Making a Statement With Brick, Mortar

Three Centuries of Harvard Architecture

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum continues Harvard's grand tradition of finding grand architects to build notable buildings.

Designed by award-winning British architect James Stirling, the Sackler is surrounded by a vast array of buildings of architectural and aesthetic importance. Indeed, perhaps nowhere in America is there such a concentrated collection of historically significant buildings. Harvard has it all from the early American Georgian Massachusetts Hall to Stirling's post-modernist Sackler.

Harvard's architectural debut was not predictive of its future course. In 1637 or 1638 Harvard bought a four year old modest house built by William Peyntree who was leaving Boston with the Hooker migration. The building was used for a time as the President's house and then in 1644 it was demolished to make way for a new President's house to be built for 150 pounds sterling.

*Massachusetts Hall: Harvard's first architecturally important building was the fifth built on campus. What now houses the president's offices and is also a freshmen dorm was built for 3500 pounds sterling as dormitory and classroom space. It is a simple, unostentatious Early Georgian building designed for use and dignity, not for show.

*Wadsworth House: In 1726, when Harvard decided to build a new president's house they hired thirty artisans to work on the Georgian building. It was used as the president's house until 1849. It is regarded as a very important example of an early Georgian residence.


*Holden Chapel: In 1742, Harvard built Holden Chapel, which was to introduce the area to a more sophisticated form of Georgian architecture and provide the model for the next 50 years of Cambridge architecture.

*Hollis Hall: As Harvard enlarged, a new dormitory was needed and in 1762 the legislature devoted 2500 pounds sterling to build the hall. The building was designed by Charles Bulfinch. Harvard hired master builder William Dawes who was later to earn fame as the man who actually delivered the warning to the revolutionary soldiers at Lexington and Concord.

*Harvard Hall: After the original Harvard Hall burned down in 1764, the University commissioned a new building from architect Sir Francis Bernard, who was also the Royal Governor. Dawes again built the building which was used as a chapel, lecture hall, dining hall, and library. According to the an architectural history of Cambridge, "The college obtained heroic Copley portraits to decorate the dining hall, making it the only American interior of the time where paintings, frames, and architecture were planned to form a single decorative scheme.... All in all the most sophisticated American college building before Bulfinch."

*University Hall: Bulfinch came to Harvard in 1795 when he designed Hollis Hall, but his greatest work in the Yard is his 1812 University Hall--designed as a chapel, dining hall, classroom building, and presidential office. Easily one of Harvard's most famous buildings, it broke tradition with building materials, since it was made of Chelmsford granite and not the typical red bricks.

*Grays Hall: Built in 1862, Grays Hall was the first college dormitory with running water. It was a noticeable break from the style of other dorms since it was built with granite trim and a mansard roof.

*Memorial Hall: Though it was designed in 1863 by Ware and Van Brunt, the Victorian gothic memorial to Harvard's Civil War dead was not completed until 1878. Memorial Hall is a landmark in architectural history and fundraising efforts. The building was criticized as an extravagently expensive monument, but the money was obtained through one of Harvard's first collaborative alumni fundraisers.

*Sever Hall: In 1878, the University commissioned one of the greatest architects of the 19th century to build a desperately needed building for classrooms. H.H. Richardson designed a romanesque revival Sever Hall "that combined lavish ornamentation with quiet monumentality in a way that no other 19th-century American could."

*Austin Hall: With enrollment increasing at the Law School, a new building was needed to house classes. Edward Austin, the building's benefactor, commissioned Richardson to build this epitome of romanesque revival. It is a textbook example of the architectural style of Richardson who led a major 19th-century architectural movement.

*Lamont Library: Built in 1947 and designed by the Shepley office, the same group that designed Harvard's colonial Houses, Lamont is Harvard's first modern building.

*The Graduate Center: Designed in 1949 by Walter Gropius and a group of fellow architects, the Graduate Center was in the forefront of the International movement in the United States. Located north of the Law School, it was greeted with great enthusiasm though in recent years it has fallen out of favor for its disregard for the Harvard atmosphere.

*The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts: The views of the Carpenter Center as a piece of architecture vary widely. One legend even has it that it was built upside down. In 1961, when Harvard decided to build a home for the Visual and Environmental Studies department, they hired an architect of international renown, Le Corbusier: As a work by Le Corbusier, it does not stand out as a special building. But it is the only work by that architect in America, and as such it is a building of great historical interest.

*The Holyoke Center: Begun in 1960, the office building was designed by Sert, Jackson and Gourley. Josep Lluis Sert was a former dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design. It has drawn mixed reviews but is regarded as an enhancement to the Harvard Square area of the University which successfully bridges the houses with the Yard.

*Gund Hall: Gund Hall has received uniform acclaim from critics as a magnificant blend of later day Internationalism with the environment. In particular, this 1969 creation of John Andrews is praised for its ingenious blending with Memorial Hall.Crimson file photosbottom right, Holyoke Center arcade.