Next up for House renewal: Eliot

Eliot House, known for its iconic belltower and southwest gate that opens to the Charles River, will be the next undergraduate residence to undergo significant renovations as part of Harvard’s long-term House Renewal project.

The design phase of Eliot House renewal began in January, with architecture firm KieranTimberlake. Exploratory work will be conducted this summer and if all goes according to plan, construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2025. Eliot’s reimagining follows the three-phase renewal of Adams House, which is slated to finish its final leg in 2025.

“The overarching principles of House renewal are to strengthen the modern student experience while preserving the University’s treasured assets, along with the culture and spirit of the House,” said Cameron Borgasano, deputy director in the Undergraduate House Renewal Project Management Office. “Our goals are many: to maintain the character of the House, eliminate overcrowding, build community, provide accessibility, strengthen the tutor and student interaction, increase student-faculty interaction, and expand social, study, and academic spaces.”

First opened in 1931, Eliot, named after former Harvard President Charles William Eliot, is one of the College’s seven original Houses. Beloved for its annual fête spring formal and fall charity ice skating show, Eliot boasts a tower room with a piano donated by Leonard Bernstein ’39, a woodshop, a photography darkroom, and a late-night grill nicknamed “The Inferno.”

Updates to the House will make the building accessible, adding corridors to connect the neo-Georgian House’s traditional vertical entryways, as well as elevators, modern mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and air conditioning for common spaces.

The process is being led by the Eliot House Renewal Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from the Undergraduate House Renewal project team, Harvard College Dean’s Office, and Eliot House’s residential dean, faculty deans, House administrator, and building manager.

“The process of working together as a group has been a very rewarding experience,” said Borgasano. “It’s really bringing in all of the voices of the House, and I think it’s going to make the design of Eliot House that much stronger.”

Eliot’s student residents have shared their renovation ideas through a student survey and a well-attended town hall event.

Helen Scarborough ’25, who lives in the House and co-chairs the Eliot House Committee, has helped gather resident input as a member of the Student Renewal Committee. She hopes the renovations will bring improved accessibility, as well as upgrades to the House’s gym and dance studio.

“I really appreciated that we had that opportunity to give our feedback,” said Scarborough, who is concentrating in history and science on the medicine and society track, with a secondary in global health and health policy. “As students who have friends in other Houses, we have been able to see what’s worked in Houses that have already been renovated, allowing us to make informed suggestions for Eliot.”

Sue Weltman.
Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

“My dream is to have us walk out of Eliot in the summer of 2025 as the strong community that we are now, and preserve that over the two years that we’re not in Eliot.”

Sue Weltman, House Administrator, pictured above

Suggestions from students prioritized maintaining the traditional feel of the building. Some of Scarborough’s favorite spaces in the House include the grand dining hall (widely considered the “heart” of Eliot), the grassy courtyard, and a study nook in the library that can only be reached via a narrow spiral staircase.

“We will maintain the historic nature of those truly historic spaces,” Borgasano said. “When you walk into the dining hall, it’ll just feel a little fresher. We will restore the beautiful millwork, we will refinish the historic light fixtures, and strategically insert modern mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Essentially, they’ll look like they do now, just a little cleaner and brighter.”

When construction gets underway, students will live in the Inn at Harvard and in apartments on Prescott and Mount Auburn streets, and Massachusetts Avenue.

Sue Weltman, who has been Eliot’s House Administrator for 24 years, said maintaining camaraderie among students will be her top priority.

“My dream is to have us walk out of Eliot in the summer of 2025 as the strong community that we are now, and preserve that over the two years that we’re not in Eliot, so that when we come back in the fall of 2027, we will have never missed a beat,” Weltman said.

Even though she will graduate before Eliot’s renewal begins, Scarborough still feels invested in helping shape the vision of the House for future students.

“Even though I won’t get to live there, I’ve seen how important House life has been to my experience at the College,” Scarborough said. “Getting to be part of a community for three years is really nice. You make a lot of really great relationships, and it’s just improved my time at the College immensely and I want future students to have the same experience I have had, if not a better one, so I want to contribute to this process in any way I can.”

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