Case Study: Consulting Engineering

Harvard Massachusetts Hall

Harvard UniversityCambridge, Massachusetts

Historic Renovation Significantly Lowers Building Energy Usage

To say that Massachusetts Hall is rich with history would be an understatement. Built in 1720—predating the creation of the United States—Massachusetts Hall housed the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The building now serves as a dormitory for students, as well as senior level office space for the President and Provost of Harvard University. Massachusetts Hall is officially recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, highlighting it as a location that “possessed exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.” CMTA was selected by Harvard University to complete a replacement and modernization of the MEP systems in their most prestigious building.

The Challenges

  • Preserve the historic and architectural beauty of the building, while modernizing the mechanical and electrical systems
  • Renovate the building on a tight schedule so that construction would not disturb university operations
  • Improve indoor air quality and occupant comfort in a 300-year-old building
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The upkeep of Massachusetts Hall requires significant attention to historical preservation...These long-overdue renovations will also ensure that the building is contributing to university goals to reduce on-campus greenhouse gas emissions, while making it as accessible as possible. Created with Sketch.

Katie Lapp

Executive Vice President, Harvard University

The Solutions

Located on the prominent Harvard Yard, Massachusetts Hall is a landmark in its own right. In its 300-year existence, the building has morphed to accommodate changing needs. Originally used as a dormitory, it later served as barracks for soldiers during the Revolutionary War, a home for founding fathers John Adams and John Hancock, and an observatory. Despite facing near destruction from a fire in the 1920s, Massachusetts Hall has returned to its initial use as a dormitory. The current program for the building is mixed-use, with the lower floors housing the University President, Provost, and other senior administrative staff. The top floor is allocated to freshman student housing.

The 22,000 square foot building was in desperate need of improvements. The existing MEP infrastructure was well beyond its useful life and did not provide a comfortable or energy-efficient environment for Harvard’s senior administration. The constant volume HVAC systems were too noisy within the Executive Board Room and other important offices. As a result, spaces required excessive precooling before meetings began, then shutting off the system entirely when meetings were in session. This process, coupled with the aged systems, translated into an inefficient building with an EUI of 125.3.

One of the most critical challenges of this project was to maintain the historical and architectural beauty of the building, while simultaneously updating the engineering to the 21st century with efficient and quiet systems. The low floor-to-floor height, as well as the historical significance of this building, required innovation and creativity from the engineering team. The final solution CMTA implemented was an extremely low-velocity Variable Air Volume (VAV) system that integrated small vertical duct risers within the wall pilasters and millwork. The HVAC system design provided redundancies to minimize energy use and equipment degradation. The MEP upgrade also included a new elevator and new bathroom core throughout all levels. CMTA performed detailed planning and pre-purchase of long lead time items so that construction could be completed over the summer break of 2018, avoiding disruption of university operations.

The design also considered how future maintenance would be performed. To minimize disruptions during maintenance, VAV boxes that serve executive offices on the 1st and 2nd floors were strategically placed in the basement. This allows for easy servicing and repair without the need for personnel to enter occupied spaces.

Indoor Air Quality

Before this upgrade, fresh air for this building was designed to be brought in largely through windows via natural ventilation. While this met code according to ASHRAE 63.1-2013 Natural Ventilation Procedure, the approach was impractical given the nature of space usage, as occupants required quiet and often private work environments. The upgrade included mechanical ventilation for all office spaces through either central mixed air handlers or dedicated outdoor air handlers. These air handling units bring conditioned, 100% outside air into areas where all air systems were not spatially practical. For increased comfort, higher occupancy areas like conference rooms were equipped with CO2 controls. These controls communicate with the central mixed air handling units in real-time, allowing for the continuous management of CO2 levels and flow of fresh air to the space.

The Results

CMTA was honored to renovate a project of such national historical significance. Our innovative solutions allowed for a 25% energy reduction and improved the overall thermal and acoustic building performance. Not only did our designs bring Massachusetts Hall's engineering systems into the 21st century, but, more importantly, they preserved the historical and architectural beauty of the building.

Once the project concluded, the President and Provost of the University complimented CMTA on the swift completion of such a challenging project on a very tight schedule. The project received an ASHRAE International Technology Award in 2020 because of the innovative plan utilized within the historic building.

Massachusetts Hall Energy Use