Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Making It Modern

Academics

Modernism Realized

Wheaton’s campus experienced a period of growth and change in the years following the 1938 Art Center Competition, which was the catalyst for a series of Modern buildings and additions. Although never built, Caleb Hornbostel and Richard Bennett’s winning design inspired the construction of the Student Alumnae Building (SAB) in 1940. Designed by the two young architects, SAB’s plan employed many of the elements they had incorporated in their design for an art center. The building included parlors, a game room, a multipurpose space named Plimpton Hall, and a bowling alley. Such Modern architectural aspects as flat roofs, ribbon windows, and industrial materials are exemplified in SAB, the first Modern, or International Style, building constructed on a college campus in the United States. Walker Evans produced numerous photographs of SAB and several of these images can be viewed in this section of the exhibition.

In the years following World War II, Wheaton increased enrollment in response to the record numbers of high school graduates seeking a college education. The trend toward new architecture continued when Lower Campus was developed in the International Style, thanks to the vision of President Meneely and the college’s new architect Howard Rich.

To support this rapid growth in student enrollment, Young, Clark, McIntire, and Meadows Halls, and Chase Dining Hall were built. Constructed to reflect the Modern emphasis on functionality and economy, their plate glass windows, steel I-beams, and geometric volumes exemplify the International Style. Young, Clark and McIntire Halls – collectively known as YMCA - were the first buildings constructed on Lower Campus, beginning in 1957.

These innovative dormitories were created with an emphasis on student needs. The windows were designed to let maximum sunlight into the rooms, while the arrangement of the buildings around a courtyard created an interactive space for residents. Similarly, Chase Dining Hall’s unique round shape provided a setting for social activities with beautiful views of Peacock Pond. Several other academic buildings or additions were constructed during this period. These included an addition to Science Hall (Knapton Hall) and the Jackson Wing of the Library in 1941, as well as Meneely Hall and Watson Fine Arts Center. Meneely Hall exemplifies the International Style more than any other building on campus. Its crisp lines, transparent façade, and uniformity produce an elegant effect that is the epitome of Modern architecture.

Watson Fine Arts Center, built in 1962, finally provided a solution to the much-needed space for the arts that had sparked the 1938 competition. Built in the Brutalist variant of the International Style, Watson originally housed the art history music, studio art, and theater departments.

Once this phase of construction was complete, Wheaton’s campus had successfully united the traditional and the contemporary, creating a unique architectural identity. In the years to come, the college would continue to adopt innovative trends in architecture, such as Post-Modernism, which led to SAB’s conversion to Balfour-Hood Campus Center, as explored in the next section of the exhibition Post-Modernism.

-Ross Culliton, Class of 2009
-Kendra Lawrence, Class of 2009
-Shannon Ryan, Class of 2010

Comments are closed.