When he began work on the renovation of the Harvard Art Museums, Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano was surprised to find one major element that didn’t fit with the rest of the neo-Georgian building. As he put it, “By pure chance, we got a little piazza.”
That piazza, known today as the Calderwood Courtyard, was part of the original 1927 Fogg Museum. Its graceful travertine arches were modeled after the facade of the canon’s house of the 16th-century church of San Biagio in Montepulciano, Italy. Piano, an Italian himself, wanted to keep the courtyard intact. Previous architects, he said, did a very good job with building it. And during a recent talk about the renovation project, he noted that the courtyard remains “a centerpiece of the entire composition.”
In keeping with the sense of openness and community found in Italian piazzas, Piano’s renovation involved making the courtyard more “porous,” accessible, and inviting. He opened up all of the Level 1 stone arcades, brought in natural light through the new glass rooftop, and added interior glass arcades on the upper levels to offer views of all five floors from below. He also added the new Prescott Street entrance, aligning it with the original Quincy Street entrance, to present multiple ways into the building.
Wearing a T-shirt that cheekily proclaimed “Trust me, I’m an architect,” Piano repeatedly returned in his talk to the themes of community, public space, and art’s role in urban life—all of which he said were central to the aims of the renovation project.
He shared his hope that all who enter the piazza—even if only to enjoy a cup of coffee in the cafe or to rendezvous with a friend—will become enamored of art.