Harvard Law School Wasserstein Hall Caspersen Student Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Harvard Law School Wasserstein Hall, Caspersen Student Center, Northwest Corner



Thornton Tomasetti provided structural-engineering services for the Harvard Law School Wasserstein Hall Caspersen Student Center, a 266,000-square-foot structure atop a five-level below-grade facility. The above-grade space houses classrooms, legal clinics, an 875-seat conference center, and a campus center servicing the law school. The below-grade structure includes classrooms, kitchen facilities, and parking for up to 700 vehicles.

Below-grade construction centered around a perimeter cast-in-place concrete slurry wall with post-tensioned flat concrete slabs. The post tensioning of the parking area floors minimized cracking and, consequently, inhibits chloride penetration and the resulting decay of reinforcement steel, assuring a longer life and reduced maintenance. The construction sequence employed a “top-down” approach, in which the ground-level floor was constructed first, after the installation of perimeter foundation slurry walls. Below-grade excavation then proceeded downward to each underground level, using the soil as formwork for the concrete slabs. This procedure was essential in reducing construction impacts of noise and dust to the immediate residential neighborhood, a continued understanding that Harvard maintains with the Cambridge community. The ground level slab, composed of structural steel framing, was coordinated and designed in conjunction with the construction manager for excavation equipment such as cranes and heavy trucking.

The superstructure is constructed of structural steel and concrete topping on composite steel decking. Column transfers occurred mainly on the ground level, using the additional capacity of the framing, which temporarily accommodated heavy truck loading during the excavation period, thus efficiently utilizing the overcapacity steel. Long-span trusses were employed in the conference center area of the project.

An interface with the existing Harkness Commons dining facility was part of the project, as well as a connection with the system of underground tunnels that connect a majority of the buildings on the law school campus.

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