When Michael Van Valkenburgh looks across Harvard Yard, he sees trees such as honey locusts, hackberries, and red oaks thriving where American elms once stood. The Graduate School of Design professor helped create a master plan for the Yard’s landscape in the late 1980s, when scores of its trees were being wiped out by Dutch elm disease. His firm was enlisted to restore the Yard’s canopy in the early 1990s and in the 25 years since, it has continued to help guide new plantings. Contrasting photos of the Yard from before the restoration in the ’90s with photos taken from the same perspective today, Van Valkenburgh reflects on the evolution of an iconic space.

“Before” photos (top) by Michael Van Valkenburgh, “after” photos by Charles Mayer; quotes by Michael Van Valkenburgh

Holworthy Hall

Holworthy Hall, 1990s vs. 2017

Matthews Hall

Matthews Hall, 1990s vs. 2017

Memorial Church

Memorial Church, 1990s vs. 2017

Fogg Museum


Fogg Museum, 1990s vs. 2017

University Hall

University Hall, 1990s vs. 2017

Weld Hall

Weld Hall, 1990s vs. 2017

Widener Library

Widener Library, 1990s vs. 2017


In the Yard, a changing of the guard

Declining elms mean oaks, honey locusts, other trees now dominate