Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2015 Preservation Award Winners
Radcliffe Institute-Agassiz House, Cambridge

Radcliffe Institute-Agassiz House • Cambridge

Rehabilitation & Restoration

The Georgian Revival-style Agassiz House, constructed in 1904, is named for Radcliffe College's first president, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, who cofounded Radcliffe in 1879 with her husband, Louis Agassiz, to offer the opportunities of collegiate life to women. Designed by Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Jr., the nephew of prominent poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the building is the focal point of Radcliffe Yard, and originally served as a student center with general classroom and office space. It contains Radcliffe's first fully equipped theater, still in use, and now serves as the admissions office and visitor's center for Harvard University. Agassiz House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Old Cambridge Historic District, and stands in the local historic district of the same name. Prior to its recent rehabilitation and restoration, the building's monumental exterior columns were highly deteriorated and structurally inadequate. Plaster column capitals were covered in layers of cracked and peeling paint, which trapped moisture inside. The column bases had also deteriorated due to direct exposure to rain, and all column elements were affected by thermal expansion that caused joints to open and allow even more water infiltration. The wood roof deck had also rotted, and water was infiltrating the building from the roof and from leaking skylights.

The restoration team worked closely with the Cambridge Historical Commission to secure approval for all project designs, techniques, and paint colors. Two of the wood column bases were repaired using compatible Dutchmen, and two others were replaced in-kind. All column staves were repainted, and ventilation was added to the hollow column interiors to reduce thermal stresses and movement. The capitals, too damaged to be restored, were replaced based on a mold of the least-deteriorated capital. The building's EDPM roof was replaced with a new, reinforced, white PVC roof membrane. Prior to the project, the roof's slate was in fair condition, with some missing shingles, and its copper was quite aged. Spot shingle replacement and in-kind replacement of all copper accessories restored the roof's function. The leaking skylights were replaced, as was masonry above the roof and on chimneys, with new metal caps added to safeguard masonry repairs and prevent moisture infiltration. All windows were stripped of lead paint, repaired, and restored. The masonry exterior required minimal repair, but was thoroughly cleaned. Waterproofing at the front porch, below-grade walls, and horizontal surfaces addressed leakage in the basement vault area. Additional work included door and hardware replacement, concrete repairs, steel fire-escape reinforcement, and modernization of the elevator, with the addition of a new, architecturally sympathetic roof vent over the elevator shaft. The exemplary restoration of Agassiz House will ensure its continued value to the students, faculty, staff, and visitors that it serves.

< < 5 of 12 > >