Harvard Yard is one of the oldest continually used built landscapes in the United States. By the late 1990s, however, the Yard’s original American Elm canopy had been largely eroded, despite multiple efforts to replant trees over the years. Addressing the need to reinvigorate the Yard, the MVVA master plan interpreted the existing landscape of Harvard Yard in relation to its cherished history, the evolution of the site to date, the University's contemporary and anticipated programmatic needs, and the imperatives of landscape durability and longevity. The master plan recommended replanting the canopy of the Yard with more than twenty species with careful attention to site-wide microclimates, preserving the character of the space without perpetuating the inherent vulnerability of a monoculture. Other master plan initiatives included a revision of circulation systems based on current demands and anticipated building use, and a simplification of the volumetric space defined by the grass floor, tall trunk columns, and the tree canopy "roof".
The renovation scheme is sensitive to history while boldly achieving the environmental goals of the university. Working closely with the University and specialist consultants ranging from historians to arborists, the plan’s recommendations were organized as an accessible workbook of planning ideas, design projects, and maintenance recommendations. MVVA worked with Harvard over the course of a decade to implement the plan. Michael Van Valkenburgh continues to be involved with the future of this landscape through his participation in the Harvard Yard Soils Restoration Project, an ongoing effort to implement a biological soils program at Harvard.
The Harvard Yard Restoration received a 1994 Honor Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation from the National Trust, a 1993 ASLA Planning and Urban Design Merit Award, and a 1993 Boston Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award.
Harvard Yard Soils Restoration Project