Some Buildings on Campus Are Ugly, And That's Ok.
To be honest, this article has been a long time coming. It all started when my friend, an Architectural Digest subscribee and suburban mother-aspiree, sent me this article titled “The 17 Most Beautiful Brutalist Buildings in the World.” And truth is, to save you the trouble of looking, they’re all really ugly. Even the 17 most beautiful brutalist buildings in the entire world are butt-ugly.
Ever since I came to live in the concrete wonder of Mather House, I can’t help but wonder what happened in the ’70s to make people think that brutalist architecture was, in the words of Lady Gaga, “brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping, spectacular, totally unique, completely not ever done before”? I mean, the last two are technically true, but clearly, there is a pretty good reason for that.
Before you call me a house traitor and hater, I LOVE MATHER HOUSE. I love my room in the tower, the beautiful view of the river, the big windows in the dining hall, the community 🥺— you get the idea. But if you ask me, I’ll agree that she’s pretty ugly from the outside. And Mather doesn’t appear in Harvard postcards, so clearly, Harvard agrees too. In fact, every time my parents visit and we walk by Dunster, they ask me, “So why couldn’t you live there?” And I have to explain that beauty is skin-deep and whatnot, and yes, the random housing lottery is actually random.
This is all a roundabout way of saying, Harvard is ~beautiful~, but it also has some ugly buildings. And that’s ok! These ugly buildings have character. They take the hate, shake it off, and still stand tall. They make the beautiful buildings look more beautiful (would Dunster really get so much love if Mather wasn’t always chilling beside it?). They’re a historical reminder of architectural
mistakes choices that were made. So without further ado, here it is: Flyby’s round-up of the ugliest buildings on campus (in no particular order), and why we still love them:
Mather House: See above. Ugly building, really good house.
Lev Towers: For all the hate that Mather gets, the Lev towers are pretty ugly too. And what’s up with the weird triangles on top? Are they solar panels?? Alien communication device? Straight-up weird decor? But residents get the same perks as living in Mather — big rooms, good views, and (mostly) working elevators.
New Quincy: Same as the previous item. It’s practical, I get it. The duplexes are nice. The windows are big. But you have to agree — it’s not particularly nice to look at. At least it makes Stone Hall look prettier!
Currier House: Kinda square looking? Windows are pretty tiny. Dining hall food is >>> but seating area vibes give retirement home. Again, no Currier hate — after all, the house is named after some pretty badass women. But unfortunate they didn’t get a prettier building to be remembered by, no?
William James Hall: If you’re not a social science person, you’ve probably never had reason to set foot in this building. But you’ve definitely seen it because WJH sticks out from the Harvard skyline like a sore thumb. Granted, this is why there’s such a fabulous view of Cambridge from the 15th-floor deck, but the tradeoff is the ivory concrete tower you have to traverse to get up there.
The Carpenter Center: Is it insensitive to call (according to its website) “the only building in North America designed by Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier” ugly? Maybe* my taste isn’t refined enough to appreciate this building that is home to the AFVS department (because if the artists chose this building it has to be kind of pretty right? Or at least edgy in a cool way?). But having never been inside, I’ll say it: the Carpenter Center is pretty ugly.
Note from the editor: *Definitely
Graduate School of Design: Like the Carpenter Center, since some of the best architects in the world study in this building, I’m sure there are many nuanced ways in which it is beautiful. But in the opinion of my ignorant self (also never having been inside), I just don’t see it.
QED. I have no more to say on this topic. Understanding and appreciating architecture is not my forte. But if someone can explain to me why any building on this list is somehow tastefully beautiful, I am very open to learning — @flybyblog’s dms are always open.