Giving great writers rooms of their own

by Arlinda Shtuni

In her seminal “A Room of One’s Own” Virginia Woolf wrote: “A writer needs money to provide her with the time, and she needs room to provide her with the space.” Envisioning Harvard University’s new Creative Writing Center gave us the rare pleasure of offering its occupants, luminary authors Claire Messud, Susan Faludi, Jill Abramson, Michael Pollan among others, exactly that—inspiring spaces to think and write in.

The project also sent us back to our archives looking for the original documents of our design of Harvard University’s Lamont Library, built in 1948, which now houses the Center. Working within the existing infrastructure of the building, we set out to refresh and update key design elements to reflect the current flow of activities in the space.

Our design challenge was: How do you balance the need for privacy within the offices with the desire for light-filled and welcoming common areas? Using a clerestory window at the office wall, we borrowed light to illuminate the corridor. To heighten the impression of daylight, while also referencing design elements from the Alto Room in the Library, we selected blond wood for the bent wood mailboxes and book rail. And by locating a glass room that doubles as a classroom and a conference space at the entry to the suite, we invited in striking views of the Harvard Yard.

The results are elegant and serene, giving the Center a bright expansiveness. One of its occupants, the distinguished author Claire Messud shared with us her experience in the space:

“Both aesthetically and practically, the new Creative Writing Program offices afford daily pleasure. I teach in the beautiful spacious seminar room, our conversations illuminated by the long bank of windows. And I love my office: it, too, is always light–with a view over the treetops in Harvard Yard–and beautifully quiet. The size and disposition of the room is ideal, as are its furnishings, with ample shelf-space for my endless books. The warm lighting and blond wood in the hallway create an impression of daylight even where it is not; and the reading spaces at either end of that hall are often pleasingly inhabited by students. We have, now, a real sense of community as writers on the Harvard campus; while at the same time each having a genuinely lovely private space in which to work. What a wonderful job the architects and designers have done–thank you.”