MVVA has worked on several projects at Harvard University. These include leading projects for multiple Harvard Common Spaces, for the Holmes Field District, William James Hall, the Harvard Law School, Northwest Labs, the Smith Campus Center, and the restoration of Harvard Yard. Each project is designed to connect to the site and the needs of the space for student use. MVVA oversaw the coordination among nine different architecture firms to renew all paving and install new lighting, signage, wayfinding elements, and ramps to elevators to redesign wheelchair-accessible entrances to many campus buildings.
The scope of work at Harvard focuses on enabling more integrated circulation for the Harvard and Cambridge communities and reinvigorating the historic character of the campus.
Harvard Yard Restoration
Completed in 1718, Harvard Yard is one of the oldest surviving built landscapes from colonial history in the United States. For more than two centuries, stately elms had been a defining feature of the Yard, but by the 1990s the fungal Dutch elm disease had caused the sprawling American Elm canopy to dissolve. The University hired MVVA to develop a long-term solution.
Working closely with historians, arborists, and soil scientists, MVVA reinterpreted Harvard Yard to meet Harvard’s contemporary and anticipated programmatic needs—and the imperatives of landscape durability and longevity—in a manner consistent with the place’s cherished history.
MVVA reestablished the Yard’s canopy with more than 20 tree species pruned to a similar form, paying close attention to site microclimates and preserving the character of the space while escaping the inherent vulnerability of a monoculture.
Other elements of the design included a revision of circulation systems based on current demands and anticipated building use, and a planting strategy that simplified the volumetric space between the grass floor, tall trunk columns, and the tree canopy “roof.” MVVA’s ongoing work on the Harvard Yard landscape includes adding movable chairs to amplify its value as a social space, assisting the implementation of a biological soils program, and collaborating with grounds staff on planting updates.
Harvard Law School Crossroads
The Harvard Law School Crossroads project creates a new gathering place at the heart of the Law School campus, a welcoming front entry from Massachusetts Avenue, and landscape connections within the law school and to the larger campus through Holmes Field. Undertaken in coordination with architectural improvements, the new central plaza will be defined by curved planting areas that direct circulation through the space while also opening a center for social uses.
A robust planting program in the plaza includes gingko, katsura, and evergreen trees, creating an evolving display of form and color throughout multiple seasons of the year, but with particular drama in the spring and fall. The subtle differentiations in color of the unit pavers contributes to an elegant texturing of the space, while the inclusion of both fixed and moveable seating provides plaza users with a range of comfortable choices.
The project is in full compliance with Harvard’s Sustainability Program and features an irrigation system that works in conjunction with effective plant selection, layout, and soil science to conserve potable water while also sustaining landscape vitality. Stormwater is collected and detained in underground tanks, where it gradually infiltrates into the ground.
A new landscape was established as a space that would become the central corridor and social hub of Harvard's Science campus.
Museum Yard provides a welcoming central space where scientists and the community at large can meet. Subtle shaping of topography nestles skylights for the subsurface classrooms and the surrounding seating area and maintains uninterrupted views through the Museum Yard to the building.
The Commons adjoins the renovated Cabot Science Library with its dedicated research staff, Clover cafe, and outdoor area that invites students to settle down with friends and stay a while.