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Center Court

Harvard College, which boasts the best men's and women's squash programs in the country--six straight national and Ivy championships for the men's team, five straight for the women's--doesn't have a single regulation squash court. How can this be?

The answer lies in a decade-long shift in the way the game is played, toward the international standard of a softer ball in a wider court. College squash in the United States switched from the
Above: A model of the new racquets facility, showing the stadium-facing façade
Above: A model of the new racquets facility, showing the stadium-facing façade.Rendering D'Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects
hardball to the slower softball game in the 1993-94 season. The next year, wider, international-sized courts (to go with the slower ball) were adopted as the intercollegiate standard. Harvard has only narrow courts, which can be used for dual meets this year, but not for tournaments. Next year, the narrow courts won't be legal for any kind of intercollegiate play. So the scheduled opening in 1998 of a new racquets facility, featuring 16 international squash courts--plus six new tennis courts, a weight room for varsity athletes, and space for athletic department administrative offices and the Harvard Varsity Club--comes not a moment too soon. Think of it as salt in the wounds of Harvard's squash rivals.

The new facility will be a boon as well to the tennis program, which has long lists of recreational players hoping to sign up for contract play. Harvard once had more than 50 tennis courts, but today there are just 21, with only three indoor and eight outdoor courts suitable for varsity matches. The new building, with seats for 740 spectators in portable bleachers, will ease pressure on the existing courts, and allow Harvard to host home tournaments in squash and more tournaments in tennis--thereby reducing the amount of time Harvard teams have to spend on the road.

Men's tennis coach Dave Fish '72 is glad to see "two lifetime sports in such a prominent position," and looks forward to the prospect of more courts. The facility will also house a new Hall of Fame gallery, visible to passersby on North Harvard Street, celebrating the history of sports at Harvard. Athletic director Bill Cleary '52, an Olympic gold medalist in hockey, notes that coaches are looking forward to having the athletic department administration, now operating from 60 John F. Kennedy Street, "move on down" to the Allston side of the Charles River.

The as-yet-unnamed facility, designed by the architectural firm of D'Agostino Izzo Quirk, will replace the parking lot between the open end of Harvard Stadium and Briggs Cage, and include part of the site of the former Carey Cage (demolished in the fall of 1995 to make way for this project).

The building has been part of Harvard's master plan for the area for more than 20 years, and planners say they have taken special care to integrate it into the existing complex. The structure will be finished with brick so that it resembles the other buildings nearby, while concrete accents will relate it to the stadium. A passageway connecting with Blodgett Pool will enable athletes to use the freshly renovated locker facilities there. The new building will also serve as a visual terminus for the stadium, sited as it is 60 feet from the open end of that national historic landmark. On the building's stadium-facing exterior, symmetrically placed twin staircases, mimicking the angled steps of the stadium itself, will lead to a centrally located athletics department lounge. The stadium's scoreboard will sit atop the roof over the lounge. On the street side of the building, an attached tower (set in the same plane as, and echoing, the larger stadium tower) will house the ticket office, now in Bright Hockey Center, creating a dramatic pedestrian gateway to Harvard sports. Next to the tower, a covered arcade will open onto a wide plaza.

Automobile traffic will be redirected to a gate farther down North Harvard Street, thereby easing congestion at the intersection with Storrow Drive. Cars entering the athletic complex will follow a drive that traces the outer perimeter of the stadium and other buildings, with parking spaces along the route. The total number of parking spaces at the complex will not change.

The building's rectangular footprint will approximate that of the Gordon Track and Field Facility; its height, at 50 feet, will be 14 feet shy of the Briggs Cage ridegepole. Site preparation has already begun, and construction will begin in March 1997. The total project cost is estimated at $15 million.