CIRCLING THE SQUARE
Like an old 40 and 8 being transformed into a Pullman coach, Sever Hall is going Lamont. The grimy Greek statuary and the faded photos of French cathedrals are on their way out and the archaic benches will be removed in favor of a sleek, specially designed desk chair. By spring, Henry Hobson Richardson's building will sport an interior in soft pastel shades, humming with glareless fluorescent lights.
Sever, built in 1880, was Richardson's first opus after he finished Trinity Church in Boston. It was the first time he really went modern, and marks the inauguration of the "Richardson style," which has since been damned because of the ugly efforts of Richardson's many imitators. Sever, however, is considered a masterpiece. A Wellesley architecture course makes a yearly pilgrimage to the Yard to see it.
The brickwork of the north wall is particularly impressive. At one time the University wanted to build a fire escape against it, but the architect employed was so horrified by the intended desecration that he designed a very expensive fire escape. The University decided to put in an interior stairway instead.
Sever's 37 classrooms have been used mostly for courses in Math, Modern Languages, and Classics. The Fine Arts department once occupied "the Loft" on the fourth floor, in the days when the only fire escape was a series of ropes on he side of the building towards Emerson. Sever also houses a large collection of classical antiquities, including 42 portrait busts of Julius Caesar. The current refurbishing has doomed the whole collection to the attic.
When the new chairs, 1400 of them, arrive in a few days, Sever's famed carved benches will be on their way to storage too-far tradition's sake, the chewed up boards are not being thrown away. The earliest carving yet found dates to 1882; later works include innumerable Harvard-Yale game scores, incised checkerboards, and the masterpiece, an entire crucifixion scene with attendant saints.
Modernization is turning the dreary classrooms into models of educational equipment: decorated in three different color schemes, yellow, green, and grey. As a final touch, the front wall of each room will be a shade darker than the side walls, a psychological device designed to keep the students' attention focused on the instructor.
In spite of the sweep of progress, at least one familiar feature of Sever will remain. The signs that read "Emergency Egress Only" are being repainted. In fact, every classroom is to have one.