Sever Hall, Harvard

Sever Hall, Harvard

Henry Hobson Richardson, 1878–1880

National Historic Landmark

Many architects cite Sever as their favorite building on the Harvard campus. One of Richardson’s finest works, it succeeds on several levels. It relates well to the eighteenth-century buildings of the Yard by adopting similar massing, proportions, and materials. The large pediment on the front entrance and the small one on the rear relate to the colonial era of the neighboring buildings. As in the Trinity Church Rectory in the Back Bay, built about the same time, the brickwork is extraordinary, with roll moldings around doors and windows and fluted brick chimneys. For every six courses of stretchers, there is one of headers. In addition to the red brick, the façade has Longmeadow sandstone. The roof is of red tile. Note the bowed section of the rear façade, an original Richardson device for animating the solid flat plane. The size and rhythmic spacing of the many window openings are a key part of the design, and rather than being regular and static, are richly varied. The ideal time to appreciate this effect is at night with the building lit from within.

Children of all ages enjoy the “whispering gallery” effect of the arch at the main (west) entrance. Speak quietly toward one side of the arch, and the sound will be reflected around to a ready ear at the other side.