Originally built as a solemn tribute to the school’s men and women who lost their lives in World War I, Harvard University’s Memorial Church is much more than a typical house of worship. Now a historic site hosting a flood of daily public tours, music practices, and guest lectures, this space now serves as something much greater than a space for contemplation—it is a communal hub. When it became clear this keystone to campus life needed some updating, Harvard looked to the minds at Payette to renovate the building. In turn, architects entrusted Acentech to provide acoustics and audiovisual consulting for this noteworthy project.
Re-imagining the interior of historic structures can present quite the challenge—if one completely changes the space to fit the new needs of end users, people lose a valuable connection to the past. On the other hand, strictly sticking to the original design of the building ignores why people needed the renovation in the first place. Ultimately, designers chose to create two distinctive spaces: the main chapel area would receive restorative design work, while the basement would be redesigned as a student and administrative oasis. One of the most significant aspects to working on this historic facility involved improving the mechanical systems within the space. More airflow was needed to properly control the temperature of the facility, which in turn required replacement of the existing duct work. Within the church, offices directly above the Sanctuary (where the organ is played) in turn benefitted from this mechanical system upgrade. Minimal sound isolation between these administrative spaces and the booming organ below created a huge distraction. Much of the noise from the organ itself was transmitted to these offices through the improperly isolated ductwork. To ensure the planned changes to this building would effectively meet the expectations of the end users, Acentech created a 3DListening® model to allow staff and planners to hear the effectiveness of the sound isolation methods during the design process. This measure was key to managing client expectations and to providing a clear method of communication between the architect and those occupying the facility after the renovation. By ensuring the proper installation of these new systems, these work areas received significant reductions in distraction noise from musical activity within the facility.
When addressing the audiovisual needs of this project, Acentech’s consultants paid close attention to how digital enhancements to the building could have the potential to impact the historic integrity of the site itself. After all, adding modern amenities to any space is intuitively against the idea of historic preservation. Strategically placed digital signage has been put in place to greet visitors on the main level. Acentech also designed the audiovisual components of the conference rooms and a choir rehearsal room located on the lower level. These enhancements help bring the necessities of working in the 21st century into this building without compromising the history associated with this site.