read about the Fall 1997 Charrette Weekend.
of Master Planning at Brandeis
taken from An
Architectural Celebration of Brandeis University's 50th Anniversary,
with kind permission of the Editor, Gerald S. Bernstein, Ph.D.
In 1950, Dr. Abram
Sachar decided that a Master Plan was an important priority for the new
university. The choice of Eero Saarinen, an internationally recognized
proponent of the modern movement in architecture, set an important precedent
for the development of the school. Although Saarinen's involvement with
Brandeis was brief, he left an indelible imprint on the growth of the campus.
The opening of
Brandeis University in the fall of 1948 met with relatively little notice. A
group of Jewish businessmen and academics who made up the Board of Trustees
could not have imagined the challenges they would face in the creation of a
nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored liberal arts college. Although the school was
originally projected to begin classes in 1947, a series of financial and
administrative difficulties postponed the opening for a year.
The purchase of a
90-acre tract from the Middlesex Medical College provided a campus for the
incoming class of 107 students. The site was set among a landscape of rolling
hills and rocky terrain with large areas of swamp and wetlands. More than a
dozen structures dating back to the Baker Farm occupied the grassy meadows.
The dominant building on the new Brandeis campus was a fantasy-like Castle
located on an outcropping of stone on the eastern edge of the site. Like most
of the Middlesex buildings, it was in dilapidated condition and desperately in
need of repair.
The new Board of
Trustees, with the aid of architects and academic consultants, began a series
of feasibility studies of the existing buildings. The first phase of
development led to the demolition of some structures and the refurbishing of
others. The pressing need for more living space led to the renovation of the
Castle into women's dormitories. A group of Boston-based architects and
engineers supervised a number of construction projects including additional
classrooms, laboratories, and study areas. A new wing was added to the old
Middlesex library, increasing its capacity by more than 30,000 volumes.
However, even with
these short-term solutions it became apparent that some type of long-range
building program would have to be developed.
In a memo dated in
the spring of 1948, Dr. David Berkowitz, director of the Office of University
Planning, stressed the urgency of developing a Master Plan. Improvised
solutions provided by modernizing old buildings would no longer be feasible.
The problems concerning future growth had reached crisis proportions.
selection by Dr. Abram Sachar, the newly appointed president of Brandeis, of
the internationally renowned architectural firm of Saarinen, Saarinen, and
Associates brought instant prestige to the new university. The firm, which had
wide experience in campus planning, had recently completed projects for
Antioch College and Drake University.
Another of the
younger Saarinen's designs was or the General Motors Technological Center in
Warren, Michigan. This complex of rectilinear, flat-roofed buildings with
exposed steel structure and glass and brick walls became a signature of the
In the spring of
1949, Saarinen made his first visit to the Brandeis campus. In an exchange of
letters with Sachar, the young Saarinen outlined his educational philosophy
and the architectural character he envisioned for the future campus. Saarinen
expressed his strong interest in the commission and his enthusiasm for the
architectural possibilities of the project.
President Sachar and
the Board of Trustees were impressed with Saarinen's conception and officially
authorized the project to begin that summer. The commission was divided into
two phases: the first to create
of the site and the second to produce a brochure to publicize the plan and
bring it to the attention of possible donors.
There is no question
that Saarinen conceived of a third phase beyond the promotional sketches. Here
the architect would have been commissioned to design and construct individual
campus buildings. This aspect of the project, however, remained unresolved
throughout Saarinen's association with Brandeis.
a number of conferences with the Saarinen firm in which the guidelines of the
program were outlined, work on the campus plan was begun. Saarinen returned to
Waltham in early August and had the opportunity to study the site more
closely. To facilitate the tight schedule requirements of the commission,
particularly phase one, Saarinen selected the noted young architect Matthew
Norwicki to collaborate on the project. The two men worked intensively
throughout the summer preparing the drawings for the Master Plan brochure. The
results of their efforts was the publication in November of the first edition
of A Foundation for Learning: Planning the Campus of Brandeis University,
which consisted of a description of the educational goals of the new
university along with a series of perspectival renderings of the campus. The
projected Master Plan as presented in the brochure consisted of a number of
rectangular buildings for the sciences, humanities, and the social sciences.
Also included in the central area were a library and a student center. At the
edge of the academic quad was the Creative Arts Center, distinguished by a
dramatic circular auditorium.
dormitories were located on the peripheral road and were organized into three
separate rectagular groupings. Also included in the Master Plan were an
athletic complex and a single interdenominational chapel. The plan was to be
developed over a 10-year period and was projected to cost over $20 million.
During the early
1950s, a number of revisions to the Master Plan were made. These included a
large rectilnear structure to serve as the University museum and a circular
greenhouse attached to the science complex. A more fully developed athletic
facility were also presented.
of the revisions appear in the second edition of A Foundation for Learning,
which was published in 1951. The new brochure also featured a photograph of
the Ridgewood dormitory quad, which had been completed in the fall of 1950.
The location of Ridgewood did not relate to the Saarinen Master Plan. It was
sited on the southwesterly side of the campus with access to South Street. The
choice of this site and the flexibility of the individual units has led to one
of the enduring Brandeis myths.
Many in the Brandeis
community hold to the often-told story that in the early days of the
University, many, including conservative lending institutions, questioned
Brandeis's ability to survive. For this reason, one of the requirements of the
government load was to construct dorms that could be converted into
conventional apartments or even motel units in the event of the University's
Although the story of
the government loan may have some basis in truth, a more telling factor in the
design of the Ridgewood Quadrangle may simply have been Ridgewood's potential
for adaptability. The original plan was to serve as faculty and married
student housing, but because of the urgent need to accommodate undergraduates,
the structures were modified to traditional dormitory usage.
The second edition of
the brochure illustrating the Saarinen Master Plan contained a more careful
study of the terrain. The outcropping of huge stone ledge near the center of
the Academic Quad was clearly depicted. This and other rock formations found
throughout the campus created natural sculpture.
for the Brandeis project was due not only to his appreciation of its
"wonderful site," but to the opportunity of creating a 20th-century
environment of unity and order. In contrast to the restrictions imposed by
already existing campus buildings, such as those encountered at Drake
University, the Brandeis commission offered a more flexible program with fewer
existing buildings to be preserved. The Saarinen plan called for almost all of
the old Middlesex buildings to be demolished. Only the Castle found its way
into the Brandeis Master Plan.
The judgement to
preserve Smith's Castle and renovate it into women's dormitories was practical
and aesthetic. The pressing need for more living space was of course a major
consideration, but the Castle's distinctive appearance must have also played a
role. The Castle's dramatic location near the site of the Academic Quadrangle
and across from the elliptical reservoir created a linkage to the past and a
ready-made tradition for the new school.
The towers and
turrets of the Castle contrasted with the crisp rectangular forms projected by
Saarinen for the Hamilton dormitories (now Massell Quadrangle). Following the
basic tenets of the International Style, the architect envisioned a grouping
of rectangular structures conforming to a basic right angle grid. The result
is strikingly similar to the design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the campus
of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
The original site of
the women's residence halls was on the western edge of the campus. However,
subsequent expansion of the creative arts area spread beyond the quadrangle.
Although all the buildings of the complex are similar in their box-like brick
facades with windows set in metal frames, only the Shapiro Residence Hall and
Sherman Student Center were built under the architect's supervision.
Saarinen's hand is clearly evident in the selection of orange-toned, rustic
brick and the use of color-coordinated mortar. The proportion of the Shapiro
Residence Hall in comparison to the other dorms that surround the old
Middlesex ice pond is also more sensitive to human scale.
One of the more
interesting features of the Sherman Student Center was the architect's design
for the facade facing the pond. Here Saarinen utilized one of the basic
features of the International Style by creating a "curtain wall"
rising the full height of the building. Unfortunately, over the years,
certain modifications have been made to the original design. This is
sadly true of Sherman, where energy conserving measure have altered the
overall appearance of the building, substituting brands of windows in place of
the original transparent wall.
The remaining three
buildings were completed a few years later by architects working from
Saarinen's designs and the guidelines of the Master Plan.
the experience of the Massell Quadrangle mirrors the fate of Saarinen at
Brandeis. What had begun with such promise was lost to expedience.
Of the four buildings that Saarinen actually designed, three have been
drastically altered and a fourth lost to the wrecker's ball. Saarinen's
conception of the Brandeis chapel never became more than a rendering, although
one can now see it with certain modifications on the campus of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
By 1952, Eero
Saarinen's connection to Brandeis had come to an end. Although the
architect had conceived of a campus built in his personal style, many factors,
including construction costs and difficulties in fundraising, made that
impossible. Saarinen's expectations for his Master Plan no longer seemed
viable as local architects were awarded the commission for the Shapiro Gym.
firm of Harrison & Abramovitz was asked by President Sachar to take on the
responsibility of a new Master Plan. Max Abramovitz, a former student
and personal friend of Dr. Sachar, adopted many of the concepts of the
original Saarinen project. The new Abramovitz Master Plan utilized
Saarinen's system of organization by placing the residence halls at the
periphery of the academic facilities. Abramovitz's desire to preserve
the natural landscape of the site led to his choice of small units rather than
monumental blocks. The small unit approach may have also reflected
problems in attracting large donations for individual projects.
visual connection between the Abramovitz and Saarinen plans is seen in the
continued use of red brick with limestone or concrete trim. The few
exceptions to this formula, in such buildings as the Rose Art Museum or the
Three Chapels, were labeled by President Sachar as "prima donnas,"
because they stood out dramatically on campus.
Perhaps the most
significant link between the Saarinen and Abramovitz conception of the
Brandeis Master Plan was the strong commitment to the basic tenets of the
International Style of architecture. For better or worse, both
architects adopted the rectilinear, flat-roofed glass box, which in the years
following World War II was regarded as cutting-edge modernism.
architectural feature of Brandeis was the number of architects who were
commissioned to work on campus. Abramovitz, during his tenure as
Sachar's "architectural counsel," made a concerted effort to bring a
variety of architects to the University.
From the steel and
glass structures of the science buildings by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson,
and Abbot to Benjamin Thompson's award-winning designs for the Academic
Complex, dozens of architects have contributed to the Brandeis experience.