MIT Maclaurin Buildings

William Welles Bosworth, 1913–1916

MIT selected William Welles Bosworth as the architect for its new Cambridge campus, after having considered Désiré Despradelle, a French-born member of the architecture faculty, and Cass Gilbert, and MIT graduate and designer of the University of Minnesota campus. Besides being an MIT alumnus, Bosworth had worked for H. H. Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted and had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In contrast to Harvard’s individual brick buildings set in open green space, Bosworth’s design, based on the program prepared by the distinguished engineer John Freeman, is conceived as a single neoclassic limestone building that reaches out to define space in the manner of Versailles. Bosworth’s expertise in French style was later reaffirmed by his work in the 1920s as director of the reconstruction of Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Rheims Cathedral.

The Great Court, with its Pantheon-inspired dome rising behind an imposing Ionic façade facing Boston, was designed with the expectation that the primary approach to campus would be from the river. For a time in the early years it served that purpose. Today, the Court is used for major ceremonies such as graduation; its full grandeur is hidden from view by a stand of mature trees.

The dome of the Great Court has gained notoriety as the place for some of MIT's most famous campus "hacks." The campus has awoken to installations atop the dome including a police car, a piano, a replica of the Wright Brothers' airplane, Star Wars' R2D2, a giant Red Sox logo, a fire truck, and an MBTA subway car, circling the perimeter powered by solar power www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WqU7O1g3z4.

Images: John Phelan - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15550635; Yonward