Hello. I’m Sophie Kim. I’ll be your tour guide on this journey through the most liminal of spaces at Harvard. I’ve spent three semesters on (or near) campus, so I’m basically an expert. First, let’s define our terms. Then, we’ll dive right in.
What’s a Liminal Space?
In the architectural sense, liminal spaces are defined as “the physical space between one destination and the next.” Think bus stops, gas stations, and the like. You pass through, but never stay. But aren’t we always in transit, always displaced, always in motion? We’re busy Harvard students, after all.
So, to me, a liminal space is a place of change. A re-evaluation of where you’re going and what you’re leaving behind. A place to rest, but only on the way to bigger, more important things. So, in this article, I’ll be focusing on places that have, as the kids say, “weird vibes.”
1. Harvard Square CVS
Oh, the Harvard Square CVS. Ask any Harvard student, and they probably have a complicated relationship with the Harvard Square CVS. Summer or winter, 3pm or 3am, it’s the place to be. Where else can you go for Tide pods, day-after-Halloween chocolate, and final exam despair?
But CVS isn’t just a place to impulse-buy Ben & Jerry’s. As a first-year, CVS became so much more. Amidst a ban on indoor socialization and cold temps, CVS was my holy grail of social interaction. My lifeline to the other first-years. I'd spot a Harvard lanyard in a pocket, awkwardly avoid eye contact in line, gauge my chances of asking if they’d like to go microwave our Annenberg meals together sometime. It was a kind of solidarity, forged in the crucible of social awkwardness and retail therapy. They say that, at Harvard, you find your people. For a brief instant, I found mine.
2. Lowell Library at 3am
The important part of this is not Lowell, nor Library, but 3am. Yes, 3am. According to rigorously academic studies that I have personally conducted (i.e. sticking around until everyone else left), this beautifully ornate and cozy study spot takes on an altogether different character when you’re in there, alone, in the wee hours of morning, writing a paper, and a painting of some dude is staring down at you. I don’t know his name. I’ve never asked.
But if you’re looking for a liminal space that’s warm, wood-paneled, and smacks of old-world academic elitism, then Lowell Library (at 3am) is the place to be. Elitism? Let's unpack that. Harvard’s spaces are pretty, but think too hard about what produced these squishy armchairs, and you might start having an existential crisis. My advice? They’re dead now. It’s your time to sweat over Google docs.
On a more serious note, this library is your space. It can be easy to feel impostor syndrome, especially if you’re literally the only one in a 500 seat class who didn’t finish the week’s pset. But, at the end of the day, this library is not the final destination. It’s a place of academic and personal transit. Isn’t that empowering, to think that all the hours spent poring over JSTOR PDFs is just a pit stop on the train ride of life? Plus, check out what it looks like with all the lights off. Kind of creepy.
3. Weld Laundry Room
And finally, a throwback to my first-year days. Look, it’s not Grays. But more importantly, it’s not Canaday. Weld, as a dorm, is nice enough. It’s got big windows and a rat problem. But as a liminal space, the Weld laundry room is, simply put, Where It’s At.
The soft rattle of churning clothes, the crisp scent of detergent, the sea-green interiors of the dryers, the pillow-white exteriors of the dryers: some days I just wanted to curl up in a dryer and take a nap. That’s not weird. Like most laundry rooms, it’s warm and underground. Womb-like, if you will. It felt almost—dare I say it—like home.
I’m going to be real here. The stress of academics, the desire to make friends, the hope that you’ll make something of yourself here—those pressures are real. And, as a first-year just trying to figure things out, I wanted somewhere to be alone with my thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back to re-evaluate. To ask what your purpose is, if you've got one at all. And if that means sitting in the Weld laundry room watching the athleisure and Vineyard Vines go by, that’s okay. That’s great.
Lowell Library was a liminal space I discovered later in my (admittedly short) college career. I only found CVS when I was brave enough to venture out of my dorm room. But Weld laundry room was there for me, right from the beginning. It reminded me to take a break from the breakneck pace. We want success, and happiness, and those are not bad things to want. In fact, most people want them. But sitting in this laundry room, and other liminal spaces, reminded me that there is more out there. Like BOGO Milanos.
College is about finding where you belong. Insisting that, yes, you belong here. And Weld laundry room was where it all began. Not when I opened my admissions letter, not when I flew from the sunny beaches of Los Angeles to the alpine tundra of Cambridge (I mean, Boston). When I entered the Weld Laundry Room, Tide pods in hand, Crimson Cash burning a hole in my pocket, that’s when I knew–I was home.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exhaustive tour of the best liminal spaces that Harvard College has to offer. We’re all in transit, all going somewhere better, all going there. Slow down, smell the dirty socks. Enjoy the here.