front facade, where restaurant Au Bon Pain is currently located.

While many Cambridge area residents and Harvard affiliates expressed excitement for the designs at the hearing, some worried that they did not have enough time to voice their grievances and that the changes could prove potentially unwelcoming to non-Harvard affiliates.

The Commission voted to approve the “appropriateness” of the exterior plans unanimously after Henry Moss, a member of the campus center’s design team from Bruner/Cott Architects and Planners, described in detail ways in which they planned to combat the deterioration of the building’s facade.


"I don’t want to glamorize what we're doing. It's highly technical, it's awfully tedious, and I think it's fascinating," he said.

Multiple planners on the design team cycled through an extensive presentation of the anticipated renovations. Among other plans, the campus center designs include a rooftop terrace, renovated pavilions on both the front and rear facades, and a 10th floor restricted to Harvard affiliates that will feature a bar, kitchen, and an overlooking “projecting bay.”

The renovated campus center will feature a 60 percent increase in space “devoted to publicly accessible uses,” and a 30 percent increase in both commercial food venues and bike parking, according to Gary Hammer, a senior campus planner for Harvard.

Planners said the designs are inspired by the original vision of Josep Lluís Sert, whose firm designed the building, and emphasized that the public will use the renovated building.

While the Historical Commission approved the second case detailing the campus center’s construction plans in a 5-1 vote, some residents who attended the meeting criticized the designs during the second public comment period, which followed more than two hours of presentation and comment on the first case.

Marilee B. Meyer said she did not have enough time to raise all her concerns and criticized proposed changes to the arcade area on the campus center’s first floor.

“I don’t think it’s inviting for the townie to come in there because it is so oriented on Harvard students,” Meyer said.

While Harvard affiliates will likely have access to the building at all hours, the renovated campus center’s first floor will likely be open to the public as much as it is now, according to senior director of University planning Tanya Iatridis.

Harvard hosted several open houses showcasing the campus center plans earlier this semester. Thomas J. Lucey, Harvard’s director of government relations for Cambridge, said criticisms raised at the meeting were “not dissimilar to a lot of public meetings on a variety of topics.”

“I thought the positives outweighed the negatives,” he added.

The Commission approved both sets of plans with the expectation that Harvard stay in communication about further tweaks to the designs. The Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeal must also approve the designs.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.



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