2008 – Graduate Student Residence, Cambridge, Massachusetts
This 115,000 SF project is a part of Harvard University’s ongoing effort to house 50 percent of its graduate, professional and doctoral students, further supporting a strong residential campus community and helping to alleviate pressure on the local housing market. The scheme houses 215 beds in over 30 different suite types, and includes a faculty director’s suite, a fitness room, study lounge spaces, a multipurpose room, and a garage that extends under the building, its courtyard, and a new public open space along Memorial Drive.
The 10 Akron Street project occupies a prominent location on the Charles River, at the corner of Memorial Drive and Akron Street and is one of a series of new residences for Harvard affiliates as well as low and moderate-income units built for local residents. Adjacent is Peabody Terrace Housing by Jose’ Luis Sert, with whom Woo studied and worked. Visible from across the Charles River, the simple and elegant design composition is a seamless extension of the campus, recalling the scale, massing and textures of Harvard’s traditional brick river houses, wood-frame neighborhood context, with references to Sert.
From the river side, the six-story brick block with glassy bay windows, is appropriately scaled to active Memorial Drive and the river. Along Banks Street, the siding on the low-rise wood-clad building refers to adjacent three-story wood frame houses and Peabody Terrace’s vertical concrete formwork. The massing composition of these two building elements forms a courtyard open toward the public open space, Harvard provided to the City of Cambridge. Together, the courtyard gesture and the park establish a contemporary and welcoming gateway to campus. The entry portal at 10 Akron Street frames an axial view of the Sert complex through the courtyard and the park, and a section of the building cantilevers dramatically over the outdoor deck to preserve sightlines from the community to the river at street level. Projecting bay windows create shade and shadow, animating the façades, and capture remarkable views of Charles River and Boston beyond.
At the individual scale, architectural detail and discerning material selection and color palette create familiar yet contemporary textures and surfaces. Double height curtain wall windows at the corners reveal two-story study lounges. Internally, to foster a sense of community, studies and other public spaces distributed throughout the floors and the extra wide open stair are opportunities for spontaneous encounters. Subtle changes in material and the use of localized intense colors at unit entries punctuate corridors which terminate with striking views of the outdoors. Apartment are designed for maximum flexibility in furnishing and partitioning, made more spacious with generous glazing and bay windows.
In keeping with Harvard’s university-wide commitment to sustainable building and campus operations, the project was designed to achieve a high level LEED certification. Green-minded finishes include regionally-sourced siding with recycled content; renewable bamboo flooring and wall paneling, and low-VOC finishes; building systems are designed and engineered to minimize energy usage. Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates designed a graceful seasonal garden with groupings of trees and clumped plantings native to New England, connecting the courtyard to the riverfront terrace. In the courtyard, serrated and diagonally laid paving edged with large river smoothed rocks recall peaceful stone gardens.