Harvard University

Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center
Cambridge, MA
Project Facts

Hopkins Architects
Bruner Cott Architects
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

Full Case Study:

The Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center project was a complex transformation of a large and historic building in Harvard Square into a new type of campus commons for Harvard University. Ascent managed all aspects of the program.

Client Background

Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States and is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2008, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust assembled the Steering Committee on Common Spaces to respond to a campus-wide need for physical spaces and programs that bring the university community together and create a sense of place. A key recommendation of the committee was to create visible and inviting focal points that improve the campus and enhance connections between people for work or pleasure in a spontaneous and informal way. The Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center is a direct result of that initiative.

About the Project

The new Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center is a reimagining and restoration of Harvard’s Holyoke Center, a historically significant administrative building in the heart of Harvard Square designed by Jose Luis Sert in the 1960s. The building occupies an entire city block in one of the busiest areas of Cambridge. The university identified its central location and significant size as an ideal location for a “common” campus center open to all Harvard students, faculty, staff, and members of the public. The transformation involves three major components performed in phases over five years:

– Smith Campus Center: The center’s new program involved renovations to three floors of the building. It includes open, flexible spaces—indoors and out—for a range of ever-changing activities, including meetings and events, lounging and studying, dining, exhibitions, and performances.

– Harvard University Health Services (HUHS): Renovations to the university’s 24-hour medical facility include a new pharmacy with a dedicated compounding room; a new behavioral healthcare clinic; executive, administration, and information technology offices; data rooms; and conference facilities.

– Façade: Complete restoration of the reinforced concrete façade involved the entire 300,000 SF building while it remained open and occupied by more than 700 employees.

The project’s design team consisted of London-based Hopkins Architects, Cambridge-based Bruner/Cott Architects, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (façade), Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (landscape architect), and Arup (engineering).


Scheduling three very different project types to be conducted simultaneously within a historic building while it remained occupied in a busy area required an extremely high level of expertise in planning, project management, transitioning, and safety.

How Did Ascent Help?

Ascent provided comprehensive project management services, including owner’s representation and project management, to deliver an ambitious design vision and complex program.


Since opening in time for the 2018 fall semester, the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center has remained actively used. The first two floors of the campus center are largely open to the public, further connecting the university to the city and potential students and their families. Campus media articles tout the new center as “Harvard’s new living room” and a “center in the crossroads,” noting its success as a convivial gathering space and its role in creating better connections across the university’s schools, disciplines, and affiliations.

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