Northeastern University, Campus Plan

Boston, Massachusetts | 1934

In 1934 Northeastern announced a design competition for a new campus with "attention given to... architectural appropriateness, utility, and economy”, a modernist and utilitarian counterpoint to the traditional ivy-clad brick university. The competition presented an unusual challenge, requiring the submission of aerial views of the campus rather than the customary renderings. To achieve this, the designers built a model, photographed it from above, and drew a copy of the photo.

The design created a complex of structures with classically ordered yet flexible interiors and crisp exteriors of glazed gray brick. The main facade is defined by alternating vertical windows and vertical walls crowned by a discreetly projecting cornice and resting on a (basement) plinth. The central lobby extends the entryway’s classical theme in its spatial organization and surface treatment. The press called it “the New Northeastern, Modernistic Classical in Design”.

Richards Hall was dedicated in 1938, followed by Mugar Hall (West Wing) in 1941. The remaining three structures " Ell, Dodge, and Hayden - were not completed until after World War II. In its first ten years the plan shed many Beaux Arts characteristics, including interconnected U-shaped, classical forms with partly enclosed courtyards. In 1944 the plan to connect the complex at grade level was replaced by a tunnel system recommended by the school’s Civil Engineering Department.

Northeastern was established in 1898 as the YMCA’s Evening Institute to “bridge the gap between higher education and the smaller pay envelope”. In 1913 the fledgling institution moved to the YMCA’s new building on Huntington Avenue, also designed by this firm.


Shepley Bulfinch Team

Herman J. Voss
James Ford Clapp, Jr.



  • Northeastern University campus plan competition winner, 1934

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