Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums

Cambridge, Massachusetts
United States
Harvard Art Museums

Silman, A TYLin Company, provided structural engineering services for the Harvard Art Museums project in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Harvard Art Museums project renovated, restored, and expanded the institution’s facilities and centralized the collections, galleries, and curatorial staff of the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum into one state-of the art building.

The LEED Gold-certified building contains gallery spaces of varying sizes, art conservation laboratories, specially designed study rooms, a 300-seat auditorium, and art storage areas.

The original structure at 32 Quincy Street was built in 1927, with additions and renovations occurring over the decades. The new project involved removing all later additions to the original construction and building a new addition on its east side. The roof was also replaced with a glass-walled study center that extends over the existing previously enclosed courtyard, linking it to the surrounding spaces.

Project Highlights:

  • Courtyard + Skylight - The project team removed the existing roof and laylight system over the existing travertine-clad interior central courtyard with a new glass roof supported on built-up steel purlins and delicate king post trusses spanning above. The roof is supported on three sides on a spanning structure consisting of a unique design of a combined horizontal and vertical truss that allows even more natural light while also coordinating with mechanical equipment and ducts.
  • Building Retrofit - It was important to the university and design team to keep as much of the existing building as possible to respect its history and conserve materials. However, to accommodate the new program, areas of the existing structure had to be removed to provide egress, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) shafts, or new framing for areas with higher live loads, such as high-density storage.

    To meet state building code requirements for a seismic retrofit within the existing building, Silman created a lateral system of concentrically braced frames using a combination of plate-reinforced existing columns and new steel columns. Since the existing spread footings under the reinforced existing columns were insufficient, new minipiles were drilled through the existing footings. New steel armatures transfer the loads from the existing columns into the minipiles.

    The existing floor system did not have the diaphragm capacity to transmit lateral forces into the new braced frames. To supplement the existing floor structure, Silman added new steel horizontal lateral members at the underside of the existing joists. Coordinating the locations of these members - with MEP systems, unforeseen field conditions, and finished ceilings that were as high as possible - presented a complex challenge during design and construction.
  • Addition + Carpenter Center - The concrete-on-metal deck on steel beam addition to the east also posed challenges. Due to the site’s high water table, a slurry wall was installed for temporary dewatering during the excavation and then used as the permanent foundation wall to provide maximum basement area and save time and materials. The project team also shored and protected Corbusier’s Carpenter Center ramp during this phase of construction, and then dug out over two levels of basement below it. Currently the 300-seat auditorium resides below the re-supported ramp plinth.
  • Galleries - The column-free galleries on the second and third floors of the new addition required 50-foot-long spans. The galleries cantilever 15 feet to the east and over 12 feet both to the north and south.

    These cantilevers also support smaller cantilevered “winter gardens” that create intimate gallery spaces with movable exterior facade panels to control light. To control the deflection of the winter gardens’ so that the exterior panels could be movable, Silman designed full-height trusses along the north and south face of the building that support the double cantilevers supporting these rooms.

Image Credit: Nic Lehoux


Harleston Parker Medal, 2021
Boston Society of Architecture
Preservation Award, 2015
Cambridge Historical Commission

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