Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Mary Frances Searles Science Building

Click on image titles for larger views.
Institution Name: Bowdoin College
Original/Historic Place Name: Mary Frances Searles Science Building
Location on Campus: on historic quadrangle
Date(s) of Construction:
1844-1855original construction Vaughan, Henry
1988renovation Cambridge Seven
Designer: Henry Vaughan
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: stone
Walls: brick
Roof: slate
ca. 1855academic department building (chemistry, physics, biology)
ca. 2004-present (2006)academic department building (computer science, mathematics, physics, and the Baldwin Learning and Teaching Center)

Designed by Henry Vaughn in 1891, Searles Hall put Bowdoin in the forefront of undergraduate science education at the end of the 1800s. Vaughan's design has been called "Jacobethan" by Henry Russell Hitchcock--"a successful hybrid, a transitional phase of English architecture which includes Gothic and nascent Renaissance elements," (Patricia McGraw Anderson, The Architecture of Bowdoin College [Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988], 42)--a style which influenced future college campus buildings. Vaughan composed the principal facade, on the quadrangle, in several interlocking sections. The central portion incorporates two narrow octagonal towers that extend the full height into the projecting gable. To either side is a recessed area four bays wide, each terminating in a straight-sided gable lower than that of the central position. On either side beyond is a projecting four-bay mass, narrower than its neighbor but capped by a generous curved Dutch gable. In turn, these sections are flanked by octagonal crenellated turrets. These substantial and picturesque elements also create a handsome transition to the north and south facades, which contained, respectively, entrances to the Departments of Physics and Chemistry.

In 1998, the architectural firm Cambridge Seven from Boston carried out the renovation and re-use of the Searles, for which they received a 2002 Education Design Showcase Grand Prize Award. They designed a very successful contextual addition visible from Maine Street. The tripartite design Vaughn originally created was no longer functional for 21st century instruction in Biology and Physics. The teaching style it embodied--the lecture with a separate lab--was out-of-date, and so the building was renovated to house modern curricula in computer science, mathematics, and physics. Biology moved to the Druckenmiller Science Complex. Chemistry had moved to Cleaveland Hall in the 1950s.


Anderson, Patricia McGraw. The Architecture of Bowdoin College. Brunswick, Me.: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988.

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

Hatch, Louis Clinton. The History of Bowdoin College. Portland, ME: Loring, Short & Harmon, 1927.

Morgan, William. The Almighty Wall, the Architecture of Henry Vaughan. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983.

Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Architecture of American Colleges VII. Brown, Bowdoin, Trinity and Wesleyan." Architectural Record 29 (February 1911): 144-66.

Shettleworth, Earle G., Jr., and Frank A. Beard. Federal Street Historic District [including Bowdoin College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1976.


Contact us / About Site / About CIC
© 2006
Council of Independent Colleges
Washington, DC
All rights reserved
Last update: November 2006