The red bricks that make up Harvard’s built environment have witnessed centuries of personal and public history, from individual transformation to societal upheaval. Some of the events that take place in these shared halls enter public consciousness and settle into the historical record; others live on only in private memory.
Over the 2021-2022 academic year, we invited undergraduates to carve their own brick tiles, making visible the experiences and ideas that have defined what Harvard means to them. The markings on the brick faces register the presence of the students who carved them, testaments to formative encounters between institution and individual. They thus enable previously unknown events, names, and experiences to emerge from the brickwork and enter the public eye as a hidden history, a people’s history, of Harvard.
Created by Kiana Rawji ’23, Cecilia Zhou ’23, and Luke Reeve MDE ‘23. Developed in collaboration with the Office for the Arts at Harvard, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and OFA Ceramics Program, with support from the Presidential Initiative on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery, housed at the Radcliffe Institute, and the Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.
We are extraordinarily grateful to the following individuals, whose time, energy, and guidance made this project possible: Jack Megan, Rachel DeLucas, Kathy King, Alicia Anstead, Elie Glyn, Ann Hirsch, Ethan Labowitz, Francesca Bewer, Matthew Battles, Sarah Newman, Jeffrey Schnapp, Julia Spackman, Justin Ng, Helen Citterio, Connie Wang, Evans Schultes, David Andrade, J.B. Wei, Alejandro Lopez, Riad El Soufi, Jennifer Chu, Grace Kim, and Lauryn Wilson.
As students, we are all part of defining what and who Harvard is. This project encouraged students to critically reflect on identity and public memory, on both an individual and institutional level. In making our own, personal and present-day marks on bricks—a material symbolic of Harvard's past—we are envisioning more just future for Harvard, where all students are seen and heard.
When carving their bricks, we encouraged students to consider:
What should we remember about Harvard? How do you want Harvard to remember you?
How has Harvard shaped you? How have you shaped Harvard?
What do you want to preserve from this moment in time?
Inclusions: Envisioning Justice on Harvard's Campus:
A conversation panel co-hosted with The Harvard & The Legacy of Slavery Intiative at the Radcliffe Institute and The Office for the Arts at Harvard
The installation, on display in Harvard Yard (between Thayer and Hollis) for the month of April 2022, consists of open-air brick "screens" forming two corners of a broken square. These screens will contain some 200 student-carved brick tiles strung along rotatable poles. Designed and built by Harvard College students in collaboration with Harvard Master in Design Engineering and Harvard Graduate School of Design students.
ABOUT THE DESIGN
EXPLODING THE WALLS OF HARVARD
By adding space between the bricks as well as separating two corners of a rectilinear space to create palpable negative space, our design cites Harvard's brick walls and buildings while also exploding them, breaking them down, allowing us to critically examine and interrogate our institution. While there is a clear "inside" and "outside" of the space, it creates porous windows rather than looming walls, dissolving the boundaries between interior and exterior, private and public. Most importantly, the installation invites people to fill in and become part of the space—because people are the real mortar that holds Harvard together.
ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT & PARTICIPATION
Rather than a mere structure to look at, we aim to create an inclusive, encompassing space that can be entered and engaged with in meaningful ways. Reminiscent of a playground structure or an abacus, our design allows viewers to become active participants in the installation, inviting them to enter into intimate proximity to the material—touching, tracing, and turning the bricks with their own hands. While students physically made and carved the bricks, anyone can play an authorial role in the installation by transforming the way it interacts with light, changing the orientation of poles, etc. Thus, every time one returns to the installation, they can both discover and introduce/create some novelty to it.
Unlike traditional, static monuments, our installation's brick screens are porous, permeable, and alive, reflecting the dynamism of both memory and identity. It affords encounters with light as well as other human beings; one might walk along one screen and catch a glimpse of another individual on the other side, like people passing each other on opposite sides of a library bookshelf. Rather than a monolithic statue, our installation presents a radically dynamic and inclusive Harvard monument of which students can take meaningful ownership.