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Charge to the Steering Committee on Common Spaces

Cambridge, Mass.

Harvard is fortunate to have a beautiful and historic campus in a vibrant city. The architecture of our buildings, the spaces inside, among, and around them, and the pathways between them shape who we are as a university. Harvard Yard is perhaps the most obvious and historic example, with its defined perimeter that creates the front lawn of our freshman dorms, and its open corners and pathways that serve as a crossroads for our students, faculty and staff, local residents, and visitors from across the globe. From our House dining halls, to the steps of Widener, to the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum in the Kennedy School, we learn again and again that spaces shape our intellectual and social interactions with each other and with the many visitors who come to Harvard and Cambridge to share in the life of this University.

As we engage in the exciting project of contemplating new buildings and spaces in Allston, I think it is important that we take a focused look at our historic spaces in Cambridge to ensure that we are taking full advantage of the ways in which our physical environment can support the kinds of engagement that enhance and sustain the vitality of the Harvard community. Creating spaces that invite interaction is particularly important as the University becomes more diverse and some of the most exciting work of our students and faculty crosses departmental and disciplinary boundaries.

With these considerations in mind, I have convened this steering committee to guide a planning initiative that will lead to the transformation of certain physical spaces in Cambridge so that they support and enhance our sense of engagement and community. Our goal is to provide spaces that will draw people together for work or pleasure in a spontaneous and informal way. The project will depend on the energy, creativity, and expertise of our students, faculty, alumni, and staff, all of whom we hope to involve in this project.

The task of the steering committee will be to provide direction and oversight for a feasibility study – to be carried out under the direction of the University Planning Office – that will form the basis for future physical improvements. The study should explore ways of achieving the following goals, and the committee should make recommendations to me based on the outcome of the study. Specifically, the feasibility study should explore ways to:

• Develop campus gathering places – I hope that we can create visible, attractive, and inviting campus “focal points” that will improve our Cambridge campus and create a sense of place that is distinctly Harvard’s, yet open to the city and surrounding communities.

• Program the spaces – The committee should discuss what kinds of programs will enliven the design improvements.

• Complement existing activities – The committee should consider new spaces as vital parts of the Harvard whole and ensure that they complement the undergraduate House system and space and facilities within the College and the professional Schools.

• Encourage people to meet and linger – Our new spaces should be considered, above all, as gathering places that are open and inviting to everyone, so that undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors see them as appealing spaces to meet, talk, sit, read, work, reflect, or rest.

• Ensure that our improvements are accessible, visible, and memorable.

The feasibility study will be managed by the University Planning Office, working closely with the steering committee and other University stakeholders to test and develop the goals of the planning initiative. The study will provide a strategic planning approach, define a comprehensive program, and develop conceptual designs at several campus focal points.

The committee will begin its work this spring, meeting monthly throughout the duration of the study. My hope is that an interim report will be completed this coming winter, with the final feasibility study completed by early fall 2009.

I am grateful to Lizabeth Cohen, Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, and Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the Graduate School of Design and professor of architecture, for generously agreeing to co-chair the steering committee, and to the members of the committee for their participation in what I hope will be a transformational project.

– Drew Gilpin Faust