When Harvard University purchased a historically significant 1920s hotel adjacent to Harvard Square, their intent was to transform it into modern, functional housing for their growing population of graduate students. While the total renovation and reconstruction of the building was the main focus of the project, the outdoor space was also an integral part of the holistic living environment Harvard wished to create. The design team drew upon European housing and courtyard precedents for inspiration in converting the hotel into something original and innovative. Rather than maintain the building’s traditional center entry, a series of semi-open public spaces, new exterior stairs, and entries facing a landscaped courtyard were added. This new courtyard is visible from Garden Street via a new three-story, glass-enclosed archway and monumental stair incised into the existing building façade. The design team also challenged the fundamental assumptions of residence hall planning to create a new type of living environment.
The building was transformed into 75 housing units with five different floor plans ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments. In order to better-support the lifestyle and financial needs of international graduate students, an experimental unit type was created: the double-studio. This unit type omitted a shared living room so that larger bedrooms could function as private living areas.
One of the significant challenges during the design of the new residence was the view. Many of the hotel’s rooms looked down onto the blacktopped roof of an existing one-story parking structure. This surface was converted into a 10,000 square foot landscaped garden courtyard – a green roof – complete with plantings, winding pathways, pavers and seating. While an aesthetically appealing solution, this solution also increased the life of the roof and allowed storm water to be managed on the site. This outdoor space provides both a meeting place and a retreat for residents, making the new 29 Garden Street housing option a desirable location both inside and out.