Approaching the centennial of its founding, this firm has played a remarkable role in the development of a variety of projects and people that have shaped Boston architecture.
Educated at Harvard, MIT and L’Ecole de Beaux Arts, Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn founded their firm in Boston in 1922 and gained early traction as experts in the budding historic preservation movement. John D. Rockefeller funded their meticulous planning and restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, where William G. Perry focused on careful research and evidence to guide his work, rather than an impressionistic application of historical styles. This success led to two Harleston Parker Medal-winning projects in Cambridge, both neo-Georgian: the Alice Longfellow Hall at Radcliffe and the Houghton Rare Book Library at Harvard.
Following WWII, partner Robert C. Dean was a leading voice for a more nuanced, contextual modernism, challenging the harsh prescriptions of the Bauhaus. The firm served as associate architects for Alvar Aalto’s Baker House at MIT, and designed the Jordan Marsh Store on Washington Street where their modernist, cantilevered facade with Georgian details was ridiculed at the time, but was later seen to have anticipated postmodernism 20 years before its broad advent.
The Wellesley Science Center of 1972 is seen by many as the firm’s defining work. Design partner Charles Rogers’ exposed concrete frame and colorful ductwork managed to evoke the scale and spirit of the neo-gothic campus, while leading it into the future. Perhaps helped by the attention it gained when the remarkably similar Centre Pompidou was unveiled in Paris a couple of years later, the Science Center was awarded the BSA’s Harleston Parker Medal.
The Perry firm and its partners have been important in developing young talent: Robert Dean taught I. M. Pei and Gordon Bunshaft at MIT in the 1930s; Frank Gehry worked in the office following his studies at Harvard in the late 1950s; and Warren Schwartz and Robert Silver were young architects in the firm in the 1970s.
Operating today as PDR Architects, the firm continues to have a strong presence in Boston and beyond with a practice focused primarily on campus and civic projects. Consistent with its history, it has taken on occasional associate architect roles on significant projects such as the ICA and Simmons Hall. See http://perrydean.com to learn more.
Sources: Perry, Dean, Rogers; “Built in Boston,” Shand-Tucci, 1999; Wikipedia.