Video: Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future: The Renewal of Swartz Hall

November 8, 2021
Exterior of Swartz Hall
Swartz Hall. Image by Caroline Cataldo, HDS
The renovation of Swartz Hall embodies Harvard Divinity School’s vision for a campus that is truly inclusive —a place where students from every imaginable tradition and background can come together in pursuit of humanity’s most fundamental questions and answers—both in classrooms worthy of their brilliance and in communal spaces that nurture the informal interactions from which new ideas and new relationships so often flow.

Full transcript:


PHILIP CHEN: This is the first comprehensive renovation to the building in over 100 years. Today, HDS is a really diverse, vibrant community-- over 30 different faith traditions. And the building had not yet caught up with its new mission.

DAVID N. HEMPTON: This beautiful, old Gothic building, the only one at Harvard, needed some tender love and care and restoration. And to have students back in person and these beautiful new spaces for them to be in just felt like almost a double miracle, actually.

One thing I really found walking through the building when it was being reconstructed was the number of craftspeople we met who were really excited about what they were doing. This was a project like no other they had worked on. There was a palpable and visible sense of pride in the quality of the woodworking and the quality of the roofing, and the sense of the sacred trust that we'd inherited and wanted to pass on.

PRESTON WILLIAMS: The school's always been a very diverse place. And you might have a widening of that at the moment. You had people from a large number of denominations, traditions.

CONNIE WILLIAMS: I was very struck when we went through the building at all of the comfortable spaces for students to gather informally. Of course, the space that looks out to the outside and sort of brings the outside in is just wonderful.

JANET GYATSO: The capacity of the James Room is something like 200 people. And that was one of the big reasons why we did this, actually, is to avoid having to take our party elsewhere when we just didn't have the space to accommodate it.

DIANA MARIN: This space is a centralized location. It's enclosed. It really feels like it's our Div School space. It has been the perfect space to just casually encounter my friends and have those meaningful conversations that we've been missing.

ODEVIZ SOTO: If there's one thing the pandemic has taught us, it's we need to go out and connect with nature. For me, it's actually this green space. It's the first thing that anyone coming to our campus for the first time will see. And to have this available to us is quite a gift.

PHILIP CHEN: A great development of the project was the emergence of the multi-faith space.

KERRY MALONEY: If we are talking about the spiritual life, in any tradition or no tradition, we want abundant light, and we want community. We also want to be alone, as we are alone together in our spiritual lives. So we need some solitude and community, and I think this room has the capacity for both. We feel a lovely blend of the old with the new, without eclipsing the old, but carrying it forward into the next 100 years.

PRESTON WILLIAMS: The school ought to be very thankful that there are persons like Susan and Jim Swartz, who have created a ministry of helping others.

DAVID N. HEMPTON: On behalf of our whole school community, I'm grateful for what has been accomplished. It's an enormous gift for us. And it is really a miracle, I think, that we've brought it to this very happy conclusion.