Cambridge, Massachusetts


ABA’s renovation of Houghton Library, Harvard University’s principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, pairs heritage spaces with design interventions create an inclusive setting that supports diverse approaches to research, learning, and teaching.

ABA modified the library’s oval lobby, unaltered since its completion in 1942, to create a new display setting for the library’s unparalleled special collections. Two new openings, aligned with exterior windows, connect the interior to the new forecourt, introducing natural but modulated light to the lobby. Modernized cases around the lobby perimeter display rotating exhibits drawn from the library’s holdings. A relocated and expanded cloakroom with lockers provides secure storage for patrons’ belongings, and a new visitor elevator now enables direct access to public spaces on all levels of the building, including new ground-floor ADA-compliant restrooms and second-floor exhibition space and classrooms.

A reconfigured, modernized reading room supports both individual and collaborative research. Changes include a consultation room for reader check-in and materials requests and an adjacent group study room. These spaces connect visually to each other and to the reading room via full-height glazed partitions, which also provide acoustic separation between the three spaces. A new cork floor and acoustically treated ceiling contribute to the quieting of the rooms. Improved lighting, new adjustable-height chairs, and custom-designed tables make research comfortable and accessible for all.

In addition to significant changes to the building’s interior, the project includes a redesign of the exterior entrance forecourt, enhancing the library’s presence in Harvard Yard and creating an accessible environment for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. A broad, welcoming staircase leads directly to the main entrance, flanked by a pair of graded walkways offering a universally accessible approach to the building.

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Project Size: 5,000 sf; 14,400 sf landscape

Project Team: Thomas M Hotaling AIA; Ann M. Beha FAIA; Jonathan Ross AIA; Ian Miller AIA; Katherine Ernst; Stacey Wilson (ABA); R. W. Sullivan (MEP); LeMessurier Consultants, Inc. (Structural); Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting (Lighting Design); Acentech (Acoustics); IKD (Exhibit Design/Signage/Graphics; Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (Landscape Architect); Hastings Consulting Inc. (Code Consultant); Kalin Associates Inc. (Specifications); Existing Conditions Survey, Inc. (Building Documentation); Consigli Construction (Construction Manager); Peter Vanderwarker (Photographer)