SJA student articles

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Flyby Investigates: The famous rainbow chairs of Harvard Yard


Along with most things amiss this summer, is Harvard Yard; its famous colorful lawn chairs, for one, did not make a return. Usually, during this time of the year, upon entering through the imposing iron gates, you would be met with scattered clusters of rainbow chairs among the huge tourist groups. Notably, the tourist masses would either be scrambling to touch John Harvard’s lucky foot, posing for cheesy pictures in front of buildings, or attempting to get a glimpse inside Widener Library. Now, however, with COVID-19 still raging throughout many parts of the world, Widener Library and John Harvard sit in empty peace.


In reminiscing on summer as it once was, Flyby brings you a quick investigation about Harvard Yard’s famous rainbow chairs. 



Harvard acquired nearly 500 of these chairs in 2009 as part of the Common Spaces initiative, which aimed “to enhance the ways in which members of the Harvard community experience the campus” according to The Harvard Gazette. The Harvard community has found the chairs’ utility to be wide-ranging—not just serving for relaxation, but also as props and seating for outdoor performances or to share poetry.  


TikTok Appearance

Recently, Harvard Yard’s famous chairs made an appearance in a TikTok video by Joshua Y. Chiang ‘22. In the video, which was titled “things at Harvard that don’t make sense (part 2),” Chiang calls out Harvard for allocating $69,607 student enrollment fees towards expensive purchases of things like garden furniture. It was Chiang’s second most popular TikTok made so far, garnering two million views.



For what they're worth, these Fermob’s Luxembourg Collection chairs—crafted in France—were actually quite an investment. As listed on Fermob USA’s website, Harvard purchased each lawn chair for $381.00, which adds up to a grand total of $190,500. Furthermore, $372.00 mini tables and $812.00 low chairs can be seen as well around Harvard Yard. 



After Harvard introduced these chairs to their campus, many other universities including Duke also began acquiring Fermob furniture.



During the winter, the chairs are away in storage. Then, typically in the spring, they are brought back out and stay on the lawn of Harvard Yard through the fall term. 



by Alyssa T.

Imagine you are looking for a place to relax with your friends in the Harvard yard. You have been running around campus all day from classes to clubs. The sun glares down as you pass by the John Harvard statue that overlooks the yard dotted with vibrant chairs. Among the clusters of rainbow colored chairs with students laughing and chatting, you find an unoccupied lagoon blue chair under the shade of a towering tree. At last, you sink into the aluminum chair with a curved seat, perfectly built for coastal environments. Your friend pulls up next to you. The two of you marvel over the extreme comfort of these chairs and begin to debate the price of the chair. Your friend believes these chairs cost $20 each but you think they would cost $40. After searching on your laptop, you are shocked to find the chairs listed on the Fermob USA website at $381 each. That’s a whopping total of $190,500 spent on 500 chairs to adorn the Harvard Yard in 2009. 


The Committee on Common Spaces bought these chairs from Fermob’s Luxembourg Collection to add a more welcoming atmosphere and encourage meeting new people on campus. These chairs, modeled after ones in Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg, were a huge hit. Many comment on the chairs’ lightweight and moveable nature, allowing them to rearrange the chairs into clusters or gather to watch outdoor events.


These chairs were designed to increase lively interaction among students and faculty, however in 2020, the chairs sit 6 feet apart. If a stranger approaches you to strike up a conversation, make sure you are wearing a mask. Even the John Harvard statue is wearing one. Also be sure to carry your tape measure with you to ensure they are the proper distance away. Chairs should no longer be facing each other, unless of course, they are on opposite sides of the yard if people are not wearing masks. To avoid yelling, which spreads droplets further, dial your friend’s number to talk to them from across the yard to ensure you and your friend’s utmost safety. Be sure to wipe down the entire surface from the legs to the top rail before and after use. You can never be too sure where the person before you has been. If you would like to pull up a chair with a classmate, come prepared with a full PPE outfit complete with sunglasses, a mask, a face shield, gloves, and a hairnet. Wearing a hazmat suit is also acceptable. 


New uses of the extravagant chairs could be proposed. They could be repurposed to display students’ artwork (or other inanimate objects that people wouldn’t touch). Alternatively, the chairs could be placed in different formations to spell out words, symbols or create art pieces themselves. In any case, with their high cost, they should be utilized in some form or fashion if they are no longer bringing people together in the yard, at least until the pandemic is over.