Campus & Community

Chairs, tables, performances come to the Yard

5 min read

Community gathers to meet, talk, relax, or study

For the first time in more than a century, members of the Harvard community will be able to come together in Harvard Yard to meet, talk, relax, or study with the benefit of chairs and tables.

As part of the effort to enhance the ways in which members of the Harvard community experience the campus, the University will install tables and chairs within Harvard Yard and the Radcliffe Quad and will host open-air performances in select areas across the campus.  This project grew out of the work of the Steering Committee on Common Spaces, appointed last year and charged by President Drew Faust with developing ideas and recommendations to ensure that the physical environment better supports the intellectual and social vitality of the University.

Beginning Thursday (Sept. 3) and extending through the end of October, tables and chairs will be located near the Science Center, Memorial Hall, the Old Yard, Lehman Hall, and Boylston Hall.  Outdoor seating is also a new feature at the pub at Cambridge Queen’s Head at Loker Commons. Many of these newly installed seating areas will feature food options ranging from freshly made sandwiches, organic salads, and seasonal fruits to traditional pub fare to a Mediterranean menu.

“The Steering Committee on Common Spaces has been working the past year to identify ways in which imagination and goodwill, with modest financial investments, can be used to draw people together in spontaneous and informal ways,” said Faust.  “I hope that developing gathering places that are visible and attractive can help to enhance the campus and create a sense of place that is distinctly Harvard’s, yet open to the surrounding communities.  Installing tables and chairs throughout Harvard Yard is a small step in this direction, and it will be interesting to see how the experiment works this fall.”

Since its formation in the spring of 2008, the Committee on Common Spaces has been working with the University Planning Office (UPO) to gather input from the Harvard community about the ways the spaces of the Cambridge campus could be improved.  An extensive outreach effort, which included focus groups, interviews, and surveys, determined that the creation of informal gathering spaces that are central and accessible to all is desired throughout the Harvard community.

“The route from the Science Center through the Yard is a major circulation corridor on campus attracting undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff,” said Lizabeth Cohen, Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, chair of the History Department, a historian of the American urban and built environment, and co-chair of the Steering Committee on Common Spaces.  “Our experiments this fall are aimed at creating outdoor spaces along this corridor that draw people together for socializing, eating and drinking, and enjoying Harvard’s talented singers, actors, and other arts performers. Over time we will recommend additional strategies for making Harvard’s campus a more interactive and sociable place.”

The committee, in conjunction with its consultant team, led by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Landscape Architects, will continue to explore a range of potential physical enhancements.  Implementation of this new program is a first glimpse of the shape and form of possible future improvements.

“As a venerable educational landscape in North America, Harvard Yard must be preserved in all of its splendid and beautiful solemnity.  But it also needs to welcome daily use, especially by freshmen who don’t just visit the Yard from time to time but actually have the honor of calling it their home for an entire year,” said Michael Van Valkenburgh, principal of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.  “We think that this simple programmatic addition will dramatically increase accessibility without compromising any of the dignity of the space.”

These new gathering areas sprinkled throughout the campus will also feature brief lunchtime performances several times a week from student and affiliate groups.  The series will kick off with a dance performance by cast members from the American Repertory Theater’s (A.R.T.) production of the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway disco musical “The Donkey Show.” This feature of the Common Spaces initiative responds to recommendations from the Arts Task Force Report to encourage more arts programming across Harvard.

A listing of scheduled performances by Harvard students, faculty, staff, and the A.R.T. will be available through the Harvard Arts Web site and the Office for the Arts, which has taken on a key role in promoting this performance opportunity.

“Harvard’s Cambridge campus is a cherished historical space that offers tremendous potential to our community,” said Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the Graduate School of Design, Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design, and co-chair of the Common Spaces Steering Committee.  “Our vision of a spine of common spaces that support the Cambridge campus requires careful long-term planning. Testing out early ideas now will help the University spend its resources wisely and strategically in the years to come.”

“Students from across Harvard desire to connect more fully with the broader University,” said Aaron Chadbourne ’06, president of the Harvard Graduate Council. “Creating more spaces designed to promote interaction between students, faculty, and staff across the Schools will go a long way toward strengthening our University-wide community.”

The chairs and tables will be in place from Sept. 3 through Oct. 30 with performances occurring during lunchtime hours from noon to 2 p.m. For more information on scheduled performances, go to

The Harvard community is invited to send questions, comments, and feedback on the fall arts and chairs program to