Photo by Kris Snibbe
From the roof above Sanders Theatre, Elizabeth Randall surveys her handiwork: University Hall, Boylston Hall, the freshman dorms. Randall, capital projects manager for Faculty of Arts and Sciences Physical Resources, oversaw the renovations of these and many other Harvard landmarks. She even helped pick out paint color for the Memorial Church’s recent sprucing-up.
Craning her neck, Randall admires her most visible achievement: the tower atop Memorial Hall, replaced in 1999. “That was a great project,” she says, waxing poetic about working with original materials: “real, honest-to-goodness slate and copper and steel.” Plus, she says, it was free from the politics that can bog down other jobs. “There was no one saying ‘I need a bigger office’ or ‘I need a parking space that’s closer.'”
Randall is a traffic cop of sorts for renovations of Harvard buildings, hiring architects and contractors, helping select materials, choreographing work schedules, and preventing fender-benders with students, faculty members, and administrators. “I tell everybody else how to do their jobs,” she says with an easy laugh. “I have a pulse on the entire process.”
With a master’s degree in classical art history, Randall began her Harvard career at the University Art Museums in 1984 but moved into her current position in 1989. While she clearly appreciates the soaring artistry of building renovation, she also revels in the down-and-dirty details of construction. She gives a quick lesson on selecting toilet partitions for restrooms and describes mixing it up with welders to ensure that the Memorial Hall tower didn’t burn during construction, as the last one did in 1956.
Randall lauds the University’s buildings for their “good bone structure” and praises Harvard for making smart restoration decisions and providing the resources to do the job right. She’s hard-pressed to designate a favorite building or project, but Matthews Hall’s “buttery” brick, the second-floor bedroom of Warren House, the period finishes in Apthorpe House, and of course the Memorial Hall tower, “for how it’s changed the skyline of Cambridge and gripped the imagination,” make her short list.
Yet it’s not just glamour and glory that captivate Randall. Leading visitors to the cobwebbed rafters above Memorial Hall’s transept, she stoops to admire a doorknob carved with filigreed leaves and plants. The handle to a little-used door from a humble classroom, it’s a stunning – albeit obscure – display of craftsmanship in a building embarrassed by artistic riches. “This kind of thing,” she says in awe, “is what gives me the most pleasure about my job.”
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