Harvard Medical School – Countway Library // 1965

I know some of you hate Brutalist architecture, but give this one a chance, its one of my favorites! In the 1960s, the Harvard Medical School’s cramped research library on the second floor of the Administration Building (1905) was not suitable for the esteemed doctors behind those doors, and a larger, modern library was required. There was one issue… They did not have any room to build a suitable library! Architect Hugh Stubbins, who always thought outside of the box, decided the best option was to close a street and build up. Reportedly the largest university medical library in the country at the time of its completion, the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is named after Francis Countway, the bookkeeper for Lever Brothers, a local soap company, who later became president in 1913. He supported his sister, Gussanda “Sanda” Countway, throughout her school years. When Francis died, Sanda Countway created the Countway Charitable Foundation in his memory. The funds collected by this foundation, including Sanda’s own donation, allowed Harvard University to build the Countway Library in his name. The concrete building features a massive atrium inside with a curvilinear staircase which contrasts the bold proportions with a sleek design feature. The library is home to the Warren Anatomical Museum, one of the few surviving anatomy and pathology museum collections in the United States, which includes some medical and anatomical marvels!

St. Paul’s Cathedral, Burlington // 1973

St. Paul’s Church in Burlington, Vermont, was organized in 1830, when Burlington’s population was about 3,500. About 55 Episcopalians met at a local hotel and laid the groundwork for the parish. In 1832, the fledgling parish dedicated its new building, a neo-Gothic limestone structure, which was enlarged multiple times as the congregation grew as the city did. In 1965, the Diocesan Convention voted that St. Paul’s Church be designated a Cathedral Church of the Diocese (one of two in the state). Just six years later, it was destroyed by fire, sparked by an electrical malfunction in the basement, leading to a new evolution of the church. At the time of the fire, the City of Burlington was engaged in massive urban renewal projects. As a part of this program, the City offered to swap the land on which Old St. Paul’s had stood for a spacious new tract overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Although the decision to change locations was a contentious one, the parish did accept the offer. When discussing designs for a new cathedral, there was a strong desire to make a new statement in architecture, diverging from the traditional Gothic or Colonial designs seen all over the country. An international competition was held to determine the architect of the new Cathedral. The winner was the local firm Burlington Associates, now Truex, Cullins & Partners. Completed in 1973, the Cathedral is made of stressed concrete. The structure stands strong and firm, yet is welcoming. Windows provide sweeping views of Lake Champlain and the distant Adirondacks.

Brookline Town Hall // 1965

The story behind Brookline’s Town Hall building is the story of many cities and towns all over the country in the 1960s-70s, that of Urban Renewal. Brookline Village was (and mostly still is) a vibrant commercial district of varied architectural styles and massing which together, create a patchwork that details the history of the city through design. Early wood-frame commercial buildings sit side-by-side to ornate Victorian-era buildings, with Modern infill scattered throughout. Brookline Village has long been the governmental core of the suburban town due to the location of the train station and its central location to the other neighborhoods. A grand Victorian Gothic Town Hall (the town’s third) was built in 1871 at the corner of Washington and Prospect Streets. Designed by S. J. Thayer, the building would easily rival any other building in town today. After WWII, Brookline and many other cities, through Urban Renewal, sought to restore the economic vitality of the governmental hub of town, by demolishing the “outdated” buildings and replace them with tall, sleek, modern structures with ample landscaping and parking surrounding. The town hired Anderson, Beckwith and Haible, a very prominent firm in Boston to design the International/Brutalist building. In the 1960s, a majority of the civic, commercial, and residential buildings around the former town hall were demolished and replaced with Modernist buildings, all but erasing the relative scale and history of that section of the Village.

Wellesley College Library // 1909, 1958 & 1975

The Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley College exemplifies the evolving architectural tastes and demands for institutional growth.

Original library building, photo taken 2020.

The original library building is a small t-shaped structure constructed of Indiana limestone with symmetrical front facade. The Renaissance Revival building designed by the architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge was completed in 1909. The library displays a broad facade with a slightly projecting central bay with central entry, engaged columns and pilasters,
horizontal bands of Greek ornamentation and large casement windows. The style was very common for colleges after the turn of the century and was popular at institutions all over the region.

1910 photo taken by Detroit Publishing Company.
Reading room in original library building, 1930. Courtesy of Wellesley College archives

By the completion of the library, it was already too small. The college immediately added onto the rear of the library. After WWII, the college grew much larger and the library was becoming too tight for the growing collections and students on campus. The firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, who commanded many collegiate commissions at the time, were hired to nearly double the square footage of the building.

1958 addition which extends to roughly the tall hedge (later addition continues on).
Photo taken 2020

The 1958 addition is constructed of concrete pre-cast panels and glass which blends in with the Indiana limestone of the original building, yet is clearly modern. In 1974 while the last addition was underway, the Board of Trustees at Wellesley College voted to name the Library after the eighth President, Margaret Clapp who had recently died. Thus it was dedicated with the 1975 addition, also designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, & Abbott as the Margaret Clapp Library. The 1972 additions are located on the end of the west and east wings, the western being the most dramatic for its location above a circular reflecting pool and concrete brise soleils.

1975 addition, photo taken 2020
1975 addition detail, photo taken 2020
Architectural model ca. 1970 showing complete library design. Photo courtesy of Wellesley Digital Archives.