Andover Makeover

February 15, 2018
Andover Makeover

As a student, Natalie Campbell, MTS ’18, needed more than a campus, she needed a second home.

During the 2017–18 academic year, she commuted to class each day from Belmont and couldn’t easily go back and forth to the School, so she often stayed in Cambridge late into the evening. As a result, she needed a place not only to study, but also to eat, relax, and connect with classmates. Unfortunately, those kinds of spaces are few and far between at HDS—particularly at the School’s main campus building, Andover Hall.

“Andover Hall is the center of campus, but it really isn’t equipped to be a center of the community,” says Campbell, who graduated last May. “I can walk around and see no one or maybe a sprinkling of people here or there, but there’s no central place I can go and hang out with my classmates. Most students I know like to go to the Law School, Lamont, Widener, or other places removed from HDS that are comfortable and have food. I wish Andover was the type of space that made people want to stay on campus.”

Harvard University’s only instance of Collegiate Gothic architecture, Andover Hall is the Divinity School’s signature building. Its stone walls, soaring bell tower, impressive woodwork, and grand chapel all summon the School’s long history as a training ground for religious leaders and scholars. But, while HDS has evolved beyond its origins as a residential seminary for liberal Protestant ministers, the often austere teaching, learning, and meeting spaces that the School offers to students like Natalie Campbell have not kept pace. Now, thanks to a major gift from Susan and Jim Swartz, AB ’64—the largest in HDS history—and from other generous donors, Andover Hall will undergo a renewal, its first since construction over 100 years ago.

Dean David N. Hempton says that the project has the potential to transform not only the School’s campus, but also every aspect of teaching and learning at HDS.

“The renewal of Andover Hall will allow us to prepare twenty-first-century students for lives of scholarship, ministry, service, and religiously literate leadership in all fields,” he says. “It will create new spaces that enable them to learn from each other in an atmosphere of safety, authenticity, and mutual respect. It will centralize and modernize all we do to support the academic endeavor. And it will leverage technology in new ways to bring knowledge of religion to the world far beyond our little corner of Cambridge.”

A True Campus Center

The vision for the new Andover Hall is of a true campus center that brings HDS’s core academic resources together with student services. Modernized classrooms with flexible spaces will facilitate new ways of teaching and learning. A 200-seat auditorium will enable the School to host global leaders for conferences and public conversations on religion. A multifaith chapel will welcome all members of the HDS community for worship, performances, and other gatherings. And the new Andover will provide full access throughout the building for people of all physical abilities.

“Like all of Harvard, we have to adapt our spaces to meet the needs of future generations of scholars and students who will walk our halls and inhabit their roles at Harvard and indeed the world,” says Dean Hempton. “The exchange of ideas and knowledge—the interactions that students, faculty, guest scholars and speakers, and alumni have face-to-face—will be enhanced by a renewed physical campus.”

The new Andover will also include an updated multimedia infrastructure that reflects the interconnected, technology- enhanced, multireligious reality students inhabit—and that facilitates the research and collaboration that make HDS faculty among the best in the world. Academic Dean Janet Gyatso knows how much new digital tools can complement and augment the work that happens on campus. Nonetheless, she says that HDS must continue to strike a balance between the “rich information and resources found online and the both wonderful and critical experience of teaching and learning together in person.”

“Technology can provide amazing tools and access to knowledge,” she says. “But we should never lose sight of the deep connections and inspirations that come from working in community and proximity and that foster value and commitment in our work.”

To facilitate those connections, the School aims to create new communal spaces in the revitalized Andover. Particularly important in light of the fact that HDS is not a residential campus, social space gives students opportunities for informal learning outside of classrooms, a central aspect of the educational experience. According to Tim Whelsky, associate dean for enrollment and student services, these spaces are also critical for the School’s global recruitment efforts.

-By Paul Massari