Ask Benny: What are they building next to Civic House?

Dear Benny,
What is going on in the space between the Civic House and Harnwell College House? How long will this excavation last?
— Tired of Taking the Long Way Around

Dear Weary Walker,

Hang in there. Your aching feet should get a break by the end of the year. The construction you’ve noticed is part of a project that’s building new walkways and adding new large tree planters to the open area between Civic House and Harnwell.

Why the need for trees? Let’s go back a few years. When the high-rise dormitories were built in 1967, their design—informed by then Graduate School of Fine Arts Dean G. Holmes Perkins—was right in line with the architectural trends of the day, owing a lot to the stern vocabulary of Brutalism. Derived from the French, éton brut, or “raw concrete,” Brutalist buildings are known for their unadorned forms and geometric shapes. Forty years on, the high-rises are still striking, but their stark style has long since gone out of fashion.

The recent renovations have helped to haul the towers into the 21st century, but the windswept expanse between them has remained problematic.

As Tony Sorrentino, director of external relations for the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services, explains, “The planters are designed both to add to the aesthetics of the area, and to provide public seating, but also to brace against the chilling winds that whip through this area. The goal is to curb the wind tunnel effect.”

Originally published on October 20, 2005