The Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH) should feel more like home when undergraduates return to campus this fall — that is, if home has a performance-quality audio system, high-definition, flat-screen TV, top-of-the-line gaming, Starbucks-level coffee drinks, and space in which to party or to meet with several hundred friends. Officials at the College’s Office of Student Life (OSL) say that the improvements are part of their summer effort to make the first floor more comfortable and welcoming.
“You’ll walk into the building and feel like this is a student space,” said OSL’s Doug Walo, manager of the SOCH. “You’ll feel like this is a social space. It will be vibrant and active.”
The renovation will cap the latest round of enhancements to undergraduate social spaces across campus. Over the past year, the Mather Multimedia Lab, the Eliot Grille activity space, the Cabot Café, and the Quad Grille lounge space in Pforzheimer House all saw improvements, including new lighting, flooring, seating, sound systems, and games.
“House life is the center of the undergraduate experience at Harvard,” said Evelynn M. Hammonds, dean of the College. “At the same time, we know that students are hungry for new and better spaces to meet and connect. Last year’s enhancements — and the ones scheduled for the SOCH this summer — build on the more than 57,000 square feet of social space we have added or renovated since 2006, despite significant constraints on our ability to expand the physical footprint of campus.”
The product of extensive meetings, discussions, and focus groups involving OSL staff and undergraduates, the SOCH renovations will address three social spaces: the event hall, the community room, and the living room. Walo says that the event hall — already popular with undergrads for performances, rehearsals, and parties — will be more fun and functional.
“Students wanted improved AV systems and infrastructure to support concerts and late-night parties,” Walo said. “So we’re installing lots of speakers and party lights and making the system very user-friendly. Students will be able to come in and, with just a little bit of training, plug and play without having to roll in speakers and run wires. It will all be built into the room. We’ll also have a green room, where performers can queue up and hang out before they go onstage.”
Walo said that the community hall will be a dynamic space that helps undergraduate organizations to connect with members and with each other. New furniture that rests on casters will enable configurations suitable to a big meeting, a small team discussion, or an informal dinner. The hall will have an ice machine, refrigerator, sink, and other kitchen facilities to support food and beverage service. Walo likens the space to another new and popular spot on campus.
“Its use will be similar to the way that the new Innovation Lab (i-lab) is used,” he said. “It can be used for impromptu meetings, because students can walk in and it will already be set up. There will be a small conference room, but students can adapt the space as they need.”
The most dramatic changes will take place in the lobby, which will be transformed into the living room. The space will support events taking place throughout the SOCH, and also serve as a casual meeting spot where students can come in, hang out, and have fun.
“There will be synergy between the spaces,” he said. “If you’ve got a late-night party in the event hall, students can sit down in the living room and chat. For conferences and lectures in the community hall, the living room will be a spill-out space. It will also be a place where students can meet casually and watch DirecTV on a flat screen, do some gaming, or play pool.”
SOCH users are enthusiastic about the changes. Daily Guerrero ’14 is the president of the Dominican Students Association, which was recently assigned an office in the building. In the spring, Guerrero took part in one of the focus groups that informed the planning.
“I liked that the focus was truly on student input,” Guerrero said. “It was clear that the architects and designers had listened to the wishes of the students. Their overall goal was to create a place that the students would use.”
Guerrero said the improvements will help the SOCH — host in the past year to more than 140 organizations, 150 events, and 550 meetings and rehearsals — to provide more support for her group and for undergraduate life.
“These changes have the potential of attracting many students to the quad,” she said.