(Site of) Allston Burr Lecture Hall, Harvard University

(Site of) Burr Hall, Harvard

Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, 1950

Demolished c.1980

Harleston Parker Medal, 1953

Built at the same time as Gropius' Harkness Commons at Harvard Law School, this project was caught in the crossfire between Harvard's modernists and its traditionalists. Its white brick forms departed from the calm concrete and stucco boxes expected by the former, and the formal red brick facades demanded by the latter. Vigorous debates echoed in the Alumni Bulletin and beyond. Both buildings moved ahead, and advanced the modern movement on the Harvard campus that would bring buildings by Le Corbusier and Jose Lluis Sert a decade or two later. Many of these - but not Harkness - were Harleston Parker medalists.

Burr squeezed six steeply terraced lecture halls onto a tiny site, and then wrapped them with circulation and accessory spaces. The cleverness of the planning was given a strong sculptural expression as every element competed for attention. Too clever by half, perhaps. Not easily adapted to changing teaching needs, it was demolished to make way for James Sterling's 1984 Sackler Museum. With the 2014 completion of Renzo Piano’s museum expansion across the street obviating that building’s role as a museum, it seems conceivable that Harvard will rebuild once again on this site before too long.

Source: Harvard: An Architectural History, Bunting and Floyd, Harvard University Press, 1998