[Note: Retrofitting Brutalism appears online in three articles, each highlighting a different project. To read the series introduction and explore the first project, the Boston University Law Tower, visit here. You can find our second installment, the Peabody Terrace, here.]
• Date of Retrofit: 2018 projected, (original construction 1965)
• Architects: Hopkins Architects (Design Architect); Bruner/Cott (Executive Architect)
• Consultants: Arup Partners (mep, structural engineering); Faithful & Gould (cost consultant); Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (structural engineering); Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (landscape architect)
• Project Scope: Renovation of former Holyoke Center will include much-needed modernization of the building; improved access to Harvard’s information center; enhanced landscaped plazas at north and south ends of the site; new, flexible interior spaces for events; and common spaces to attract varied constituencies within the university.
• Clear window film: 3M, Solyx
• Installers: A+A Window, American Window Film
Recently renamed the Smith Campus Center, Sert’s former Holyoke Center at Harvard University is an h-shaped 10-story building offering a panoramic view of
the nearby Charles River. With a crumbling exterior concrete envelope and inefficient heating and cooling system, the building is undergoing a significant renovation process spearheaded by London-based Hopkins Architects and executive architects Bruner/Cott.
Two quotations might aptly describe Sert’s dogmatic approach to campus planning and architecture, which often was in conflict with popular taste. The first, from Sert himself, proclaiming his disdain for Harvard Square’s historical colonial architecture that he partially demolished for his Holyoke Center: “Stepping into Harvard Square is like entering one of Dante’s circles of hell in terms of anything associated with human enjoyment, pleasure, or beauty.” A year after its completion, Harvard’s student journal shot back with: “The one nice feature about Holyoke Center is that it’s the one place in Cambridge from which you can’t see Holyoke Center.”
Today, the building—recently renamed the Smith Campus Center—is undergoing a major physical and cultural transformation that seeks to strengthen the Harvard
community, rather than to divide it. The university has engaged the university student and faculty body through 25 focus groups to produce a collective vision for the new center. The committee organizing the reprogramming of the building has received over 6,000 survey responses.
While Boston University’s Law Tower received an addition that blended old with new, blurring the lines between Sert’s building and new construction, the Smith Center’s addition will separate itself from Sert’s architecture—a move that seems intentional. Visualizations of the addition promise relaxed spaces full of nature: A natural wood-clad ceiling and light-filled glassy expanses offering glimpses to nearby renovated leafy plazas.
Interior view (Courtesy Hopkins Architects)
It is ironic that here in the very building Sert used to set forth a modernist agenda erasing the past, a new addition and campaign by the university is on track to
culturally erase his project—from the facade system down to the name of the building. “The new Smith Campus Center will embody the aspirations and values that
we hold dear and seek to preserve. It will draw us together more closely, strengthening the sense of community at Harvard by encouraging spontaneous interactions among students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the broader community,” said Harvard President Drew Faust.
“We realize if we’re going to save these buildings and have another 50 years of usable life, we really have to make them better than they ever were to begin with. Because as good as they might have been in the beginning of 1960, they’re much better now than they ever were in terms of occupant comfort and ease of movement.”