American Landscape and Architectural Design 1850-1920

Harvard University Buildings

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Chronology of Harvard Buildings, 1850-1920


Gore Hall,1838-1841, Richard Bond (metal stacks 1878 Ware and Van Brunt)

This edifice, a diminished copy of the chapel of King’s College, at the greater Cambridge is a rich and impressive institution; and as he stood there in the bright heated stillness, which seemed infused with the odor of old print and old bindings, and looked up into the high, light vaults that hung over quiet book laden galleries, alcoves and tables, and glazed cases where rarer treasures gleamed more vaguely, over busts of benefactors and portraits of worthies, bowed heads of working students and the gentle creek of passing messengers…

-Henry James, The Bostonians, 1886 (3. James, p.230)

Gore Hall
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Gore Hall, the college library from 1838-1913, was for years the symbol of Harvard University, and remains on the seal of the city of Cambridge. It was modeled on the fifteenth century King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England and was the first building at Harvard to be used solely as a library. In 1764, a fire had destroyed 5,000 of Harvard’s books, almost the entire collection of the University. For this reason, the designers were greatly concerned with minimizing the threat of fire. Only one furnace heated the entire structure and no artificial light was used in the library until the invention of the electric lamp. Due to the problems of illumination and heat, the Library closed each day as soon as night fell. As a further measure against fire, Gore Hall was the first library to contain metal stacks, which were housed in an addition designed by Ware and Van Brunt in 1874. Despite the added wing, the college collections outgrew the building by 1913, when Gore Hall was demolished to make room for Widener Library.



The two most notable buildings from this decade are both the work of the German architect Paul Shulze. They were unusual as Harvard buildings for that time because of their use of stone rather than the traditional brick. They also deviated stylistically from the eighteenth century Georgian buildings.

Built in 1856 in a combination of Romanesque and Colonial styles, Appleton Chapel stood out in the yard as the only sandstone building. It was funded by a donation from Samuel Appleton of Boston and served for the college religious services until it was demolished and replaced by Memorial Chapel in 1931.

Appleton Chapel
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon  Appleton Chapel, 1856, Paul Schulze

Constructed one year after Appleton Chapel, Boylston was also made of stone rather than brick, although in this case the designers used granite. The building was financed with a bequest from Ward Nicholas Boylston of Boston and was the first building at Harvard built expressly for the sciences. It served as a chemistry and physics laboratory, and as a museum of anatomy, anthropology and mineralogy. In 1871 it was altered with the addition of a third story housed within a mansard roof.

Boylston Hall
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The 1860s saw great changes at Harvard, both architecturally and educationally. Charles Eliot, University President from 1869-1909, not only liberalized the curriculum, but also encouraged funding for new university facilities and buildings. His era left the most visible stamp upon the architecture of the college.

He thought there was rather too much brick about it, but it was buttressed, cloistered, turreted, dedicated, superscribed, as he had never seen anything; though it didn’t look old, it looked significant; it covered a large area, and it sprang majestic into the winter air. It was detached from the rest of the collegiate group, and it stood in a grassy triangle of its own…They went up the low steps and passed into the tall doors. The Memorial Hall of Harvard consists of three main divisions: one of them a theater, for academic ceremonies; another a vast refectory, covered with a timbered roof, hung about with portraits and lighted by stained windows, like the halls of the colleges of Oxford; and the third, the most interesting, a chamber high, dim and severe, consecrated to the sons of the university who fell in the long Civil War.

Henry James, The Bostonians, 1886 (4. James, p.231-2)

Memorial Hall
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Memorial Hall
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Memorial Hall
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During the late 1860s, the architectural firm, Ware & Van Brunt, designed two important additions to the campus. Their most impressive work is Memorial Hall, built to commemorate the students of Harvard who lost their lives during the American Civil War. Sitting on the Delta north of the Yard, the monumental edifice was built in the Ruskonian Gothic style. It was restored in the 1970s and remains much like it was originally intended, although without the clock tower that was destroyed by fire in 1956.

Weld Hall, 1870, Ware & Van Brunt

The second Ware & Van Brunt building on the Harvard Campus is a dormitory built in 1870. It was a gift of William Fletcher Weld in memory of his brother Stephen Minot Weld. Weld Hall represents a new trend toward picturesque silhouettes that became important to American domestic architecture of the later nineteenth century, and can be seen in the Queen Anne style, which was popular during the same period.(5. Bunting)

Weld Hall
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Sever Hall, 1878, H.H. Richardson

Henry Hobson Richardson graduated from Harvard in 1859. He studied at the Ecole Beaux Arts before returning to New England as an architect. He designed two buildings for his undergraduate college during the late 1870s and early 1880s. Sever Hall, begun in 1878, was built to house new classrooms.

Sever Hall
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Austin Hall, 1881-1884, H.H. Richardson

Austin Hall, a Richardsonian Romanesque building replaced Dane Hall as the building for Harvard's Law School. It was funded with a gift from Edward Austin and given in memory of his brother, Samuel Austin.

Austin Hall
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Hunt Hall, 1893, R.M. Hunt

The old Fogg Museum was the first building to house and display Harvard's art collections. It's name was changed to that of its architect, Richard Morris Hunt, when the University's collections were moved to new buildings in 1926. Hunt Hall housed the Graduate School of Design from 1928-1969. It was demolished in 1973 to make space for a new dormitory.

Hunt Hall
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Gates/Memorial Fence, 1901-1930, McKim, Mead & White

The architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White designed a number of important structures at Harvard during the first years of the twentieth century. Beginning in 1901, they designed the Memorial Fence that encloses and defines Harvard Yard. The fence connected pre-existing gateways and included new ones. The cost of the structure was covered by alumni donations, the class years of which decorate sections of the fence. Johnson Gate, also designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1890, was the most elaborate of these gates. Leading between Harvard and Massachusetts Halls, it serves as the main entrance to the college.

Gates/Memorial Fence
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Stadium, 1902, McKim, Mead & White

The Harvard Stadium, designed by Charles McKim and George Bruno de Gersdorff, was erected in 1902-03, across the Charles River on Soldier's Field Road. It was notable as the largest reinforced concrete structure of its time. The stadium's appearance was meant to evoke the ideal of classical amphitheaters and Stadia. The Harvard Classics department capitalized upon this connection in 1906 when they used the stadium for their production of Aeschylus' Agamemnon.(6. Bunting)

Harvard Stadium
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Widener Library, 1913, Horace Trumbauer

Widener Library replaced Gore Hall as the College Library in 1913,when the former building became too small for the University's growing collections. The parents of Harry Elkins Widener built the new library in memory of their son who had died in the sinking of the Titanic. Widener graduated from Harvard in 1907 and was a collector of rare and first edition books. He bequeathed his collection to Harvard, but wanted the books to be presented only when the University was finally equipped to store them properly. His family contemplated ways to fulfill his wishes, including adding a second wing to the existing building. They finally resolved to construct an entirely new library. The vast scale of the new building was necessary to adequately contain the university's enormous holdings. There are ten levels of load bearing stacks surrounding two courtyards and an interior rotunda for Widener's collection. The large size of the new structure and the imposing facade emphasized the library as the heart of the University. (7. Bunting)

Widener Library
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