Danning Niu
Design Portfolio


Art Residency Design
Hilles Library, 59 Shepard St, Cambridge, MA

Fall 2020, 10 Weeks

The project introduces an artist-in-residence program at Harvard’s Hilles Library and transforms the core of the building into an open gallery and gathering space that draws artists, students, and community members together.

Existing Conditions

Designed by architect Max Abramovitz, this 1960s building in the style of romantic Brutalism is currently used as Harvard’s Student Organization Center. While serving as a lively hub for student life, the architecture lacks a connection to its local context and a visual vitality. Meanwhile, its strategic location and generous square footage presents an opportunity for reprogramming of the space and town-and-gown engagement.

A Place That Draws You In

When thinking of the idea of cultural landmarks, we often think of the expressions on the exterior. Their outward expereance gives off a sensation and becomes a visual attraction. However, what if the attraction happens at the very heart of the architecture? How about creating a space that not only intrigues but also engages you? By emphasizing the courtyard, I wanted to create a place that draws you in. You don’t just look at it but also experience it. Thus the site becomes a destination, for artists, students, and people in the community. 


Inserting New Energy
This project proposes both programmatic and architectural interventions to pull energy into the space.

The programmatic additions include residential, gallery, visual and performing studio, work, community dining, public art program, and retail spaces.

The major adaptive-use gesture happens at the existing courtyard
Concept Development through Modelmaking

Inserting a second shell, the new design turns the outdoor space it into a skylight-covered altrium that lies at the center of the various programs and circualtions. Taking advantage of the existing balconies on the second and fourth floor and extending the projections of the concrete floor on the third and fourth, the result of the operation is a “shell within a shell.”


Between the Old & New

Between the old and the new, the previously less used cirucaltion path is now transformed into hallway galleries throughout the floors. The idea is that the visibility of the art will become a unifying gesture for a site home to a diverse group of people. The movable panels along the new walls, with colored glass on one side facing the courtyard, add a visual interest to the interior space and allow flexible compositions for displaying works of different scale.

Section Detail

Floor 1: View from Public Programs to Gallery Space

Floor 4: View of Community Kitchen / Cafe Area