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Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library
Cambridge, Mass.
Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering

A six-year restoration creates dialog between old and new

© Peter Vanderwarker

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The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, designed by Horace Trumbauer and constructed in 1915, is located at the geographical and intellectual heart of Harvard University. In renewing the building for the 21st century, the school sought a restoration that would redefine the library in programmatic and technical terms, without losing the structure’s aura, comfort, and connection to tradition.

The renovation involved 27 construction stages stretched over six years. Phases were planned and timed to ensure the continuous operation of the library and maintain the availability of its collections. The early rehabilitation phases upgraded and modernized the building systems infrastructure, the 10-floor self-supporting stack structure, and various library support spaces. This work included updating climate control and life safety systems as well as improving public access. The architects also created new "found" space within two large light wells at the center of the building that house new mechanical space, staff work areas, and two new skylit reading rooms. These reading rooms symbolize a subtle proclamation of Widener's continued relevance at the core of Harvard's present and future intellectual life.

Later construction phases involved restoring the historic public and reading spaces. Wherever possible, the team preserved existing features and room finishes while infusing the building with information technology and comfort standards necessary to meet the library's 21st century requirements. Where interventions were necessary, the architect designed them in a manner that creates a subtle dialogue with the 1915 structure: enhancing the character of the original building but expressing their own distinctiveness and design integrity as contemporary work.

Formal name of Project:
Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library

Cambridge, Mass.

Gross square footage:
320,000 sq. ft.

Harvard University

Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering, PC
24 School Street
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: 617.305.9800
Fax: 617.305.9888


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