Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Science Center

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Institution Name: Wellesley College
Original/Historic Place Name: Sage Hall; Science Center
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1926-1931original construction; Sage Hall Klauder, Charles Z.
1974-1978original construction; Science Center Rogers, Charles
Designer: Charles Z. Klauder (Sage Hall); Charles Rogers (Science Center)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival, Modern/post-WWII (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, landscape
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete structural columns; stone
Walls: concrete, metal, glass
1931-present (2006)classrooms (with laboratories, offices, and greenhouses)
ca. 1931-present (2006)academic department building (science)

The Science Center is the result of several building phases, most of which are still evident in the latest design. The greenhouses predate all other parts of the complex and were built in 1922-1923. The massive, brick, Gothic building (Sage Hall), visible on the north facade and from within the new building, was constructed in two phases between 1927 and 1931, and the final building phase was the modern 1977 skeletal building that encircles the old Sage Hall, leaving the greenhouses still attached to Sage and off to the east side.

The greenhouses were built before the construction of the botany and zoology building. At the same time (1922), the Alexandra Botanic Garden was established under the supervision of the botany department. The need for the greenhouses was crucial. Today they bear the name of one of the botany professors from 1893-1930, Margaret C. Ferguson. As early as 1924 there were proposed plans for the botany and zoology building by Day and Klauder (1915 plan). In 1926 authorization to build the botany wing was given, and the building was completed in 1927-just in time to accommodate the displaced botany department following the Stone Hall fire. In 1930 the Board authorized Charles Klauder to complete the working drawings for the zoology wing to be attached to the botany Building. In 1931 the name of Sage Hall was given to the botany and zoology building in memory of Russell Sage who had died in 1906 and left a large estate which was distributed to fifty-two institutions upon Mrs. Sage's death in 1919. Wellesley College received $622,683 as an unrestricted gift. With the bequest came a request that Russell Sage's name be honored.

The green houses project from a short south ell on the east side of the Botany wing. Built in several sections, the greenhouses have three north-south glass houses that are tied together by an east-west greenhouse. They are situated on a small plateau on the slope of the hill, an area that is partially screened from view by surrounding trees. Although the greenhouses project as far south as the new Science Center construction, they are not visible due to the topography at that point and the low construction of the one-story greenhouses.

From the north facade the old building is seen with little intrusion of the 1977 modern structure. Built in the shape of a pointed arc, Sage is a two-story dark brick building on a raised stone foundation with tall and broad square-corner towers and a central tower from which the old science wings project. The vertical line of the massive four-story corner towers is accented by the tall, pointed-arched windows that are punched into the brick for the full height of the tower. The metal enframements are dark. Solid dark metal panels fill the areas where there are no windows and there are no cross pieces such as stone enframements that would mark the different stories and call attention to the horizontal line. The brick pattern of two stretchers next to one header creates dark vertical lines because the header bricks are fire-struck or blackened. The entrance bay is a projecting, open, pointed-arched, tall porch which is set slightly off-center, overlapping on the central tower and the botany or easterly wing. The exterior doors are set within the projecting porch and also display a pointed-arch surround with a horizontal stone lintel. The molded coping on the straight parapet wall of the wings is laid up in sections with a slight gap between each piece articulating the bays.

The 1977 addition to Sage Hall dramatically altered the building's appearance and expanded its use. For the first time, the sciences could be housed together. The architectural firm designing the new Science Center was Perry, Dean, Stahl & Rogers, with Charles F. Rogers as the principal architect for this project. Rogers' transparent modern building is a series of concrete structural columns, supporting and supported metal members, and glass, arranged in a way that the functions of the spaces within the building can be understood from the exterior. The metal members are painted different colors depending on their functions, i.e. metal members supported by concrete are blue, metal members supported by the blue parts are orange. The resulting structure comprises a 100 by 300 foot addition within which Sage is encased and next to which the greenhouses remain with no interference to their exposure.

The topography of the Science Center's location has dictated the architecture to some degree. Built into a hill, the building has a stepped-back ground floor that is on a rising slope. The second and third stories extend into the meadow and are supported by round, reinforced concrete columns. Four transparent stair-towers are hung from the top of the building and are connected to each floor by metal walkways that extend from one end of the addition to the other. The stair-towers are hung within a concrete framework including two round columns on concrete bases on the outside corners and concrete horizontal bars which bisect the stair-tower at each floor. The entrance to the building from the Meadow is by way of a path that is the continuation of the pre-existing path to the old Science Building, Sage Hall. A round terrace marked by a low concrete block wall is situated in the Meadow at the base of the hill. Paths from other parts of the campus lead to this terrace, from which a path into the building continues by way of a long curving staircase with green railing and steps with short risers. One has a sense of entering the building before reaching the doors as one is drawn into the structural framework which hangs out over the slope of the hill.

The interior of the most recent 1977 construction boasts an extraordinary sense of space created by the huge two-story library and open structural floors. The once exterior south wall of Sage is now encased in the new building and recalls the Gothic roots of the original building with the pointed-arch openings which are open on each level, drawing one from Sage into the new building. The circulation routes are in the end bays. The center of the new building is open from top to bottom.

The building is situated in one of the most prominent and sensitive sites of the campus. Near the top of Observatory Hill, the building spills down the slope toward the Meadow, which has long been protected from construction. The site of the Science Center is highly visible when approaching from either direction on the main College Road.


Dober, Richard P. Campus Architecture: Building in the Groves of Academe. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.

Fergusson, Peter, James F. O'Gorman, and John Rhodes. The Landscape & Architecture of Wellesley College. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, 2000.

Gaines, Thomas A. The Campus as a Work of Art. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.


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