Harvard Medical School, Main Quadrangle

Boston, MA | 1906

At the beginning of the 20th century, US universities responded to the demands of the rapidly transforming industrial society by developing professional schools for medicine, law, business, and other fields. Harvard president Charles Eliot, a leader of this movement, directed a major expansion of Harvard’s professional schools. First on his list was the medical school. Most of the funds for the school came from four major business figures including banking magnate J.P. Morgan, who gave enough to underwrite the cost of three of the five buildings.

The 1906 Beaux Arts complex comprises five imposing structures on a 26-acre site, with one building for administration and four for laboratories, grouped in a U shape around a long open-ended court. The complex’s white Dorset marble exterior was said to have been intended for New York Public Library. To address a 32’ grade change from the site’s upper end to Longwood Avenue, the administration building was sited one story higher than the other four. The design accommodated the buildings' distinct programmatic needs while maintaining a uniform outward appearance by standardizing buildings’ basement heights and using dark colors in the exteriors of some of the buildings to correspond with glass in others.

The design provided a model for Welles Bosworth a few years later when he designed the MIT campus across the river.

The Medical School project represented a qualitative change in the firm’s work at Harvard. While under Richardson the firm had designed individual buildings in the Yard and at the Law School, Harvard Medical School was the firm’s first complex for the University and the basis of its medical community.

Shepley went on to complete Harvard Dental School and Harvard School of Public Health (1909) as well as Vanderbilt Hall (1927), a dormitory for Harvard Medical School. The medical school complex would become an anchor for Boston’s now-renowned Longwood Medical Area. Shepley completed the Hunnewell Building, the new home of Children’s Hospital (1912); Rotch Memorial Hospital for Children, now part of the the School of Public Health (1914); and Boston Lying-In Hospital, now part of Brigham & Women’s Hospital (1923).

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  • Square Footage: 26 acres

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