Brandeis University: The Campus and its Past

Description by Maggie A. McNeely, Assistant Archivist

A Map of Historically Significant Sites on Campus, 2009The campus that Brandeis University now occupies has undergone massive growth and change in a relatively short time span. From the University’s inception, its trustees ushered in an explosion of buildings, with the most dramatic increase occurring during the 1960s. When one walks along the narrow paths from building to building today, the landscape gives no indication of having once been rural farmland and eventually a bucolic campus—for Middlesex University—dominated by a castle and a few sparsely-placed buildings.

Brandeis inherited from Middlesex the following structures: The Castle, a converted stable for a library, a small crescent-shaped building with a wishing well and grape arbor nearby, a quaint farmhouse called Woodruff Hall, a rectangular dorm called Smith Hall, and the relatively new Science Hall (which came to be called Ford Hall), complete with a greenhouse. An apple orchard once stood where the science complex is currently located. Usdan Student Center was built over a city reservoir. With the exception of the Castle, all Middlesex buildings were eventually razed and many structures that were erected during Brandeis’s infancy have been altered. The master plans of Eero Saarinen and Max Abramovitz, and the buildings of Benjamin Thompson, Hugh Stubbins & Associates, and Sasaki & Associates, and the layouts of various landscapers and planners, have added layer upon layer to this bustling university on the hill.

The above image was created by Assistant Archivist Maggie McNeely using a 2004 aerial photograph of the Brandeis campus. Former buildings and places of historical significance have been marked by red dots with accompanying short descriptions. Compare this map to the current campus map.

The Archives houses important resources on the University’s architectural history. Some of our favorites include the following:

  • Building a Campus: An Architectural Celebration of Brandeis University’s 50th Anniversary by Gerald S. Bernstein (1999) is the go-to resource for the history of selected campus buildings;

  • A Host At Last by Abram Sachar (1976) includes the description of the physical campus that Brandeis inherited from the perspective of its first president;

  • A 1971 senior thesis by Michael Hauptman called The Architecture of Brandeis University or "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" by Max Abramovitz offers a rather critical view of the University’s modernist, mostly brick and crowded campus;

  • A 1972 senior thesis by Ann Lorenz called Architecture and Planning at Brandeis University is told from the perspective of a Fine Arts major; and

  • For those interested in the history of the Castle, a 1998 thesis by Amy Debra Finstein called Unlocking Doors to the Past and Future: An Architectural and Social Exploration of the Irving and Edyth Usen Castle is the best in-depth analysis of this flamboyant and mysterious building.

Archival collections that document the history and development of the Brandeis campus are also worth noting:

  • the University Architecture Collection

  • the David Berkowitz Papers

  • the University History Collection

  • the Middlesex University Records

  • the Abram L. Sachar Presidential Papers

  • the University Photography Collection

  • and others

April 8, 2009