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Case Studies 

Harvard Common Spaces




Contributed by 
Project for Public Spaces
November 3, 2015
December 22, 2017

What makes it Great?

Why it doesn't work?

For nearly a decade, Harvard’s ongoing Placemaking efforts have been activating the campus’s public spaces and enriching the lives of students, faculty, staff, and the wider Cambridge community. PPS began working with Harvard in 2005 to support their long term Placemaking initiative, helping to use Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper tactics to transforms several public spaces.

The first step was adding seating. A number of brightly-colored, movable chairs and benches were scattered around the Harvard Yard. This simple intervention quickly gained immense popularity. Chairs were constantly rearranged and turned into venues for hanging out, studying, eating, conducting seminars, and even hosting a giant game of musical chairs. With this success, Harvard identified its next site for activation - The Plaza - an underutilized outdoor space passed through by almost every person on campus. Through pointed LQC improvements and exciting programming, the Plaza was turned into an anchor on campus and a destination for the Cambridge population. The Plaza became the host of The Plaza Pet Therapy Zoo, the Cambridge Open Market, an ice skating rink during the winter, food trucks, games, exercise classes, performances and more. Today, The Plaza and the Harvard Yard are places for coming together, for relaxation, and for connecting students across disciplines and with faculty and residents in unprecedented ways.

Access & Linkages

Comfort & Image

Uses & Activities


How Light?

How Quick?

How Cheap?

History & Background

Related Links & Sources

Photo credits, from left: Connie Ma via Flickr, Joshua D via Flickr, PPS, PPS, PPS, PPS

Follow Harvard Common Spaces

Website: commonspaces.harvard.edu

Facebook: facebook.com/HarvardCommonSpaces

Twitter: https:@HarCommonSpaces

Learn more about Harvard Common Spaces on the PPS Blog:

Harvard University North Campus Placemaking Study 

Meet Me at The Plaza: New Seats, New Scene at Harvard University

Placemaking at Harvard Yard: Enhancing the Humanities with Human Activity

Harvard Common Spaces
The Plaza has been activated with ongoing activities
Harvard Common Spaces
Winter-sensitive activities, like roasting marshmallows, ensures the Plaza remains a destination year-round
Harvard Common Spaces
Harvard Yard was reinvented with simple LQC improvements
Harvard Common Spaces
Food truck at the Plaza
Harvard Common Spaces
Or relaxing
Harvard Common Spaces
Harvard Common Spaces
Harvard Common Spaces

*Please note that these Hall of Shame nominations were written in a moment in time (most over a decade ago) and likely have since changed or even been transformed. If the above entry is now great, or still not so great, go ahead and comment below on how it has evolved or nominate it as a great place.


Corrections or additions? Email info@pps.org
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