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!

Fort Revere Tower // 1903

The Town of Hull, Massachusetts was first settled in 1622 and officially incorporated in 1644, when it was named for Kingston upon Hull, England. The town juts out into the Boston Harbor, which historically had provided as a defense for approaching vessels into the harbor. As early as 1673, Telegraph Hill in Hull, was used as the highest point in the Boston harbor area from which signals could be sent warning the approach of vessels. The site was first used as a fort in 1776 to defend the port of Boston. Fort Independence was built on top of the hill in 1776-1777, to be succeeded by the much larger Fort Revere in 1903 (see next post). The first telegraph tower was built on the hill in 1827. Several other telegraph stations later occupied the site until 1938, when radio communications made the site obsolete. Though little of the original Revolutionary-era fort remains, the fort which began construction at the turn of the 20th century lasts as a stunning reminder to the importance of coastal defenses, high atop hills. At the highest point of Telegraph Hill this water tower which rises 120 feet off the ground was built in 1903 for the new Fort Revere as the first reinforced concrete water tower in the United States. At the top of the tower, an observation deck (now closed) was also used to send messages to other harbor defenses. The tower was restored in 1975 was designated an American Water Landmark in 2003. It was periodically open to the public until mid-2012 when it was closed due to safety concerns.

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.