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Constructed in 1960, the Center for the Study of World Religions building at 42 Francis Avenue was designed by the Catalonian architect Josep Lluis Sert, then dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, for what was his first Harvard commission (Bainbridge Bunting, Harvard: An Architectural History [Harvard University Press, 1985]). The original building was primarily a residential space, with 19 apartments for fellows, an apartment for the director, and an administrative wing with a few offices and a public living room or lounge area. An open-air courtyard, enclosed by the building on three sides, quickly became a favorite "green place" on the Harvard Divinity School campus, and remains so today.
Periodic renovations have allowed the building to meet the evolving needs of the CSWR and its programs. In 1990, the firm of Robert Olson and Associates carried out renovations that provided additional conference, research, and office space in the front wing of the building (eliminating the director's apartment), and updated and improved the structure's insulation, ventilation, and acoustics (Robert Olson, "Project: A Center for World Religions," Journal of the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, Spring 1993).
In 2001, the architectural firm of Bergmeyer Associates oversaw a second renovation to update life safety systems, improve access for the disabled, and renew and refurbish the living and work areas. A new front lobby was created to enclose and unite the public and office areas. One of the apartments on the second floor was renovated to serve as a handicap-accessible unit, and the building as a whole was brought into compliance with the building access requirements of the American with Disabilities Act. The upper floor of the front wing, along Francis Avenue, was transformed from residential space into a research wing, with offices and research bays, a small conference room, and a reading area housing the CSWR's library. The Common Room was outfitted with state-of-the-art multimedia equipment, and new spaces were created for the display of art.
Over the summer of 2006, Robert Olson and Associates renovated the remaining apartments, rewiring and refitting them to contemporary standards.
The CSWR continues to serve as a residence for Harvard affiliates. For more information, see the Residence section of this site.