Modern Monday: Hayden Memorial Library at MIT

For today’s #ModernMonday posting, we are highlighting the Hayden Memorial Library at MIT.

Hayden Library PHoto

Located on Memorial Drive, the library is named after Charles Hayden (1870-1937) an MIT alum (1890) who studied “mining investment.” Hayden was a philanthropist who donated vast sums of money for the construction of buildings including; the Hayden Planetarium in New York, the Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Boston Museum of Science, and the Hayden Memorial Library at MIT to name a few. Hayden was involved with philanthropy most of his life. During World War I, he donated $100,000 per year to the American Red Cross. Hayden’s largest philanthropic effort came following his death in 1937 when his will directed roughly $50,000,000 ($853 million in today’s dollars) from his estate be used to create a foundation to advance the education and “moral, mental, and physical well-being” of boys and young men. The organization, known today as “The Charles Hayden Foundation”, distributes grants of between $10,000,000 and $20,000,000 annually to support programs for children in the Boston and New York metropolitan areas.

Charles Hayden Photo

Charles Hayden in 1934, from the American Museum of Natural History Digital Special Collections.

Exterior original drawings_Tech. Review

Architectural drawing included in Architectural Record, Nov. 1946.

Interior drawings_Tech. Review

Architectural drawing included in Architectural Record, Nov. 1946.

Interior drawings_Tech. Review (2)

Architectural drawing included in Architectural Record, Nov. 1946.

The Hayden Memorial Library at MIT was unveiled beginning in 1946 when the Architectural Record highlighted the design of the building. The building was designed by Ralph Walker (MIT Class of 1911) of Voorhees, Walker, Foley and Smith Architects and was completed in 1951 in a Post-WWII Art Moderne Style. Walker was called “The only other honest architect in America” by Frank Lloyd Wright, and “Architect of the Century” by The New York Times when he received the Centennial Medal of Honor from the American Institute of Architects. He was most well known for his Art Deco buildings in New York. “Three years after accepting his award from the New York Times, he resigned from the AIA amid controversy surrounding a member of his firm who was accused of stealing another firm’s contract. Though he was later cleared of all wrongdoing and reinstated, he was apparently never the same afterwards. Ten years later, in 1973, Walker shot himself with a silver bullet, only after destroying his AIA award. His original firm still exists under the name HLW International, but as Walker and his wife had no children, all that remains of his great legacy are the buildings he created” (Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century).

MIT Hayden Memorial Library_Exterior010

Hayden Library in 1968, photo part of CHC Survey files.

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Hayden Library in 1968, photo part of CHC Survey files.

The Hayden Library inaugurated the expansion and modernization of MIT’s academic facilities and was one of the first truly Modern buildings on the campus. At the time, vast amounts of technical literature – generated largely by the war – had to be housed, and facilities had to be updated to accommodate recent advances in conservation, storage, and photographic reproduction. The Hayden Library would have to meet those demands. The protruding two-story glass bays allow ample natural light into the library and the limestone façade serves as a nod to the older Beaux Arts MIT buildings nearby.

MIT Hayden Memorial Library_UMichigan Archives

Photo of Hayden Library courtesy of University of Michigan Digital Archives.


Utilizing the Hayden Library’s initial design goal of “flexibility”, Shepley Bulfinch re-imagined the building as the hub of the MIT Library System in 2012 and it now houses collections for science, engineering, humanities, music, and archives.

The 1951 building remains as a great example of Modern architecture in Cambridge and shows how good architectural design can be timeless and adapted to meet future needs.

MIT Hayden Memorial Library_Color Slide CHC017

CHC Color slide of Hayden Library in 1990s.



Modern Monday: Esplanade Condominiums


The Esplanade from the Charles River. Courtesy of Safdie Architects.

#ModernMonday is featuring the Esplanade Condominiums (1989) at 75-83 Cambridge Parkway in East Cambridge. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie with Safdie Architects, the building could be classified as “structuralism” with its cubist features and grid-like design. The building was the final structure completed in “The Front” which is bounded by Cambridge Parkway and Edwin Land Boulevard.

41300_Esplanade_Condos Entrance night

Edwin Land Boulevard entrance. Courtesy of Safdie Architects.

41300_Esplanade_Condos Entrance

Edwin Land Boulevard façade. Courtesy of Safdie Architects.

The building, which is comprised of 206 units, had to comply with strict urban design guidelines laid out as part of the East Cambridge Urban Design Plan. This plan limited height, required brick as the main material for construction, and required building on the street edge. Given the high water table, the parking for the structure is above-grade, and the design minimizes the impact of the parking base by encasing the riverfront (east) elevation with housing units and a community garden on the parking roof at the fourth floor.

41300_Esplanade exterior

Cambridge Parkway façade, facing north. Courtesy of Safdie Architects.

The structure takes cues from Safdie’s 1967 project, Habitat 67 in Montreal, Canada with the repetition of cube projections with terraces and use of public spaces incorporated into the building’s design. In the real estate sales brochure for the building, the building’s form was said to have been inspired by the homes on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Upon its completion, The Esplanade building was known to have the highest value units in the city. The design, coupled with the sweeping views of the river and Boston skyline created a huge draw for investors and homeowners alike.

Habitat 67

Habitat 67: Originally conceived as Safdie’s master’s thesis in architecture and then built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the World’s Fair held from April to October 1967. The Esplanade Condominium building seems to be inspired by the earlier design by Safdie.

Thanks to Safdie Architects for the original photographs and floor plans.

Modern Monday: William James Hall

Today’s #ModernMonday post is highlighting William James Hall, built in 1964 and designed by famed architect Minoru Yamasaki. Harvard University hired Yamasaki to design a new building to house the new Behavioral Science Department, including: offices, laboratories, animal quarters, classrooms and a library for the growing department. The new building was constructed largely of precast concrete panels, set inside slender columns which were poured in place concrete. The building features an observation deck at the top floor which is screened from the street to allow researchers to study passersby on the street below without them knowing.

Full height_Radcliffe Archives

Image courtesy of Radcliffe Archives.

The 15-story structure was designed in the New-Formalism style which Yamasaki perfected. He is known today as being one of the two masters (Edward Durell Stone being the other) of the architectural style, which typically exemplified symmetrical facades, columnar arched supports and smooth-finished and un-adorned wall materials, commonly in a white color. Yamasaki is likely most well-known for his 1970 design of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan. Yamasaki also designed Harvard’s Engineering Science Lab at 40 Oxford Street in 1962.

William James Hall_Model_Photograph

Photograph of Model by Sebastian Korab.

The $5.8 million dollar building was named for William James, a philosopher, whose pioneer work was undertaken at Harvard. Initially trained in painting, James abandoned the arts and enrolled in Harvard in 1861 to study chemistry and anatomy. In 1875 James taught one of the university’s first courses in psychology, “The Relations between Physiology and Psychology,” for which he established the first experimental psychology demonstration laboratory. In 1890 James published a highly influential, two-volume synthesis and summary of psychology, Principles of Psychology. The books were widely read in North America and Europe, gaining attention and praise from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in Vienna. James then moved away from experimental psychology to produce more philosophical works (he is credited as one of the founders of the school of American Pragmatism), although he continued to teach psychology until he retired from Harvard in 1907.

William James

William James (1842-1910), image courtesy of Harvard University Department of Psychology.


James Hall (2)

Staff photo, 2018.

Building and Structure Documentation Collection: Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory

Today, we are highlighting a building from our Building and Structure Documentation Collection. This collection documents buildings and structures in Cambridge that were either demolished or significantly altered. In this case, the materials were compiled as a condition of approval by the Cambridge Planning Board for a proposed replacement project.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Exterior

Close-up view of south facade of Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, Naito Chemistry Complex is under construction at the left of the photograph, 1999-2000.

For each building or structure, the corresponding box often includes an architectural description of the building or buildings, a narrative history, and archival photographs, negatives, photograph key(s), and/or electronic copies of the files and photographs. Today we are featuring the documentation of the Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory.

Wolcott Gibbs circa 1895 (copy)

Copy photograph of Wolcott Gibbs circa 1895. Original in Harvard University Archives.

The Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, named to honor Harvard University Rumford professor Oliver Wolcott Gibbs, was originally constructed in 1913 to address issues of limited laboratory space at Harvard.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - 1913 Exterior (copy)

View northwest, perspective view of Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory in 1913. Original in Harvard University Archives.

Located at the head of Frisbie Place, the building was designed by architect and 1876 Harvard graduate Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr., nephew of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for research in physical and inorganic chemistry.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Cold storage room and labora

View into cold storage room and laboratory, second floor, Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, 1999-2000. This room was not part of the original building plan.

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Basement interior

View west from east side entrance into Gibbs Memorial Laboratory basement, 1999-2000. Note autoclave in center of photograph.


The laboratory cost $85,000 to build. During its construction in 1912, the Harvard Crimson noted that “The Wolcott Gibbs Laboratory will be unique in this country, and in fact will be the foremost institution of its kind in the world. The proposed group of buildings, which will cost a million dollars, would give the University an unrivaled place in the field of chemical science.”

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Vestibule

View of vestibule from front hall, first floor of Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, 1999-2000. Note the six light transom set above the doors. An arch at the top frames the individual lights and mullions delimit them. The frame around each light resembles a pier arch.

The building was constructed with a high degree of integrity of design including elements derived from classical, Roman, medieval, late Gothic and Corinthian architecture. In the 1960s, the laboratory was remodeled for inclusion of biochemistry laboratories, and in the early 2000s, the building was demolished.

Look for more building and structure documentation in future posts!