Merit - Excellence in Landscape Architecture for General Design

Harvard University

Smith Campus Center
Harvard University - Smith Campus Center
Jury Comments
““. . . great blurring of lines between interior and exterior . . . having more places for gathering and being with nature, and doing it in a building as a public realm initiative is really cool . . . interventions in the building were significant . . . strong and transformative renovation project . . . the resulting design showcases strong interdisciplinary collaboration . . .””


    • Building – 360,000 sq ft
    • Providing students, faculty, and staff with improved access to nature was a key redesign goal.
    • The Smith Center brings landscape elements inside to establish a memorable and inviting common space for students, visitors, and the community.
    • The design honors original architect Josep Lluís Sert’s vision of an indoor/outdoor social space with living walls, a glass-walled “vitrine” garden, reimagined outdoor plazas, and roof terraces.
    • LEED Gold


When Harvard’s Holyoke Center opened in 1960, architect Josep Lluís Sert hoped to create an indoor/outdoor social space, but construction technology lagged behind his vision, and his concrete building ended up being a “grey elephant.” In 2008, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust convened the Committee on Common Spaces to “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.” The committee worked with 18 focus groups and collected more than 6,000 survey responses. Their conclusion was that, as President Faust had suspected, common spaces were sorely needed. The committee identified the Holyoke Center, located on Harvard Square just across from Harvard Yard, as the appropriate location for the focal point Faust had described. The success of the new social landscapes coming out of the Common Spaces initiative, which called for social spaces that foster community, provide access to nature, and improve energy efficiency, suggested a landscape-based approach to the Smith Center renovation.

To reimagine the Smith Center, the landscape architects worked with the architects to punctuate the building with tactical landscape interventions that fulfill Lluís Sert’s aspirations. New structural possibilities allowed the designers to cut a large glass light well through the building’s core and plant in the resulting “vitrine,” bringing natural light and views of vegetation to all spaces. Eight lush 20-foot-tall green walls, ranging from 8 to 19 feet wide, fed by rainwater filtered from the roof, and featuring native New England plants like maidenhair ferns and autumn ferns, soften the lobby. They also absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, improving air quality. Framing the newly widened corridor, the living walls are the visual focal point of the interior, bringing it alive with year-round green. The Dunster Roof Garden provides seating and a different experience of central Cambridge.

The Smith Center demonstrates the centrality of landscape in supporting the experience of the campus environment and fortifying Harvard’s campus identity. The center brings landscape elements inside to establish a memorable and inviting common space for students, visitors, and the community. What was once an over-scaled and uninviting space to pass through is now a place to gather, stop for lunch against a backdrop wall of green, or have a group study session in the fresh air—even in the dead of the Boston winter. It is the university’s new, green front door. The Smith Campus Center demonstrates how green spaces can help adapt iconic but imperfect university buildings for the 21st century.

Project Team

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.; Hopkins Architects; Bruner / Cott & Associates; Arup; plantwalldesign; Pine and Swallow Environmental, Inc.; Irrigation Consultants, Inc.