Debunking Urban Legends About Brandeis Architecture

Much of the following information may be found in Gerald S. Bernstein’s “An Architectural Celebration of Brandeis University’s 50th Anniversary” (1999).

Was Spingold Theater designed to resemble a top hat?

Spingold Theater drawingsNo. Drawings indicate that the theater’s original design was much flatter; it was eventually elongated, most likely to enhance the building’s acoustics. 

Was the Slosberg Music Center designed to resemble a grand piano?

No. The building did not include its signature “glass curtain” windows on all four sides until a major addition was built in 1963. Many have claimed that the structure’s 88 windows were intended to represent the 88 keys of a piano — a fortuitous coincidence.

Does the Castle have secret passageways?

Yes. Early architect Archie Riskin surveyed the structure and found sliding panels and apartments accessible by secret passageways.


Was the Castle modeled after a Scottish castle?

A group walking by the CastleNo. The Castle is an eclectic, Gothic-style structure loosely based on medieval castles from England and Ireland, most notably Cavendish Castle (Ireland). It is also reminiscent of buildings at Cambridge and Oxford Universities (England).

Was Usdan Student Center designed to prevent student takeovers in response to the Ford Hall takeover of 1969?

No. Usdan was originally designed ca. 1965, before the occurrence of the Ford Hall takeover (January 1969). It was built in the Brutalist style, defined by massive brick walls and raw concrete. The design connected four buildings around an open courtyard; it has been suggested that its many entrances/exits were intended to comply with fire code requirements. But this design was also convenient in attracting donors after whom a hall of the building could be named.

Of note: Usdan Student Center was built on the former Middlesex Reservoir.

February 14, 2009