Harvard’s Chair Project

Who knew that furniture could matter so much?

In an effort to foster a sense of community, in 2009 the university installed brightly colored tables and chairs within Harvard Yard and the Radcliffe Quad. It seems to be a success. According to an article by Billy Baker in the Boston Globe:

When they first arrived a few years ago as an experiment in changing Harvard Yard as a public space, one of the first things people pointed out was how they did not look very Harvard.

There were a couple hundred of them in lollipop-colored aluminum – yellow and orange and red and neon green – light and untethered, available for whatever. They appeared after a committee charged with improving the social spaces on campus thought one way to soften the feel of the Yard was to introduce a very simple tool: the chair.

TheHarvardChairs

Technically if you only do it at Harvard that makes it, by definition, a “very Harvard” look, but whatever. According to the article,

“People felt that there was no invitation to linger at Harvard Yard, and the message of the structures was just ‘Head along the walkways to your destination,’ ’’ said Harvard’s president, Drew Faust. “They were meant to say that Harvard Yard isn’t a place you have to rush through.’’

There’s no indication that the on-campus time of the average student has increased much since the introduction of the chairs three years ago but Faust, at least, seems pretty impressed

The chairs were apparently inspired by those in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris Faust claims to sit in her school’s chairs regularly. She “likes eavesdropping, likes listening to whatever connection is happening.”

Tourists and visitors are apparently also fans of the outdoor furniture. According to the article, they view them as “places to sit with the students, to interact and ask questions, and sometimes just stare at them as if they are parts of the scenery.”

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer