top of page

Architectural History, CCVA, and Early Catalogs


Built in 1962 by Harlow Carpenter, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 1956.

Influence of Harvard GSD in the 1950s.



Harlow Carpenter, Class of 1956, was present during the time of Walter Gropius, Josep Lluís Sert, Marcel Breuer, and others. Harlow's structured International style was in sharp contrast to other architects in the Mad River Valley at the time, namely Yale's Dave Sellers, who also made his mark here in a very different way.


Quote from Nick DePace, Architecture Professor RISD:


It makes sense that the design of the building carries a strong affinity with both the Bauhaus teachings and some US works of Gropius and Breuer, as well as some of the work of Le Corbusier vis-a-vis his disciple, Sert. From my naked eye, the proportions of the Bundy remind me of Corb's Pavilion de l'Esprit Noveau and a number of his other seminal projects- not to mention the conceit of a rounded skylight- a feature in a great many Corb buildings, including the Carpenter itself.  

I also don't think its an accident that the Bundy is built the same year as the Carpenter Center and I believe its construction can be credited through the finances of the Carpenter's and the influence of Sert through his son rather than the will of the university. I recall that the Visual Arts Center was destined in Harvard's post-war master plan to be a very parochial building by a trusted campus firm, like Shepley Bullfinch, Richardson or a firm producing similar neo-colonial architecture. So this story has great impact on the patronage of Modernist architecture in the US, not unlike Phylis Lambert's influence in enticing her father to build Mies Van Der Rohe's design for the Seagram building in NYC or Philip Johnson building his own thesis project while at the GSD in the 40's.


Harlow Carpenter Obituary:


Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard.



Harlow persuaded his father, Alfred St. Vrain Carpenter, Harvard (1905), to fund the building of a visual arts center at Harvard.


During the mid-1950s, the idea of creating a place for the visual arts at Harvard began to take shape. A new department dedicated to the visual arts was created, and the need for a building to house the new department arose. A budget was set for $1.3 million, and the proposal was included in a Harvard fundraising program. The project immediately elicited a response from St. Vrain Carpenter, an alumnus who supplied $1.5 million for the proposed design center.[2] The donation propelled the project forward, and the Committee for the Practice of Visual Arts began to look for an architect to undertake the project. Originally, the committee had recommended that the building be designed by "a first rate American architect" who would be in the company of Charles Bulfinch and Walter Gropius, among others. However, Josep Lluís Sert, who was at the time Dean of the Graduate School of Design and chairman of the committee suggested that his friend and previous collaborator, Le Corbusier, be asked to design the building. Delayed due to scheduling and payment conflicts, Le Corbusier eventually accepted and made his first of two visits to Cambridge in 1959.


After much debate, a site was chosen between Quincy and Prescott Streets, abiding by the original proposal for the building.The allotted space was quite small, so the completed building presents itself as a compact, roughly cylindrical mass bisected by an S-shaped ramp on the third floor. Le Corbusier's earliest design showed a much more pronounced ramp that further separated the two parts of the central mass. However, the early design created the problem of too much disruption of the central mass. This problem was reconciled by using a pinwheel effect so that in the finally executed design, the two halves meet at a vertical core that houses an elevator. The concrete ramp is cantilevered from this central spine and stands atop a few pilotis. The landing at the top of the ramp is located in the core of the building and leads to various studios and exhibition spaces seen through glass windows and doors, providing views into the building's instructional and displaying functions without interrupting the activities in progress.

The exterior of the Carpenter Center presents itself very differently from different angles. From Prescott Street looking toward the curved studio space, one can see the brise-soleil that are placed perpendicular to the direction of the central portion of the ramp, making only their narrow ends visible from the street. The Quincy Street view, however, reveals ondulatoires on this studio's exterior curve, which interfere with the building's curve less than the brise-soleil do on the opposite side. On the ramp from Quincy street just before entering the building, one sees grids of square and rectangles of the windows, brise-soleils, and studio spaces, rather than the curves of the two halves of the building.

Art Exhibition Catalogs from the 1960s.
Thanks to donations from former caretaker, Steve Joslin; former tenant, Jane Hobart and the Mad River Chorale; and former owner, Michael Millstone, without whose help we would not be here, we have several former catalogs on display at the Gallery.


bottom of page