Campus & Community

Historical Commission recognizes Radcliffe

3 min read

The Cambridge Historical Commission recently awarded its Preservation Recognition Award to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for its renovation of the Radcliffe Gymnasium, which preserved the historical fabric of the building while focusing on accessibility, quality, and sustainability. Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves, along with Historical Commission Chair William B. King and Vice Chair Bruce A. Irving, presented the award to representatives from the Radcliffe Institute and Bruner/Cott & Associates — the Cambridge architecture firm that designed and planned the renovation — at a May 23 ceremony held at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge.

The Cambridge Preservation Recognition Program was initiated in 1997 by the Cambridge Historical Commission to celebrate outstanding efforts to preserve and maintain historic properties throughout the city. Preservation awards are given annually for projects completed within the previous calendar year.

The Radcliffe Gymnasium renovation, completed in July 2006, was chosen from among a large pool of candidates for its “outstanding achievement in historical preservation and for making the City of Cambridge a more attractive and desirable place in which to work and live,” said King.

Built in 1898, the Radcliffe Gymnasium was the first building in Radcliffe Yard. The building was originally used for women’s fitness activities and included gymnastics equipment, a climbing apparatus, a suspended running track, and a basement-level swimming pool. In 2006, the gymnasium was transformed into the Radcliffe Institute’s central intellectual meeting place and now hosts fellows’ presentations, lecture series, and other events.

Combining the best of old and new, the renovation maintained many original features, while adding “green” and high-tech features that will foster accessibility, sustainability, and environmental responsibility for years to come. For example, the old swimming pool was transformed into a climate-controlled vault to preserve manuscripts from the institute’s Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Another feature is the gym’s environmentally driven geothermal heating and cooling system.

In 2005, the Radcliffe Institute also completed a dramatic renovation of its Schlesinger Library. The renovation focused on high-quality preservation of and security for the collections, while making the building a functional and attractive venue for researchers from Harvard and around the world. The library earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which recognizes a building for five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Byerly Hall, a third building renovation in Radcliffe Yard, broke ground in March 2007. The new Byerly Hall, expected to be completed in the summer of 2008, will house the 2008–09 Radcliffe Institute fellows’ offices (currently located at 34 Concord Ave.). With fellows’ offices centrally located in the Yard, the Radcliffe Institute will be even more conducive to an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and research. This renovation will also feature geothermal heating and cooling.

In a similar spirit to the gymnasium renovation, the Schlesinger Library and Byerly Hall renovations preserve the buildings’ histories, while updating them to modern quality with a focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility.