MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

A 1912 Design for the "New Technology"

From John Ripley Freeman's Study No. 7
For New Buildings for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Perspective View of Cloister
Perspective View of Cloister

B
oston's Copley Square was the orginal home of MIT's campus. The first building was completed in 1866, but by the early 1900s crowding and the desperate need for more space led to serious discussion about a new site for MIT. Shortly after his inauguration in 1909, President Maclaurin pushed the process forward for what he called the "New Technology," and surveys, financial gifts, and negotiations led to the purchase of the initial plot of 46 acres in Cambridge on the banks of the Charles River.

John Ripley Freeman, (Class of 1876) had done studies of the Charles River and surrounding land in 1903 in preparation for the Charles River Dam. His work provided essential information when the Cambridge site was selected for the new campus. At his own expense he made preliminary studies for the design in hopes that he would be selected as the architect. Freeman reviewed studies by Institute professors "for the housing and fitting up of the individual departments" and oversaw the work of "Scout Surveyors," a corps of recent engineering and architecture graduates of the Institute, who examined the buildings and equipment at colleges and technical schools in the U.S. and Canada. By 1912 he had collated and assembled all the information into "Study No. 7."

[Click on images for larger views]

Plan of Main Floor
Plan of Main Floor

Cloister 

Garden
Cloister Garden

Hydraulic and Naval Court
Hydraulic and Naval Court

Images and quotation from
collection MC 51,
John Ripley Freeman Papers, 1827-1952

The study goes into great detail about how the campus could be designed and built "meeting on the one hand the desires of the members of the Faculty for space,...on the other hand, keeping within the limit of the generous gift of the mysterious 'Mr. Smith' [George Eastman, whose gifts made the Cambridge buildings possible but who insisted on anonymity] and meanwhile conserving our ground space to the utmost." He drew from his familiarity with industrial architecture, feeling strongly that college architects spent too much time on exteriors, designing monuments rather than functional buildings:

The writer, therefore, undertook these studies largely from the standpoint of the industrial engineer, to whom efficiency is a paramount consideration (but to whom beauty of form in every part should also appeal as worthy of most scrupulous attention, the subordinate of efficiency) and in the belief that the problem must be worked out from the inside.

First of all, we must obtain a flood of window light;

Second, a flood of fresh air under perfect control;

Third, an efficiency and avoidance of lost motion by student and teacher, equal to that which obtains in our best industrial works.

And fourth, the consideration of the psychology of student life, the cultivation of the social instincts, the development of personal contact, must strongly control the layout of the very masonry. (Some fruits of this consideration will be found in the serious attention given to cloisters, cloister garden and to unusually ample corridors and entrance halls.)

The drawings were made by Harold E. Kebbon (Class of 1912) who later served as resident architect at MIT and worked with Welles Bosworth (Class of 1889), who was selected as the architect for the New Technology. Although Freeman was not the architect, many of his ideas were incorporated in the final construction. To read the entire "Study No. 7" or learn more about John Ripley Freeman and his work (manuscript collection MC 51), as well as the history of MIT, visit the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.

Object of the Month: November 2000; September 2009; January 2012

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