The Plaza at Harvard University is a new gathering space at the heart of the university, serving students, faculty, staff, visitors, and the local community. A new kind of public infrastructure and sitting atop the Cambridge Street Underpass, the plaza connects the historic Harvard Yard with the university Science Center and North Campus and acts as a model of contemporary sustainable design in service of rich and exciting social spaces. Replacing an underutilized, but overused derelict field, the new space offers a high-performance surface, accommodating structure, utilities, water, and heat management in an articulated ground plane that responding to storm water drainage system and local circulation flows. The plaza is a hub of campus life, drawing students to large and small events of all kinds, including a farmers' market, food trucks, impromptu performances, and alumni gatherings. Seventeen benches in seven distinct designs encourage casual gathering for students and the local community, and groves of sumac and gingko inventively integrate sustainable stormwater management and provide a quiet refuge.
The 1.2 acre site sits atop the busy Cambridge Street underpass that divides the campus. This unique challenge necessitated an innovative approach to sustainability and design. Lush groves of sumac, gingko, and ferns mark the northern edge of the plaza and offer shade and a quiet retreat for students and visitors to gather. A high-performance surface of sustainable concrete pavers manufactured from recycled porcelain provides flexibility for an array of university events and acts to direct stormwater to the groves where it can infiltrate the ground. Multi-functional concrete walls and wooden benches designed with the human body in mind and fabricated from sustainably-sourced and reused yellow cedar accommodate people's bodies in various ways, providing moments for individuals to sit alone or in groups; in sun or full shade; lounging or seated next to another. Low-energy LEDs reflecting off the plaza beneath the benches provide a soft reflective glow at night, inviting everyone to lounge during cool summer evenings.
By physically connecting the campus and providing special moments of activity and rest, the plaza creates a new public identity for the campus, accessible to both the university and the community. The redesigned space dramatically transforms an underutilized but overused derelict field into a new hub of campus life, serving students, faculty, staff, visitors, and the local community.