Independent Study by Candidates for Master’s Degrees

SummaryThis research seminar will examine social spaces in the academy using Harvard University as a case study. For purposes of this seminar and research study, social spaces are defined as outdoor and indoor physical places usable by any member of the university community for purposes of such informal activities as meeting friends, reading, dispensing information, resting, performing, and eating. Sometimes, social spaces are intentionally designed, like the array of boulders directly outside the entrance to the Science Center. Sometimes, they arise spontaneously, like the area created by the intersecting pathways next to the boulders. Sometimes, social spaces serve several functions. For example, the steps in front of Widener Library are both social space and corridor of egress and ingress for the library itself. Social spaces may be recognized and used by individuals as such, or may require programmatic, design, and amenity interventions to become usable, or more usable, places. Although social spaces in the academy may also be usable by individuals not formally part of the defined university community, they need not be to qualify as social spaces.Research StudyThe specific research study is organized into four phases: identification, representation, analysis, and conceptualization.First, the research study will identify every social space at Harvard University. Dividing the Harvard campus into zones (initially excluding the Longwood campus), researchers will comb every square foot of Harvard-owned and controlled property to locate actual and potential social spaces. In some cases, the character and discreteness of the space will be apparent, in others judgments about utility and boundaries will be necessary. Is Harvard Yard, for example, one social space or many? Researchers will interview individuals responsible for controlling different territories of the university to unearth their attitudes and rules with regard to space under their control. For example, some libraries invite social space use, while others expressly do not.Second, the research study will represent every space using uniform graphic and text vocabularies, including digital images, site plans, sketches, maps, tables, objective profiles, and other devices. The research study will develop maps showing spaces in relation to one another and to other aspects of the Harvard campus and surrounding areas in Cambridge and Boston.Third, the research study will analyze every space in terms of its actual and potential use, using specially tailored post-occupancy evaluation techniques of user surveys, in-depth interviews, temporal and time-lapse observational photography conducted at different times of year and day, and activity mapping. A core group of representative social spaces will undergo heightened analysis. Evaluative frameworks for spaces with potential, rather than actual, use will also be developed and applied.Fourth, the research study will conceptualize ways in which Harvard\’s social spaces may enhance the experiences of Harvard students, faculty, and staff in their daily lives. Such goals as encouraging social interactions and sparking creative activities are part of this conceptualization effort. The study will also consider how social spaces may serve the goal of encouraging interactions between members of the Harvard community and members of the surrounding communities of Cambridge and Boston. Specific proposals will be developed to understand Harvard\’s social spaces as part of a system or network of connected usable places rather than an archipelago of random dots within the Harvard campus.Course RequirementsThe course will operate as a research study with faculty and students serving as the research team. Enrollment is limited to 20 students. The class will meet weekly for two hours at a time to be determined that does not conflict