Holyoke Center, Harvard University

Holyoke Center, Harvard

Sert, Jackson and Gourley, 1961, 1965

Landscape: Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay

Harleston Parker Medal, 1967

The complex is characteristic of Jose Luis Sert’s work in the way it thoughtfully responds to urban scale issues while providing the medium and small scale details that bring it all to life. Like most of his buildings, this is a village at heart – expressing diverse uses within the context of a unifying architectural language. Although not everyone can see the humanistic impulses behind what are sometimes considered cold and abstract forms, it is worth approaching this building with an open mind for the inventive composition and engaging urban spaces.

Harvard demolished a block of buildings to create the site for this high-rise complex with ground level shops, offices above, and parking below. While the older buildings had hugged the sidewalks on all sides, the H-shaped structure is set back from Mount Auburn Street and Massachusetts Avenue to form small plazas that extend interior spaces to the outside. A two-story pedestrian way with clerestory lighting cuts through the building to provide a mid-block link between the two streets. The exterior is held together by a syncopated rhythm of poured-in-place concrete, precast concrete, and clear and translucent panels. The two story shops are almost entirely glazed; the office facades above are defined by staggered mullions that give them an ad hoc quality. Sunscreens, fins, and varied finishes enrich the concrete forms in the manner of Le Corbusier.

Additional architectural detailing and signage was layered on in the early 2000’s in a relatively sympathetic effort to provide a more festive character, and Harvard launched an extensive renovation of the building in 2016 that included a new glass enclosed structure on the Mass Ave. plaza and reconstruction of the shops, despite objections by community members and mid-century modern advocates. The renovated building will be the Smith Campus Center.