Spaces where we belong
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Spaces where we belong

TenBerke

Spaces where we belong
By Editorial Staff -

TenBerke’s design approach combines respect for the existing building with the legibility of the new elements, and adaptive reuse projects are the ideal context to apply their founding values of authenticity, intellectual rigor, and passion for art. 

In the rooms of Lewis Law Center, Harvard University law students find a place designed to create a sense of community and belonging. The project, by New York firm TenBerke, plays on the balance between the need for privacy and the desire to enjoy sunlight and views of the landscape, and consists of the adaptive reuse of a modernist building from 1959, designed by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott, which serves as an archive for the campus library. The designers went beyond simply salvaging and converting an obsolete structure, aiming to adapt the architectural space to the social dynamics that characterize legal education today, and giving the building the essential function of connection on campus. 

Princeton University Residential Colleges - Chris Cooper, courtesy TenBerke Accessibilità e inclusione sono i valori alla base dei due studentati New College West e Yeh College, che rappresentano il primo passo verso il Princeton University 2026 Campus Plan.

The functional program of Harvard Law School’s Lewis Law Center includes meeting and conference rooms with a flexible layout, common areas that encourage interdisciplinary work, private offices and workstations, in addition to a state-of-the-art laboratory dedicated to cyberspace for the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. The process of revitalizing the building saw the creation of several openings in the existing stone façades, to let in as much natural light as possible, and a new entrance jutting out from the façade, enhancing the connection with the campus. This new entrance and a new top floor with a roof terrace were both built of metal and glass. Lastly, a new internal circulation system was created, with a series of vertical connections between the different floors.

TenBerke’s design approach combines respect for the existing building with the legibility of the new elements, and adaptive reuse projects are the ideal context to apply their founding values of authenticity, intellectual rigor, and passion for art. The firm’s recent projects of this type include 122 Community Arts Center in New York, the rehabilitation and expansion of a former public school, transforming it into an interdisciplinary hub for art and artists; and the 21c Museum Hotel in Oklahoma City, which saw a former Ford automobile factory, designed by Albert Kahn, converted into contemporary art galleries and 135 hotel rooms, as well as an event space, restaurant, bar and spa. 

Chris Cooper, courtesy TenBerke La lampada Tolomeo Mega di Artemide, disegnata da Michele de Lucchi con Giancarlo Fassina, è stata scelta, nella sua versione da terra, per l’illuminazione serale di questi spazi che, durante la giornata, sono inondati di luce naturale.

The logic of inclusion and the search for a sense of belonging that pervade these works are also present in a new project that saw the creation of two new residential colleges at Princeton University.
The architects themselves describe this work as their most ambitious thus far, both in terms of size and goals: this project will finally allow the American university to house its students for the duration of their studies, realizing a fully-integrated four-year residential college system.

INTERVIEW

Leaving a mark
Deborah Berke and Maitland Jones
Principals, TenBerke

The Lewis Law Center at the Harvard Law School was the product of adaptive reuse, a type of project that allows an existing building to be preserved in an era such as the present, which is characterized by consumption and transience. What were the design criteria behind the concept you developed for the renovation of the building?

Deborah Berke: We wanted to do the most with the least – that is, derive maximum impact with minimal destruction. Our design re-used the bones of the original structure, only demolishing 20% of the former building while at the same time transforming its identity inside and out.

Maitland Jones: The original building was built in 1957 by
well-regarded American architects Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott, and was designed as an extension to the law library stacks. By the 2000s, the building had become obsolete. Nowadays, there is no need for a storage facility of this size in the center of campus, and the building had become something of a bottleneck. Over time, the spatial and pedagogical needs of the law school have evolved, and therefore the building needed to change and adapt in turn. 

D.B.: The stacks did not need light, so it was a rather dark space. We cut openings in the exterior stone walls to let light in, and also added a light metal and glass addition to the building front. On campus, this building is experienced in the round, like a pavilion, so we repositioned the entries so that it is now open to the campus on each side.

M.J.: Inside, we removed some portions of the attics to create vertically connected spaces that foster collaboration, learning, and co-working. Positioned beneath skylights, these multi-level openings allow natural light to flow into the core of the building and enable new vertical sightlines. Meeting rooms and collaborative areas are grouped around these light wells to encourage conversation and community. We chose an exuberant color palette and eclectic furnishings that highlight the building’s geometry and the sociability of its spaces. We gave the groups housed in the building a compelling new way to work, to connect, and to play. That, perhaps, was the most transformative outcome of all.

 

In the case of the Henry Hotel, you worked on a complex, the Richardson Olmsted Campus in Buffalo, which is officially recognized as a National Historic Landmark. What were the biggest challenges you faced in the design process?

D.B.: This building was, quite literally, solidly built. The original interior partitions were solid masonry load-bearing walls, which made manipulating the interior layouts a bit of a puzzle.
The 140-year-old former state hospital facility was originally designed by H.H. Richardson with a landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. It is regarded as one of the great architectural treasures of the 19th century. Designed as the Buffalo Asylum for the Insane, the building followed an architectural model developed by the physician, Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, which emphasized adequate access to natural light and fresh air, with views of the relaxing landscape, for all the facility’s residents. At the time, Kirkbride’s plan represented the benchmark for asylums across the United States. The patient rooms were deliberately small but set alongside broad light-filled communal hallways. 

We converted this building into a boutique hotel and a conference and event center that includes the Buffalo Architecture Center. To create modern guest rooms, we could not simply tear down those solid interior walls. We made openings within them to combine rooms and added cabinet-like bump outs to the hallways to accommodate private bathrooms. The goal throughout the project was to respect and highlight the distinctive architecture of the complex, with interventions that allowed the building to live its new life, designed in continuity with the past but still legible as new. 

 

The two new residential colleges at Princeton University reflect a vision of the university environment as “a place where all students feel a sense of belonging”. How was this implemented in the facility spaces? 

M.J.: We borrow ideas we have learned from adapting old buildings in our designs for new ones. For instance, our concept of adaptive reuse deliberately reveals the signs of transformation. As a result, these revived buildings convey an image of continuity: the after does not erase the before. We make places where people can leave their imprint.

At Princeton, although the new residential colleges echo some of the scale, proportions and textures of other parts of campus, they are ultimately shaped with a contemporary language. They foster a sense of autonomy and belonging, seeming to say, “these spaces were built for you, in your time; you belong in them”. This is the central achievement of the design: to create a welcoming and inclusive college experience, an environment that is engaging and inviting, and a place that supports authentic and lasting communities.

To do this, we created spaces for the students that were not overly prescriptive, that they could make their own by moving furniture around. People are drawn to the particularities of old buildings, so we paid attention to introducing unique characteristics. We designed the façades to have enough distinctive elements that a student could point up to their room or their friends’, so they feel that the building is a place that they identify with and belong to. 

A principle of visibility runs throughout the design: by allowing students to make visual connections to the activities within, they can make choices in how to participate and build community, all on their own terms. Naturally, we cannot “choreograph” everything in advance, but these design interventions are catalysts to start the process of creating belonging.

 

Your studio’s earliest projects involved the redevelopment of industrial buildings as spaces where artists could live and/or work. Some of your more recent projects, such as the NXTHVN arts and community incubator in New Haven (Connecticut), mark a return to this theme. Why is this type of project so important to you?

D.B.: That is right, our earliest adaptive reuse projects were renovations of abandoned industrial spaces in New York City. Those buildings were beautiful just as we found them; they represented the fabric of the city, not its monuments. It has always been important to me that we address the urban fabric, to improve existing buildings, to change and adapt them to better serve an ever-changing city like the Big Apple. Artists thrive in old buildings because these places leave room for creative processes and free expression. The design for NXTHVN reveals, and even highlights, the history and identity of the buildings involved: one was an ice cream factory and the other a laboratory equipment factory. Timber beams, brick walls, and concrete floors were cleaned and left exposed, and some industrial elements were retained. For the artists who live and work in these spaces, the architecture becomes a creative envelope that does not intrude on their productive and artistic energy, but instead supports it. 

 

The project for the 21c Museum Hotel in Oklahoma City combines the two functions of hotel and contemporary art gallery. How do the two relate to, and complement, each other?

D.B.: We designed the first 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. It was the invention of two Kentucky contemporary art collectors, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, who wanted to take an active role in the revitalization of the downtown. They developed a hospitality model that combined their passions for genuine hospitality, art, good food, and reviving old buildings. We went on to design eight more hotels with them, most reimagining old buildings that are an important part of the city’s fabric.

The 21c Museum Hotel in Oklahoma City was designed by Albert Kahn as a Ford Model-T assembly plant. The building has an incredible presence, and its revival has spurred development around it. The art inside the Museum Hotels is provocative and interesting. Each hotel has a restaurant that serves local cuisine. Each becomes a destination, open late into the evening, becoming a sort of city lounge. 

 

TenBerke was founded on the idea that architecture is not an end in itself, seeing projects as “the instruments of meaningful and sustainable change”. What are the most important results you have achieved so far, and what are your goals for the future?

M.J.: We have long talked about our work in terms of outcomes, which are often social: how do people use our spaces? How do our buildings prompt agency and help communities thrive? We see in our buildings spaces that are well-used and well-loved – that is a mark of success to us. We would like to continue with this kind of philosophy: to design buildings that fit into the fabric of the place and benefit it; sustainable buildings that spark delight in those who experience them.

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Client: Harvard Law School
Completion: 2022
Gross Floor Area: 4,686 m2 (Renovation: 3,526 m2, New Construction: 1,160 m2)
Architect and Interior Designer: TenBerke

Consultants
Owner’s Representative and Project Manager: CSL Consulting 
Structures and Envelope: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH)
Lighting: One Lux Studio
MEP/FP: Altieri
Civil: Nitsch Engineering
Landscape: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Sustainability: Atelier Ten
AV/IT: Cerami

Photography: Chris Cooper, courtesy of TenBerke

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