Harvard Divinity School Swartz Hall Renovation and Expansion: An Architectural View


CAMBRIDGE, MA — Ann Beha Architects recently celebrated the completion of the renewal and expansion of Harvard Divinity School’s Swartz Hall. (Photos provided by Ann Beha Architects)

Standing at the center of academic and administrative life of HDS, Swartz Hall was constructed in 1911 and is Harvard University’s only Collegiate Gothic structure.

With a mission to educate students of religion for intellectual leadership, professional service, and ministry, HDS is the first nonsectarian theological institution in the United States.

As part of this major renovation, the first since the building’s completion, ABA designed an architectural environment reflective of the school’s multireligious community and the many faith traditions practiced by students, staff, and faculty. In addition to preserving the historical character of an existing chapel, an inclusive multifaith space and adjacent room for ritual cleansing by Muslims before daily prayers were created from former library stack space on the second floor.

ABA completed extensive preservation work in the historic building, and improvements to mechanical systems and building envelope — including replacement of the original Vermont slate roof — will significantly reduce energy consumption, in alignment with Harvard University’s Sustainability Principles.

Targeting LEED Gold or higher, the building was completely rehabilitated, internally insulated, and retrofitted with new high-performance windows. Damaged and worn stained glass windows were repaired throughout the building, with technical expertise provided by local master glass painters and glaziers.

ABA’s design replaced a previous addition with a two-story, 13,000-square-foot expansion that includes a dining commons with café and lounge on the first floor. At the center of the commons stands a fireplace built of granite repurposed from the original building, reflecting one of the project’s sustainability goals — diverting at least 75% of construction and demolition waste from landfills.

The second floor of the new addition features a 200-seat multipurpose space and new classrooms with fully integrated technology, including projectors, monitors, cameras, touch-panel control systems, microphones, chargers, and assisted-listening systems. With a completely glass facade, the addition dissolves the separation between interior and exterior, allowing in ample daylight and visually opening the multipurpose room to a renewed campus green and views to the century-old building. A new terrace and gas fireplace with a surround of granite quarried in Deer Isle, Maine, functions as a front porch while adding new outdoor gathering space to the campus.

Access was a key element of the renewal project, with a goal of ensuring all visitors to Swartz Hall feel welcome. The new, accessible entrance leads from the green into the new commons, where visitors can enjoy the new café, a double-sided fireplace, and meeting areas. A glazed ramp in the original chapel provides access for visitors of all abilities.

The rejuvenated Swartz Hall creates a new campus gateway and center of academic, social, and spiritual life for HDS, building connections with the Harvard campus and surrounding neighborhood. “The collective ABA team proved to be very talented and able to successfully meet the frequent challenges the project presented,” notes Ralph de Florio, Director of Operations for the duration of the project. “Ann Beha Architects was the right architectural firm for this project and the school will benefit from their work on this project for many decades to come.”


Ann Beha Architects: Philip B. Chen FAIA, Principal-in-Charge; Ann M. Beha FAIA, Collaborating Principal; Edward O. Rice AIA, Senior Associate; Ji-Hye Ham AIA, Project Architect; Ian Miller AIA; Carl Damas; Amit Oza; Kristen Starheim; and Sarah Rivard.

Owner: Harvard Divinity School

Construction Manager: Shawmut Design & Construction 

Structural Engineer: Structures North Consulting Engineers

MEP Engineer: Altieri

Landscape Architect: Stimson Associates

Geotechnical: Haley & Aldrich

Civil Engineer: Nitsch Engineering

Site Survey: Green International Affiliates, Inc.

Envelope” Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

Code and Accessibility: Code Red Consultants

Cost Estimator: CHA (Daedalus Projects, Inc.)

Lighting Design: Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting

Acoustics / AV / IT: Acentech

Food Service: Ricca Design Studios

Sustainability: Atelier Ten

Elevator: Syska Hennessy Group

Laser Scanning: Feldman Land Surveyors

Specifications: Kalin Associates

Photography: Chuck Choi

Ann Beha Architects (ABA) has more than 40 years of architectural and planning experience for cultural, civic, and academic clients. Led by Principals Philip B. Chen FAIA, Ann M. Beha FAIA, Thomas M. Hotaling AIA, and Steven Gerrard AIA, ABA is a minority-owned business with a talented and highly qualified 43-person professional staff.

ABA’s work establishes a dynamic discourse between heritage and the future, with a design philosophy equally dedicated to contemporary architectural expression and the revitalization of historic resources. Planning and designing worldwide, ABA sees architecture as a transformative and enduring force for change, growth, and celebration. The firm’s projects shape and strengthen community life, establishing new directions, identities, and settings for exploration, collaboration, and innovation.