Harvard University identified the Hemenway Gymnasium in the Law School Yard as an optimal location for much-needed fitness facilities. Hemenway was a memorable destination for many alumni, but in recent years the squash facility, which housed 12 American-sized courts, had become obsolete and underutilized. The primary design challenge was that the structural configuration and lack of natural light were not conducive to a fitness center—especially considering the social role fitness centers play for contemporary students. Sasaki executed an exterior restoration and a gut interior reconfiguration. The primary design intervention was the additional of a large area of fenestration at main façade that allows natural light deep into all levels of the center and offers views into the facility from a main campus circulation route. The facility has been hugely successful and operates at full capacity the majority of the day and evening.
With interior volume and floor area essentially fixed, the program component mix became a negotiation among the potential users: students, faculty and staff who advocated for cardio machines, strength and conditioning equipment, wood floor gym space, and International sized courts for the displaced squash players.
A top level wood floor gym was retained and upgraded. Two above-grade levels and two below-grade levels were opened to each other through balconies, bridges, and a grand interconnecting open stair. The center includes a cardio area, strength and conditioning area, stretching balcony, multi-purpose room for fitness classes, locker rooms and a control desk. Special lighting, fine wall and floor finishes, color, mirrors, and modern materials like glass lockers and shower enclosures duplicate the feel of a high-end health club. The exterior work included a red slate roof and energy efficient re-glazing of all windows.
The historic designation brought significant limitations to any alterations to the building exterior and required Cambridge Historical Commission review and approval. Many iterations of the façade design were required to obtain Historic Commission approvals. At the same time, ADA compliance included an elevator accommodated within the existing volume. ADA and Building Code compliance and building system updates were required.