Harvard Completes Houghton Library Renovation

Houghton Library / Photo by Peter Vanderwarker

Boston – Ann Beha Architects (ABA) announced the completed renovation of the Houghton Library, Harvard University’s principal repository for rare books and manuscripts.

In addition to significant changes to the building’s interior, the project included a redesign of the exterior entrance forecourt, enhancing the library’s presence in Harvard Yard and creating an accessible environment for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. A broad staircase leads directly to the main entrance, flanked by a pair of graded walkways, offering a universally accessible approach to the building.

ABA’s design modified the library’s oval lobby, unaltered since its completion in 1942, to create a new display setting for the library’s special collections. Two openings, aligned with exterior windows, were created in the lobby, connecting the interior to the new forecourt and introducing natural but modulated light to the lobby.

Modernized exhibition cases around the lobby perimeter display rotating exhibits drawn from the library’s holdings. A relocated and expanded cloakroom with lockers provides secure storage for patrons’ belongings, and a new visitor elevator now enables direct access to public spaces on all levels of the building, including new ground-floor ADA-compliant restrooms and second-floor exhibition space and classrooms.

A reconfigured, modernized reading room on the first floor supports both individual and collaborative research. Changes include a consultation room for reader check-in and materials requests and an adjacent group study room. These spaces are visually connected to each other and to the main reading room by full-height glazed partitions, which also provide acoustic separation between the three spaces. A new cork floor and acoustically treated ceiling contribute to the quieting of the rooms. Improved lighting, new adjustable-height chairs, and custom-designed tables were also added to make research comfortable and accessible for all.