Campus & Community

Made to shade

Video by Kai-Jae Wang/Harvard Staff

3 min read

A canopy of red banners creates a cool comfort zone at Science Center Plaza

Just outside the Science Center, waves of shade cascade across the plaza, providing respite from the summer sun — the product of a recently installed canopy dubbed Wavelength that combines form and function to create a practical and visually striking work of art.

Stretching more than 130 feet along the west side of the Science Center Plaza, hundreds of red, flag-like banners hang from wires, gently swaying. Underneath, crimson Adirondack chairs, decks, and café tables let visitors enjoy the outdoors on the sunniest of days. A large synthetic lawn (complete with giant chess set and Ping-Pong table) completes this urban oasis.

“One of our objectives is to make the plaza a destination for the Harvard community 365 days a year,” said Julie Crites, director for Common Spaces. “This shade canopy will greatly enhance the usability and overall enjoyment of the space in the warmer months.”

The canopy, designed by Interboro Partners, is the result of a collaboration among Harvard Common Spaces, Harvard Planning Office, and Project for Public Spaces.

A key design parameter was that the structure complement, and not interfere with, programs and events. “We tried to design something that was almost column-free, with a very wide span,” said Daniel D’Oca, associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and a co-founder of Interboro Partners. “That was primarily driven by the goal of making something beautiful and memorable without it being in the way of the many wonderful activities happening on the ground.”

Video by Kai-Jae Wang/Harvard Staff
Wavelength canopy.

Kris Snibbe and Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographers

While the team had the artistic freedom to create something colorful, vibrant, and full of movement, there were also practical considerations. The canopy had to be secured to the ground using foundation anchors already embedded within the plaza’s concrete pavers. “The way it’s designed, with the flags hanging vertically, it not only looks good, but provides the necessary amount of movement while not adding significantly to the uplift,” D’Oca said. “If you were to stretch a solid piece of fabric across the area it would act as a sail and put stress on the foundation.”

The canopy isn’t just for the Harvard community. On a recent Tuesday, Frank Williams of Boston and a companion were passing through campus and stopped to rest at the plaza.

“Like the farmers market, [the canopy] is another attraction and it’s great for getting out of the sun,” said Williams. “This is good for the community. It’s open to everybody and it’s a great way to get people out here.”

The canopy will be up through Aug. 17.

The plaza is just one of a number of common spaces across campus designed to bring people together. From the colorful Luxembourg chairs in Harvard Yard to the porch outside the Memorial Church and the soon-to-be-opened Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, these designated areas create stronger bonds among community members and help fulfill President Drew Faust’s vision for One Harvard.