Dartmo. home  

Some Points regarding Berry Library's Design


I. The Mill
II. The Authors' Names
III. Compatibility
IV. Scale
V. The "New Green"


Fig. 1. Model with Berry addition at top (Thomas Meacham).

Architect's renderings from Dartmouth College Berry site.

Berry Project from VSBA site.

Article on Berry opening from The Dartmouth.

1 Sarah Gerry, "John Berry '44 dies at age 75: Alum Financed Berry Library and John W. Berry Sports Center," The Dartmouth 151, no. 149 (22 May 1998): 1.


The Berry Library addition to Baker Library (Fig. 1), for which Dartmouth broke ground on 5 May 1998, is remarkable for the amount of opposition it has engendered.1 The debate is rather one-sided, with opposition coming from many faculty and most of the Design Review Committee (D.R.C.), a group that advises the Trustees. The College Architect George Hathorn and master planner Lo-Yi Chan as well as others in the College's architectural establishment have also expressed negative opinions ranging from strong reservations to outright mockery. Berry must be the most controversial building since the Hopkins Center's prominent modernism, but the Trustees went ahead: Berry is a complex project, time is literally money, and planning was so far along during the controversy that the design was extremely difficult to alter.

Critics tend to voice the same complaints of the building. One hard-to-understand complaint is that Berry will be a barrier to movement. As Professor Tom Luxon countered in his editorial in The Dartmouth, putting an entrance on the formerly impermeable rear of Baker can only make it more of a thoroughfare. And east-west traffic will be forced out of its way only as far as the library is deep. Other frequent criticisms I hope to address here include the building's use of the iconography of the mill, the particular decorative motif of the catalog of authors' names, Berry's compatibility with its surroundings, and its scale; I add questions of the character of the new open space Berry anchors, what many call a "new Green."

For more information see links to Berry info from the Baker-Berry project homepage and an article in The Dartmouth of 11-8-97 about the controversy with links to previous coverage.


I. The Mill


2 Jake Elberg, "Berry Opponents Plan Protest: Faculty Foes of New Library Aim for Audience with Trustees," The Dartmouth 151, no. 149 (5 November 1997): 1.

3 Matthew D. Benedetto, "When Venturi Meets Webster: A Conflict in Dartmouth Philosophy," The Dartmouth 151, no. 156 (14 November 1997): 5.


In their 1994 Elm-Maynard master plan, the firm of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (V.S.B.A.) proposed that all buildings on their new "Quadrangle" follow the pattern of the New England mill. College information has since distanced itself from the mill idea, however, by delicately replacing the word "mill" with "loft." By stating that such buildings are "familiar in classic villages and towns throughout the region," the clattering and oppressive factory of the nineteenth century has been folded into the formerly anti-industrial image of the classic village. Needless to say, this twist has not defused the controversy. The central criticism of nine members of the D.R.C. is of Venturi's "highly problematic" use of the mill idea, and they propose that the building's design be "fundamentally rethought."2 The problems stem from the ideas that the mill calls up. The mill, though descended from eighteenth-century model factories and just as much a product of the Enlightenment as Dartmouth Hall, "effaces the individuality of its workers," is "dehumanizing" and "impersonal," and threatens "our essence as Dartmouth College" as Matthew Benedetto wrote in an editorial in The Dartmouth.3


Larson's Tribune Tower

Fig. 2. Jens Larson's entry in the 1922 Chicago Tribune Building competition (Plate 63, Chicago Tribune Tower Competition, 1922).

Elevation drawing, Independence Hall, from HABS/HAER Image Gallery at American Memory (Library of Congress).


Fig. 3. Amoskeag Mill, Manchester, N.H. (postcard c. 1908).

4 American Architect and Building News 39, no. 891 (24 January 1893): 47, plate.

5 Jake Elberg, "Committee Opposes Berry Plans: Board of Trustees is Likely to Implement Proposal Despite Protests," The Dartmouth 151, no. 147 (3 November 1997): 1.

6 Krier's introduction to Albert Speer, Architecture, 1932-1942 (Brussels : Archives d'Architecture Moderne, 1985).

7 George Hathorn, "Berry Library's Industrial Architectural Style Does Not Reflect Agricultural Roots," The Dartmouth 155, no. 71 (29 April 1998): 4.


Fig. 4. Schinkel and Beuth's Bauakademie, Berlin, (1831, no longer extant) from rendering by Schinkel (Klaus J. Lemmer, ed., Karl Friedrich Schinkel Berlin: Bauten und Entwurfe [Berlin West: Rembrandt Verlag, 1973], 36-7).


Fig. 5. Detail of second-floor window from another Shinkel rendering of Bauakademie, Berlin. Note expressed brick arches (Lemmer, 35).

8 "David Bindman and Gottfried Riemann, eds., Karl Friedrich Schinkel 'The English Journey': Journal of a Visit to France and Britain in 1826 (New Haven: Yale University Press for Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1993), 8-9.

9 Professor Jere Daniell, quoted in Hank Leukart, "Framing the Future of Dartmouth: Constructing a New Vision," The Dartmouth 155, no. 68 (24 April 1998): G2.

Old Brick Row

Fig. 6. Old Brick Row, Yale University, New Haven, Ct. in early 20th century (Embree, ed., 7).

Pal. Massimi

Fig. 7. Palazzo Massimi alle Colonne, Rome, by Peruzzi, 1532 (B. Strock, Baudenkmaler Roms, 1891).

Pal. Massimi Plan

Fig. 8. Ground- and first-floor plans of Palazzo Massimi alle Colonne, Rome, by Peruzzi, 1532 (A.E. Richardson, ed., The Student's Letarouilly [London: Alec Tirani Ltd., 1948]: 55).


Fig. 9. Facade of Schocken Department Store, Chemnitz, Germany, by Erich Mendelsohn, 1928-30 (from Architectural Forum 86 no. 5 [May 1947]: 73).

Schocken Plan

Fig. 10. Ground floor plan of Schocken Department Store (after Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, The International Style [New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995], 181).

10 "VSBA Today," Architectural Record 186, no. 2 (February 1998): 65.

11 Robert Venturi, "[Learning from Commercial Vernacular Architecture] On Popular Iconography," Harvard Design Magazine (Winter/Spring 1998): 14.

12 "VSBA Today": 61.

13 Elberg, "Committee opposes Berry plans," 1.

14 Library Planning Committee Chair John Crane, cited in Leukart.


Critics contrast the supposed inappropriateness of the new library with the aptness of the neo-Georgian Baker Library (1928). Clearly Baker is beloved, but what makes Baker's iconography appropriate? The tower of Independence Hall, which is the model for Baker's own tower, generally stands for something to do with "liberty" in American Revolutionary history. This is certainly appropriate symbolism for government buildings, though how much it relates to liberal learning is open to question. Nor was Jens Larson, the designer of Baker, concrete about the appropriate uses to which he could put Independence Hall's associations, since he also used an inflated version of the tower as the basis for a skyscraper design (Fig. 2). Others have even used the Independence Hall tower for a Pennsylvania prison.4

One might at first suspect that Venturi's vision of the mill is a tourist's generalization of New Hampshire, perhaps something seen while driving through Manchester (Fig. 3). Such generalizations have basis in fact, and mills dominate sections of nearby Lebanon, just downriver from Hanover. The mill is in some ways less foreign to Hanover than Independence Hall.

Professor Kenseth of the Art History Department has led the crusade against Berry and extends the design's associations to include those of dictatorial regimes, writing "its exterior design and enormous length have clear and obvious associations with those of mills, factories, merchandising marts and, most unfortunately, the building projects of Fascism (however unintended this may be)."5 (Therefore Wal-Mart also must have associations with Fascism...) Press reports do not make clear whether Kenseth envisions fascist architecture to include the vast stripped-Classical government buildings of Hitler's architect Albert Speer, which are the standard emblems of fascist architecture, or the buildings of the death camps, which Leon Krier argues are the real architecture of fascism.6 In any case Kenseth is incorrect because Berry resembles neither. One might try to compare the library's length to the meglomaniacal scale of Speer's Berlin proposals, but then Washington, D.C. is also full of vast government buildings of the 1930s.

If the factory connotations prove impossible to shake from Berry, could they be turned to its advantage? Could an academic mill in Hanover finally bring to the surface the formerly hidden relationship between the College's industrialist benefactors and this precinct that they so carefully preserve from encroachment by the very industry on which they depend? Bissell was an oilman, Tuck a financier, Robinson a shoe-machinery maker, Fayerweather a leather manufacturer, and Wilder the owner of a paper mill a few minutes south of town. Hanover was where they spent their wealth, not where they created it, and no buildings at Dartmouth yet remind us of this fact. Some people find mill buildings noble and beautiful as well, monuments to the hard work of the thousands of New Englanders and immigrants from around the world who labored within them.

In the end the meanings of the mill should not matter. No building type carries a given meaning forever and to the exclusion of other meanings. In fact the plan of the typical Christian church derives from the Imperial Roman basilica, and yet few think of the basilica when viewing a church. The practice of copying a prototype in the absence of its original meaning is an architectural tradition. Libraries in particular find themselves clothed in any of a hundred different modes: a Gothic church at Princeton, a Roman temple at the University of Virginia, a Romanesque cathedral at a California university, or a Renaissance palazzo at the Boston Public Library. Two college libraries at Oxford even exist in buildings that were once churches. That a mill may bring forth associations other than academic is no reason not to use it for a library. And perhaps after studying in Berry, Dartmouth graduates will even begin to associate mills with liberal learning.

Nor must the iconography of the mill be incompatible with the meanings a library intends to evoke. Academic buildings of the past have borrowed and modified the appearance of the mill to great effect, most notably in Karl Friedrich Schinkel's 1831 Bauakademie in Berlin (Fig. 4). Schinkel was the government architect of Prussia, an eclectic designer, and one of the most brilliant architects of his century; he designed this school of the building arts using inspiration from an 1827 visit to England. The school's interior is entirely legible on its exterior, a functional ideal of which Schinkel had seen examples in the mills of Manchester and other English cities. Here a skeleton of brick structural columns divides the brick infill (Fig. 5).7 This was perhaps the first time a "high-style" building so thoroughly aestheticized what had been mere utilitarianism, and it was in the service of a school.

A relation between the mill and the school works the other way as well, since Dartmouth is renting space in the mills in Lebanon to hold studios for its own Studio Art department faculty. More impressively, the University of New Hampshire in Manchester is currently colonizing one of the famous Amoskeag Mill buildings downtown. The school finds the historic mill's proximity to the city and its large open floorplans appealing, and the building's exterior expression not incompatible with the mission of U.N.H.

Even the fact that Venturi's choice of the mill seems arbitrary is not a strike against it. Campus architect George Hathorn proposed that Dartmouth also have "a barn, a silo and perhaps a coop or two" since New Hampshire also has agricultural roots,8 but in fact the prevailing "Colonial" style of the campus is itself highly arbitrary. The College's oldest buildings are the early nineteenth-century Wentworth and Thornton of 1828-9, since the school's Colonial-era buildings departed from the Green by 1791. Dartmouth Hall dates to 1905-6, with much of its interior dating to 1935, notwithstanding the eighteenth-century date in the gable. In its early-to-mid-twentieth-century buildings, from Massachusetts Hall to Brewster Hall, the College continually decided to clothe itself an image that could help fabricate a relation to its missing Colonial past. There is nothing wrong with this, since one job of buildings is to send messages, but it is worth recognizing that Parkhurst or the Gym are not part of some stylistic tradition dating to Eleazar Wheelock.

So far we have worked under the assumption that Berry's sole connection to the mill is that it allegedly looks like a mill. This turns out to be a difficult claim to justify. Though a range of brawny old nineteenth-century brick buildings with a central Italianate clock tower might not be a bad idea at Dartmouth, Berry will not be this. History Professor Jere Daniell pointed out as much, saying "New England has always been the most industrial part of the U.S., and reminding people of factories can be a plus. But it [the Berry design] doesn't remind me of a factory."9

In fact when VSBA cite the mill as a model, their most important reference is not to the mill's appearance but its key typological attributes. What Venturi calls "the mill" is nothing more than his ideal of a generic and flexible building, and it has been so since long before his firm took the Dartmouth project. It has nothing to do with Dartmouth. Venturi said in a 1998 interview:

Another aspect of our work that people seem to have a hard time getting and makes us so opposite of the "original signature genius," is how we value the generic building that allows flexibility over time -- the New England mill, the loft, the palazzo. The architectural content comes more from fanfare applied, not form-distorting abstraction. You know Princeton University's Nassau Hall is not a mill because it has a fancy door and a cupola on top. It's fanfare that can be more or less graphic or iconographic.10

VSBA did not select the mill idea simply because they are working in New Hampshire -- they used a similar metaphor in their Clinical Research Building at the University of Pennsylvania of 1985, after all, and intend to apply it to their new master plan for the University of Michigan at the invitation of its President, ex-Dartmouth Provost Lee Bollinger. But publicists seem to have pounced on the VSBA mill concept as if it were some sort of contextual move, a reference to familiar New England. The mill is simply a nuanced version of the firm's 1960s championing of the "decorated shed" of the strip. The new library will borrow the idea of the open and flexible interior, the regular windows, and the attendant monotony that happens to be a fetish of the firm's.

Venturi draws a connection between such buildings as Dartmouth Row and the mill because both are simple, regular, rectilinear, adaptable, noble and somewhat dull. The one-time Old Brick Row at Yale bore an uncanny resemblance to the New England mill (Fig. 6). We can extend the analogy to imagine the space that Dartmouth and Fayerweather contain between them as a millyard. This manner of thinking is a useful design tool, and allows architects to set the idea of library-as-mill against such ideas as library-as-village, or -hill town, or -monastic quadrangle, or -panopticon, or -ocean liner, which are all ideas that have informed buildings elsewhere.

One can see several elements in Berry that relate it to non-mill buildings, including the Palazzo Massimi alle Colonne in Rome (Peruzzi, 1532) with its bowed front facade (Figs. 7,8). The let-in central colonnade that gave Massimi its name has been plucked out and expanded to become a preciously detached colonnade at Berry, standing like Stonehenge unzipped in front of the building. Does this linear concrete sculpture refer as well to Charles Moore's portal of the 1985 Hood Museum, a gateway the architect originally intended to be of "the granite of New Hampshire" but had to reduce to less-expensive concrete? The Berry's bending design, that is the bend where Berry meets its planned academic wing (Carson Hall), also resembles slightly the Schocken Department store in Chemnitz (Erich Mendelsohn, 1928-30) (Figs. 9,10). That building is both a commercial structure and a modernist icon, two elements that particularly qualify it for reference by Venturi. (The firm also seems to refer to the building in its current Hotel du Department de la Huaute Garonne in Toulouse.)

The most important source for VSBA's iconography is vernacular American commercial architecture, as Venturi sums up in a recent article:

The commercial vernacular, as a source and inspiration, accommodates inherently to popular taste and to varied cultures -- to multicultural contexts. Rather than on particular popular places--gas stations or hamburger pavilions--let us focus here on the role of symbolism and iconography in this form of popular art and architecture as a whole. As does high art in the Western tradition, popular art/architecture always embraces reference in the form of graphics, symbolism or representation. The commercial aesthetic, as opposed to the industrial or machine aesthetic, accommodates a complex order for now -- bold and fragile, vital and messy, for our multicultural time. So, urbanistically and aesthetically, viva the iconography of places that are popular. Viva the American strip and the Japanese Ginza over the Champs Elysees and the Ville Radieuse, for now. 11

The firm applies this commercial-derived aesthetic to all sorts of non-commercial buildings, exactly (they say) the way Gropius and Mies applied an industrial vocabulary to buildings that had never worn that clothing before. Where Albert Kahn and others developed a steel-and-glass manner in their unglamorous factory settings like Ford's Plant No. 1, Mies aestheticized the look and injected the vocabulary with a high degree of design care in his mid- and late-1940s Illinois Institute of Technology campus. (Are I.I.T. and the countless other industrial-inspired modernist campus buildings of the 1950s and 1960s also a precedent for using the mill on campus, merely borrowing a different period of industry? Or is their industrial-borrowing superficial, picking up the details but not often the underlying mill-ness that informs all warehouses and factories?) VSBA claim to reject the modernist revival of the exposed-frame nineteenth-century buildings. 12

Because it is capable of communication, a major component of the VSBA vocabulary comes from a sort of rarified Wal-Mart-box aesthetics. Often the only way VSBA's buildings differ from nearby office parks is in their eclectic use of patterns or elements of applique that run across the facade, independent of the window and door openings. In some cases these patterns recall the crossing lines of traditional Dutch brickwork patterns, and in other cases the architect intends them to evoke the computer punch card. Berry, too is in many ways an ordinary modernist building with stuck-on patterns. Here Kenseth's criticism that Berry looks like "merchandising marts" seems apt.13

The architecture Venturi loves is often cheap, tacky and boring, and to accept its values as anything but antithetical to the values of the university would be difficult. But in practice, given the absence of the firm's trademark LED signs, Berry displays few overtly commercial references. Perhaps the affection for the commercial manifests itself in the west facade of the proposed academic wing, to be called Carson Hall: there the upper floors of the building hang out over the corner with no visible means of support, tacitly denying the traditional relation between support and supported as well as our intuitive sense of structure. We can see that the facade is merely a facade, thin and superficial like that of a strip mall. (Since VSBA is literally designing the building's skin, with SBRA handling the interior plan, the word "superficial" might not be inapt.) There is some reference here to modernism's often-discomfiting defiance of traditional structure through concrete and steel cantilevering. Venturi used a similar corner device in Bendheim Hall at Princeton and the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London. Abrubt, undetailed transitions and large overhangs do not always come across as architecture that is still capable of symbolism as much as simply inexpensive architecture.

At the entrance to the 1989 Thayer addition, Venturi's only other building at Dartmouth, the visitor passes through one of a pair of archways only to find that the arches do not align with the front doors. This purposeful misalignment is a sign of a mannerist modernism, the taking of joy in elements that contradict our expectations by shifting, twisting and re-scaling the familiar in order to provoke or frustrate or create pleasing tensions. Cheap commercial architecture can also do this, though not on purpose: Is Venturi quoting wittily in order to raise the vernacular to a new level of sophistication? The fact that Berry's front colonnade -- not an arcade, by the way is detached from the facade shows a similar attempt at wittiness: here is a colonnade that does not support the building overhanging it. (No one seems to have noted that Berry's abstracted square columns stand on the chilly north side of the building, meaning that for much of the year that part of the building will not be an inviting place to loll. The only thing that will keep too snow from piling up around the colonnade is the fact that it has already piled up on the fourth-floor balcony after sliding off the roof.) Perhaps this colonnade is a ploy to prod students to enter the coffee shop, which some have threatened will resemble a Starbucks.14

The temptation is to say that because the mill and Independence Hall (and so many others -- Gothic churches, Romanesque cathedrals) have done a good job of housing and representing the academy, Venturi's aestheticized and fetishized version of commercial vernacular architecture can as well. And yet one balks at viewing the symbolism of Caesar's Palace and Big Jim's Barbecue as fitting, serious, and appropriate for a library. This is part of Venturi's intent, of course: his ironic mode is an academic, even elitist one that preaches to the cognoscenti.


II. The Authors' Names


15 "VSBA Today": 65.


Looking back, if there is one design element we could have predicted Venturi would apply to the facade of this building, it is the roster of great authors. This list is the most notable decorative motif used in the Berry design, and the most controversial. The proposal to inscribe names on the building need not be pinned exclusively on the College, and there is no need to be paranoid that the names will all represent "politically correct" writers. The names that appear in renderings are just drafter's spacefiller. Venturi uses the list of authors' names because it is a long library tradition, followed by many American libraries including the Butler at Columbia (1938) and most famously Boston Public Library (McKim, Mead & White, the1898). All of these lists probably derive from the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, designed by Labrouste in the 1860s. Putting authors' names on a library is something one does.

Since Venturi is fond of making witty and knowledgeable historical references, and since Berry may be his largest library,we could expect him to jump at the chance to slot into this tradition. But there has to be a twist, and in this case it is to put the name BERRY in the middle of the list of names as if Berry were one of the great authors. This placement is ironically appropriate, since Yellow-Pages mogul L.M. Berry published more volumes than Twain and Thoreau put together. An unplanned but appropriate example of such irony in the firm's other work is Bendheim Hall at Princeton -- the name BENDHEIM appears at a point where the skin of the building "bends" around a corner.

The large-scale names on the library's facade also play into the architects' interest in graphics and signage. Venturi's love of supergraphics, over-scaled letters in art or plastered on the facades of buildings, dates back to his inspiration by pop art of the 1960s. If Warhol could paint popular Campbell's Soup cans as high art, Venturi could make high architecture from ordinary advertising signs. The 1990 Seattle Museum of Art, whose name appears along the entire length of one facade, is one example. Another is the Clinical Research Building at the University of Pennsylvania, which bears a giant version of the Penn shield, visible from afar. The shield is pragmatic if hubristic academic advertising, or elitist parody of commercial vernacular practice, or both. The firm's Thayer addition at Dartmouth provides an excellent example in the stone tablet, looking like an overscaled tombstone, that occupies the front of the building's entrance pod. In script that does not always obey the incised borders of the constituent stones, the tablet reads "THAYER/ SCHOOL/ of / ENGINEERING/ Founded 1867/ by/ Sylvanus Thayer/" [etc. etc.]. Indeed the message requires several stones to make up the whole plaque and emphasizes the borders between them. A sense of the firm's background ideas comes from a recent interview:

Architectural Record: In discussing the idea of applying information to a generic building, you justified it in part because people "wear' information in the form of T-shirts with slogans on them. Isn't the resistance you've met from clients in part a reaction to the idea that you might give them the architectural equivalent of the T-shirts people wear around the mall?

Denise Scott Brown: If clients are horrified and usher us out, so be it, because the relationship will not work out. We have to be who we are. But when clients want to be challenged, we go on a journey together; we may face something that at first seems awful, but we are going on an adventure. For the people we work best with, architecture is terribly important as a symbol of what they're doing.15


III. Compatibility


16 Jacqueline Baas, "Wallace K. Harrison at Dartmouth," in Thank You, Wallace K. Harrison (Hanover: Hood Museum, 1985), 7.

17 Maura Henninger, "Man Behind Berry Library Explains Gift," The Dartmouth 151, no. 66 (22 April 1997): 1. See also Berry obituary in Vox.

18 Tom Luxon, "Design Review Committee is Mistaken," The Dartmouth 151, no. 156 (14 November 1997): 5.

19 Robert A.M. Stern, Pride of Place (New York, 1986), 61.


What many see as the new library's incompatibility with its surroundings has caused some of its problems. No harm comes from variety -- compare Bartlett to Reed to Wilder to Dick's House. But difference comes in degrees, and the idea that a building is a part of its context is an awareness Venturi had a part in shaping in the 1950s and 1960s. The Berry controversy seems to have spurred Venturi in this case to incorporate "contextual" touches, such as brick walls, copper roofing and a sensitivity to rooflines. A similar controversy happened with the Hopkins Center, as alumni furor helped cause Wallace Harrison to incorporate into the facade a "traditional" arch form, a motif that later reappeared in his Lincoln Center.16

Deciding whether the building is an addition or a new building in its own right has caused some confusion in naming. The whole project in fact goes by the name "Berry-Baker," a reference to the fact that Berry will be built first and Baker renovated second, but it can only make one wonder what is the addition to what. It is hard to diminish Berry's importance. Berry is inevitably more than an addition, shifting the heart of the library complex into its own core, representing a new means of storing knowledge, anchoring a new open space, and providing a second front to the most important building on campus. Apparently the complex will be renamed Baker-Berry in the end, but one might be mistaken for thinking that once the information desk moves to Berry, Baker will be come a grand rear entrance.

One strain of criticism holds that Berry is "urban" and therefore incompatible with the rest of campus. It is hard to see what is particularly urban about the design--and does any building at the College look particularly "rural"? This criticism comes from a suburbanist's impoverished notion of city and country and the difference between them. Dartmouth, while in a once-rural area, is fortunate to have an urban (as opposed to suburban) campus. There are no curvy drives with widely-spaced buildings, and Dartmouth's comfortably dense architecture is largely the product of cosmopolitan New Yorkers and Bostoners, and shows it. Dartmouth follows an orderly grid system, with buildings relating to each other as buildings do in cities (in fact the area around the entrance to Thayer is more citylike than large parts of Hanover). This urbanity is nothing to be ashamed of: campus design is the design of the city, and new buildings at Dartmouth are acts of urban design.

The College defends Berry against the charge of incompatibility, among others, by stating that VSBA are world-class architects. The idea that the College should be commended for not choosing a "safe architect" runs counter to the College's stated policy of not hiring architects specifically for their name appeal. But by selecting VSBA the College is taking a risk that can pay off handsomely, and some have compared Venturi to the visionary Frank Lloyd Wright. The problem is that this argument can lead to the idea that the great genius is always misunderstood, that the artist must be the sole creator of his work, and other Howard-Roarkist tropes of the modernist movement have allowed otherwise reasonable people to support such affronts to the city as the Brutalist Boston City Hall. Yale pursued the campus-as-collection-of-great-buildings with enthusiasm in the 1960s under President Griswold, often with unsatisfactory results.

Implicit in the genius argument is the idea that if people don't understand it, it must be art. If you don't like it, it must be good -- which is the opposite of what VSBA claim in their writings. Then-Dean Wright justified Berry's controversy by saying that the low-slung Kiewit Computation Center (S.O.M, 1966) was also unpopular -- this is certainly no endorsement for the new library, because Kiewit is to be demolished. (It is ironic that Mr. Berry's most-quoted statement on the appearance of his building is "I'm very interested in the look of the new library. I can assure you it won't look like Bradley, Gerry, and Kiewit.")17

Safe architecture is evidently a bad thing. It is unfortunate that traditional architecture is so denigrated in the university, especially when traditional building has reached a level of acceptance higher today than in the past fifty years. Even though representation in architecture was declared dead decades ago and only appears in Venturi's work with a wink, a traditionalist branch of American architecture has always existed parallel to the modernists. At Dartmouth this wing is evinced by the College's last traditionalist building, Jens Larson's Brewster Hall of 1950. (Larson left shortly thereafter and continued building in the South where traditional architecture faced less of a threat from modernism).

Also implicit in the College's affection for Venturi's status is a criticism of Baker Library. Professor Luxon gave voice to this criticism, referring to Baker's "neo-Georgian arrogance" and "neo-Georgian doggerel."18 Luxon wrote that substance took "second place to appearances" in Baker. In fact Baker was a modern, up-to-date library designed with function in mind, whether or not we use the stacks today in the same way people did when it was built. The tower is not entirely useless, since it fulfills the important symbolic function of a landmark, a signpost for the axis mundi of the College. Venturi, whose library Luxon supports in his editorial, is by no means ignorant of such functions: the architect's proposal for the new Staten Island Ferry Terminal in New York included a massive electronic clockface to serve much the same purpose as Baker's tower.

There are "world class" architects who build traditionally, to varying degrees, and one of the most prominent is Robert A.M. Stern, who is comfortable working within the Classical orders as well as his own version of local tradition, as his firm's 1997 Darden School at U.Va. shows. Stern was a candidate for Dartmouth's library project. After Denise Scott Brown had laid out the planning scheme for the buildings along the Ravine, what she called the "Quadrangle," the College chose a firm to design the library. VSBA got the job, with the design of the Moore Psychology building going as consolation prize to Stern's firm. So Dartmouth gets no hypercontextual Baker II (or Dartmouth Hall II) facing to the north. It is interesting to note what Stern himself wrote about the adoption of an industrial vocabulary at St. Paul's School in Concord N.H.:

But the newer buildings [of St. Paul's School] have abandoned Vaughan's medievalism for the red brick of the mills and mercantilism that Shattuck had struggled to escape from one hundred years before. Dormitories and faculty apartments (1961-63) designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes and facilities for the study of music and dance (1980) designed by Hardy, Holzman and Pfeiffer look more like the gritty red brick factories of nearby Manchester than the cloistral enclaves of Oxbridge. As at Yale, where during the nineteenth century Colonial architecture, now the beloved model for so much American building, was considered too raw and crude for the high aspirations of a major university, at St. Paul's it seems that the once-loathed brick factories of New England have been sufficiently romanticized to become the source material for an Arcadian dream."19


IV. Scale


20 Jake Elberg, "Berry Opponents Plan Protest," 1.

21 Jake Elberg, "Berry Library Meeting Draws 150 Professors," The Dartmouth 151, no. 155 (13 November 1997): 1.

22[Editorial staff], "Berry Library Plans Need Rethinking," The Dartmouth 151, no. 148 (4 November 1997): 4.


Critics' most powerful weapon against the Berry design is the point that the building's scale is incompatible with that of its surroundings. Putting the history department into a wing of Berry, rather than into a separate but related building like Sanborn Hall, seems a mistake. This change to the program came about after the library design process had begun, and by the time the Trustees approved the plans in June of 1997 it was too late to remove the wing.20 We cannot necessarily blame this problem on VSBA.

The Carson history wing is not merely another building grafted onto the library, it is in fact part of the library itself, containing 15,000 square feet of library space, or nearly half the building's space.21 Having an academic wing allows for staging in construction, and it also results in the demolition of Kiewit, a result upon which Mr. Berry will surely smile. Bradley and Gerry have long been candidates for removal since they will block part of the library's facade and will lose their function as soon as the new Kemeny mathematics building goes up. Staging the library in this way also allows for a building larger than Berry's gift could afford, one closer to the size the College desires (originally 300,000 square feet, with only 2/3 of that being built in the whole project as it stands). The wing provides fundraising possibilities, since the College could not expect someone to contribute $10 million to construction without having a building named for him.


VI. The "New Green"


Comparison of spaces

Fig. 11. Comparison of spaces at Dartmouth.

Ravine panorama

Fig. 12. Panoramic view of the Ravine as it stood in 1994.


One final note on the new open space, the "millyard" that VSBA hope their new building will anchor. Not a "new Green" or even a "Quadrangle," the space deserves its own name.

At one time it was popular for students to call the new space the "New" or "Second" Green. A simple comparison of Dartmouth's four main planned spaces shows that this term is inappropriate (Fig. 11). Calling the expansion "a new and radical chapter in the history of Dartmouth's growth" that might threaten "the character of the entire Dartmouth campus"22 overlooks the fact that a much more radical chapter, Tuck Mall, has become an integral part of the College. As well as being large, Tuck Mall is also unfinished. The mall is full of gaps, and it looks nothing like the space envisioned in Jens Larson's 1920s plans, which showed another parallel quadrangle of a dozen buildings standing where the River Cluster is now. All master plans change and the College has seen no need to build all of the buildings Larson envisioned. Even as it was built, Tuck Mall is a more radical departure than the new space in the Ravine.

The Green derives its character from its size and shape and the fact that it is bordered by roads rather than buildings. Indeed it is a green rather than a quadrangle or a mall, which makes it utterly different from the new space. The space north of Berry will have much more in common with Tuck Mall, and for most of its length will be only as wide as Baker Lawn.

Planners call the new space "the Quadrangle," which, consciously or not, puts it in a lineage of several quadrangles that have developed at Dartmouth in the past. All were three-sided and most never developed fully: the first was on the Green itself, begun by the pair of eighteenth-century buildings there; a ater quadrangle existed in front of Dartmouth Hall when the precursors to Wentworth and Thornton stood farther out than today to enclose three sides of a space; the beginnings of a quad can be discerned today in Reed's enclosure of the College Yard, which Rollins rather lets down; and finally a quadrangle of sorts once stood at each end of the Green, with the northern one surviving in the form of Baker Lawn. That last quadrangle in particular can be counted the first major planned open space of the College after the Green, since at the turn of the century it was the site of a large Beaux-Arts expansion. Planners intended this northern quadrangle to be a counterpart to the Green, and Baker Library in 1928 was able to bring it to fruition in a form similar to its original intent.

None of these earlier spaces was too far from square in shape. Dartmouth's third major planned space is Tuck Mall, which sets an entirely different precedent as its name implies. Like the Mall in Washington, it is a long channel of space that is lined with buildings as much it is an outdoor room enclosed by buildings. The new space north of Berry, with its dominating axiality, is more similar to such malls than it is to the quadrangles of Oxford, and for this reason the planners' name of "Quadrangle" is hard to apply. The new space actually has more in common with Tuck Mall as well: the acquisition of the former Hospital land itself a decade ago represents a direct parallel to the 1912 acquisition of the vast Hitchcock property that Tuck Mall occupies. The College will have imposed on both pieces of land an axially-aligned open spaces as a generative form.

The intimacy of the space north of Berry, however, argues against calling it a mall. The space is intimate because its north end is nearly closed by the lantern gateway of Moore and Raven (at one time, Kemeny's proposed site), and because of the way the space widens at the bottom in a willfully picturesque tweak to the cour d'honneur. The block is technically termed the "Elm-Maynard Block." Vox has used the term "Berry Row," but will many follow this? Surely it is hard to name a row after a building that does not occupy it.

Perhaps the time has come for a new term: as Harvard has its Yard and Virginia its Lawn, Dartmouth's new space should be called the Ravine. This name would provide a typological counterpart to the Green and Tuck Mall. Just as Harvard's Yard is utterly unlike its origins as a cow yard, the Ravine will soon leave behind its past as a forgotten cluster of backyards and parking lots. When the space becomes formal and rarified, transformed into an unrecognizable academic precinct, the name "Ravine" will preserve something of the former character of the place (Fig. 12). Other possibilities suggest preserving the name of Elm Street , since the library will hardly hint at its one-time existence. In any case, the shorter the name, the better. Some of the following names, brainstormed after a look through Roget's, could work when shortened colloquially to the 'Rangle or the 'Vine ["veen"]. Names like New Quad only achieve greatness when they survive to obvious antiquity, as medieval New Colleges have done but the New Dorms will not:

  • Type: The Aisle, New Quad, The Traject, The Parade, Elm Corridor, Elm Arena, The Ambulatory.

  • Person/Thing: Kemeny Mall, BASIC Mall, Berry Mall, Plutonian Mall, Somebody's Mall, BlitzMall.

  • Local Feature: El Maynard, Elmayn, Elm Street Ravine, Elm Mall=El Mall, Maynard Aisle.

  • Landform: The Ravine, The Declivity, The Depression, Elm Concavity, The Dingle, The Gill, Elm Street Dent, Elm Dimple, The Gouge, Elm Impression

  ©1999 Scott Meacham

This page URL: http://www.dartmo.com/berry/index.html