Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1884, Austin Hall at Harvard University stands out as one of the best examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in the world.
Austin Hall was constructed thanks to Edward Austin who was born to a commercial family. He entered the shipping business at a young age and later turned to management of railroads, ending up as the Director of the Boston & Worcester (later Boston & Albany) railroad. In 1880, without ever attending Harvard University, he inquired then Harvard President Eliot on how he could provide for the greatest immediate need for the university while also erecting a memorial to his deceased brother Samuel. Eliot replied that the Law School required expanded facilities. Austin then replied to Eliot that he detested lawyers, but later offered funding for the structure.
In 1882, after already hiring H.H. Richardson, settling on a location for the building, and approving a design, Austin offered Harvard $135,000 to construct his building, with the stipulation that no other structure stand within 60 feet of this new Law School building. The former Harvard Branch Railroad Station and the ca. 1717 Moses Richardson house were razed immediately. The building was constructed with the Hastings-Holmes house nearby, until Austin insisted that the house be sacrificed and offered Harvard an additional $3,000 to have it removed. Holmes Place, which Austin Hall fronted, was eliminated.
The elaborate structure known as Austin Hall is planned in a T-shape with the two-story reading room serving as the shaft of the T. The main façade is dominated by a triple-arched entry porch and a circular stair tower. The checkerboard and floral patterns in the stone work are comprised of light and dark sandstone, and were not complete until after the formal opening of the new building.
The interior is just as stunning as the exterior with continuation of arches and supports in the hallways to the delicate layering of brick and sandstone. The reading room (since remodeled into the Ames Courtroom in 1954), features exposed tie beams carved with the heads of dragons and boars as well as a massive fireplace with ornate detailing to match the rest of the building.
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