Hark renovations debated



Renovation plans for Harkness Commons will focus on refurbishing its interior design this summer, and save grander plans for a new Student Center for the years to come.

“Ultimately, [the Hark] is too small for the long haul,” explained Daniel Meltzer, Professor of Law and Vice Dean of Physical Planning.

The new student center will be where the garage and Wyeth Hall are currently located. The two buildings would be torn down, and the garage would be placed underground. The resulting open landscape would then be used to construct a new student center, a project that Meltzer expects to start within 5-7 years.

“The new dean’s got fire in her belly, she wants to get it done,” asserted Edward Tsoi, architect for the Hark renovations. “If you’ve ever been outspoken about wanting to get something done, now’s the time to say it.”

Despite the anticipation of an eventual improved Student Center, the Dean plans on revamping the existing Hark this summer so current students can benefit from a nicer campus now.

“If we wait for [the new student center] to happen, there will be many classes that go through here without realizing how beautiful this building can be with just a few minor upgrades,” commented Tsoi.

The “minor upgrades” that Tsoi anticipates – including the purchase of new furniture and getting rid of certain walls – might take a backseat if the school instead prioritizes making the Hark handicapped accessible. Though the entrances in the Hark are handicapped accessible, the incline of the ramp is too steep to meet ADA requirements, according to Tsoi. In order to comply with the ADA, the school would have to build a handicapped-accessible elevator, an enormous expense.

“In the long run, we obviously want the student center to be accessible,” commented Meltzer “But we’re not sure it’s going to be the Hark, this summer.”

“We do not have an infinite budget, and we do not have an infinite amount of time,” Tsoi observed.

The architects are trying to balance between making the Hark handicapped accessible and not spending money on the building when there will be a new Student Center in a few years.

“We’re not trying to dodge the ADA requirements,” said Tsoi. “We just want to be smart and not waste money building when we’re going to have to tear it down in a few years.”

Other than city compliance changes – such as installing additional sprinklers – that the architects might need to do, the bulk of the architectural changes to the Hark will be interior design issues. The reallocation of space includes a diminished Coop that provides all the textbooks at the beginning of the semester, but does not store them all semester long. With the space provided, Tsoi hopes to move the mailboxes into a separate room that would house computers and mailboxes away from the main concourse.

“Right now, it looks like a high school, it’s so cluttered,” asserted Tsoi.

Other plans include the creation of additional women’s bathrooms, since when the Hark was originally designed by Walter Gropius, there were no female law school students. The historic quality of the building prevents the university from completely tearing it down, as it was considered a piece of modern architecture in its time.

“We have to respect the aesthetics of the original building 50 years ago,” emphasized Tsoi. “We also have to consider today’s aesthetics, as well as the sense of Harvard, and the feedback from the students in terms of the practical use of the building.”

Where the computers are currently located, the plans anticipate restoring the working fireplace to allow for a more “homey” atmosphere. Along this theme, Tsoi envisions booth-style seating more conducive for study groups.

“We’re concentrating on having fewer activities all happening at the same place at the same time,” asserted Tsoi. “Right now, there’s foosball, pool, piano, computers, fast food – maybe that’s a little too much.”

Tsoi plans on moving the foosball and pool activities to the second floor, where there is a possibility that they might replace the faculty dining room, which might be moved to Hauser or Pound.

“We are grownups, we want a grown up space, we want it sophisticated and comfortable,” said Rita Ruskin. “None of the furniture that we have now meets this criteria.”

He also expects to remove the Harkbox cafeteria and replace it with a concession stand, though it is uncertain what the concession stand would offer. There may also be an additional concession stand on the second floor that would stay open after hours, serving sushi and salad. It is possible that instead of a concession stand on the first floor, there may just be free coffee, similar to what is currently available in Pound and Austin in the mornings.

“As you can see, we’re not moving a lot of things around, we’re just trying to get a better utilization of space,” said Tsoi.

Tsoi plans on getting rid of a bunch of walls to allow for more light, and replacing them with banquet seating to form a partial divider. For example, on the ramp up to the second level, students will now be able to see into the dining area and see if their friends are there already. This will provide for more light, and a warmer atmosphere.

“We want to try to get as much done in one fell swoop,” Tsoi said.

The Law School Physical Planning Committee, with student representatives Ron Varnum, 2L, and Molly Dunham, 1L, have already selected a nine-student focus group, and received significant student input about the planning process. Students are welcome to email them with additional comments at thehark@law.harvard.edu.

“We’re promising to try to get this done this summer so at least if you’re a 1L or 2L you’ll see the benefits of it,” asserted Tsoi.

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