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A Look Inside the Smith Campus Center, Harvard's New 'Living Room'

The New Smith Center
Students study in the brand-new Smith Campus Center.

When visitors step inside the newly opened Smith Campus Center, they'll probably walk right past green, plant-covered walls before grabbing a cup of coffee and finding a comfy seat. 

What they may not know is that those plants will be maintained year-round through an automatic irrigation system that distributes rainwater collected on the Center’s roof. 

Like the technology behind the living walls, some features of the brand-new Center — opened this month — are easily missed. 

Others literally announce themselves. At the entrance of the building, visitors can learn about campus events at the information desk and via the interactive walls lining the left side of the Welcome Pavilion. Guests of any height — including inquisitive five-year olds — can easily double tap the floating icons, which reveal locations, dates, and times for events listed on the Harvard Gazette’s calendar, to which student groups add their events.

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The living walls, on which over 12,000 plants sprout from wool pouches, are just past the information desk. UV-filtered rainwater from the rooftop of the building waters the 19 species of hanging plants. While they serve to add to the ambience of the Center, the walls also cleanse the air and make greenery a constant, even during cold New England winters. 

To the left are the Harvard Commons, a multi-level open space in which students can opt to take a power nap on one of the many sofas between classes, find a study nook to work in, or enjoy a weekly concert series featuring Harvard performers around lunchtime, according to Director of the Common Spaces Julie Crites. 

“The Office for Sustainability partnered with the Smith Campus Center project team and manufacturers to ensure the selected furniture and interior building materials that were used in the new space were produced without the use of harmful chemicals of concern and delivered at the same price point,” Heather Henriksen, managing director of the Office for Sustainability, wrote in an email to The Crimson.

Planners are still brainstorming ways to use the Commons space and balance its use as Harvard’s “living room” with planned events, according to Crites.

“We see this first year as an experiment – a time to see what works and what doesn’t work. We envision the space existing as a living room for a majority of the time, with exciting moments of transformation interspersed,” Crites wrote in an email.

Events already scheduled in the space include a screening of Incredibles 2 on Sept. 15 and a celebration featuring campus groups on Sept. 20.

The second floor includes offices for the Undergraduate Council and Harvard Graduate Council and a collaborative work space reminiscent of Cabot Library that is open only to Harvard affiliates.

Some spaces on the second floor, including an art room, are currently inaccessible because of continuing work. Other rooms still await doors and other finishing touches.

Heading out of the Commons, visitors encounter dividers that can only be crossed by sliding a Harvard ID. Behind these are elevators servicing the other floors of the building. A wing of the second floor connects to the offices of Harvard University Health Services. 

A short elevator ride reveals some of the lesser populated spaces on the 10th floor. These spaces include several lounges and a game room, complete with a pool table and foosball.

Student groups and other Harvard affiliates will soon be able to reserve rooms for events and formal conferences.

Come winter, visitors will be able to munch on small dishes and sip on beverages at the Heights Cafe and Bar while enjoying views of the River Houses, Cambridge, and the greater Boston area.

— Staff writer Yasmin Luthra can be reached at yasmin.luthra@thecrimson.com. 

—Staff writer Idil Tuysuzoglu can be reached at idil.tuysuzoglu@thecrimson.com.

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