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Now that Harvard’s Dunsterites have settled into daily life in their newly renovated dorm, evaluations of the House’s recent renovation can delve beyond the superficial. Two weeks since move-in day, many residents’ initial enchantment with the House’s lodge-like aesthetic and picturesque courtyard has been dulled by some disappointment. Though an impressive feat and a truly beautiful restoration, the Dunster House renovation is also evidence of a kink in the administration’s ability to take student desires into consideration in constructing usable living and public spaces.
Dunster today is striking, and countless aspects of the new house are a success. Perhaps the most notable improvement is that the building is now the fourth fully accessible house on campus. Both we and individual students have in the past called for more accessible spaces, and the new Dunster represents a key step in the direction of inclusivity,
Beyond this improvement, praiseworthy new features of the house include luxuriously decorated public living rooms, a stately library, a basement gym, and refurbished facilities throughout the building. In addition, the House’s ceiling fans, brand new furniture, and hardwood floors are generous and appreciated additions.
Dunster’s aesthetic beauty and new features, however, belie its fundamentally disappointing use of space. Pool tables and seminar rooms come at the price of in-suite common space for students.
An article on the official website of the Dunster House renovation describes the administration’s desires to “closely examine, renew, and reinvest in the Harvard undergraduate experience.” In theory, this means that the administration attempts to cull feedback from students regarding the recent renovations of Stone and McKinlock Halls to gauge what students most value about their living spaces.
But in practice, though the University has made a point to ask upperclassmen what they value in their housing communities, the Dunster floor plan misses the mark in attempting to provide students with the kind of social “meeting spaces” they desire.
In the new Dunster, the private common space that comes with having an in-suite common room is virtually nonexistent for many. While some lucky blocking groups inhabit enviable suites featuring separate common rooms and bedrooms, other seniors are forced to settle into shoebox-like singles. Unsurprisingly, these students feel that the University should have developed floor plans with a more critical eye.
Dunster has no shortage of public seating, quiet study space, and hybrids of the two in its new iteration. But public spaces like the booths and bar stools populating every corner of Dunster are distinct from the kind of community space that is an in-suite common room. While the former is welcome and useful, many students value the latter most.
Private social spaces are few and far between on Harvard’s undergraduate campus, and party-goers in search of hosts often have to turn to final clubs and similarly exclusive organizations. For students who do not or cannot access such groups, it has become even more difficult than it already was to procure space for a social gathering that is large enough to comfortably house a blocking group and their companions, yet private enough to avoid a stilted feeling of formality.
That Dunster House’s facilities have improved tremendously as a result of its renovation is unquestionable. But the administration should take advantage of the yearlong lull in renovations to solicit more and more targeted input from students on future projects. House renewal holds much promise, but its focus must shift to ensure that student priorities like in-suite common rooms continue to be fixtures of Harvard life.
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