This project transforms the top floor of a 1950’s military training barrack to create a new public identity for language learning and teaching in the 21st century. Strategic interventions in the existing building’s ridged 10’ x 10’ column and beam structure and new skylights are used to “un-lock” space without columns and bring in natural light. The design creates flexible language classrooms and a new collaborative social space for study, group work, conversation and presentations. The 18,000 GSF project, completed during a single summer, includes new accessible bathrooms, a new elevator to connect the building’s three floors, energy efficient building systems, and a new insulated roof.

The design provides three language classroom types for different formats of 21st century language learning: small group rooms for focused discussion, mid-sized seminar classrooms and large classrooms for lecture presentations. Each classroom is designed as a flexible space, providing projection screens, whiteboards, and blackboards on three walls in a U-shaped adaptable learning environment. With mobile furniture, lessons can quickly change from video-lecture or distance learning to chalkboard calligraphy and small group discussion.

The project’s central social space, the Language Commons, provides a new collective social space for the Department. The space functions as a classroom waiting area, circulation zone and informal study and collaboration space that triples the size of the original, congested narrow corridor. The design integrates acoustic performance with bespoke perforated wood panels and felt patterns designed to absorb sound. With workbenches, writable whiteboards and movable furniture, students and faculty can meet before class, work in small groups, and exhibit and present their work.

Design Principles:
Introduce natural light in the Language Commons and classroom through new skylights that connect the Department with the world outside.

Integrate the acoustic & spatial environments. Wood panels are digitally designed and fabricated to meet acoustic performance criteria for human voices in conversation. The panels’ acoustic felt patterns are inspired by a subtle visual play with the iconic speech bubble.

Create flexible collaboration space. Movable furniture, color and natural light define the Language Commons, an adaptable new social space where people can gather and converse for study, poetry readings and tutorials before and after classes.
Redefine the language classroom as a polycentric learning space with the flexibility to rapidly adapt to different contemporary language teaching and learning formats.

Status: Completed
Client: Harvard University
Location: Cambridge, MA
Design Team:
Frano Violich, FAIA; Managing Principal
Sheila Kennedy, FAIA; Principal Consulting on Design
Shawna Meyer, AIA LEED AP; Project Architect
Bob White, AIA; Project Manager
Adiel Benitez, Patrick Weber, Charlotte D’Acierno, Hannah Liechty; Project Designers
Architect: Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd
Gilbane Construction (general contractor)
Buro Happold
Leavitt Associates
Photographer: John Horner

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Active Learning Language Lab