Harkness Commons / Harvard Law School Graduate Center

Harkness Commons / Harvard Law School Graduate Center

Walter Gropius and The Architects Collaborative, 1950

Gropius’s principles of functional design, using technology to serve social needs and making a sharp break with sentimental tradition, are evident in this austere factory-like complex. Seven buff-colored brick dormitories are linked by covered walkways, forming several courtyards. The focus of the group is Harkness Commons, which contains recreational areas and a second-floor dining hall reached by a long ramp. Gropius felt that art and architecture should be integrated, and this building incorporates several works of art: a brick design by Joseph Albers, a tile wall by Herbert Bayer, a ceramic mural by Joan Miró, a wood bas-relief by Jean Arp, and a metal sculpture by Richard Lippold.

This was Harvard's first major post-war project and Gropius' first Harvard commission, but by 1950 the International Style had been exercised for twenty years at least and the cutting edge had moved on. Gropius' strict, severe adherence to the style faced immediate challenges from more organic modern designs, particularly Alvar Aalto's Baker House at MIT and Coolidge Shepley's Alston Burr Hall just across the Harvard campus.