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Simmons Hall (Bldg. W79)

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Bldg. W79
2002, Steven Holl Architects with Perry, Dean, Rogers and Partners. 229–243 Vassar St.
  • Simmons Hall (Bldg. W79) (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)
  • (Dr. Meral Ekincioglu)
  • (Dr. Meral Ekincioglu)
  • (Dr. Meral Ekincioglu)
  • (Dr. Meral Ekincioglu)
  • (Dr. Meral Ekincioglu)
  • (Dr. Meral Ekincioglu)
  • (Dr. Meral Ekincioglu)

Simmons Hall completes a ring of dormitories surrounding the athletic fields. This huge building is composed of a rectilinear metallic grid punctured by more than 5,500 windows, each two feet square, along the 385-foot length of the ten-story facade. Revetted in anodized aluminum, the structure has the air of a gigantic computer, reinforced by its brightly colored window jambs. Reds, yellows, and oranges are coded according to the building's stresses, revealing and reinforcing the steel frames. Outer grid walls are actually load bearing.

If the exterior is dominated by Euclidian geometry, within it is challenged by free-form atria serving as public spaces; some of these hollowed-out plaster cavities are enlivened by skylights and metal stairwells. Along the conventional corridors where the 350 students reside, projecting mounds indicate entrance to these grottolike entities, equipped with monitors and televisions and an assortment of culinary facilities and exercise machinery. Modular units of blonde Scandinavian plywood constitute the furnishings of each room, three windows wide and three windows high, which often cancel the views and light by virtue of their heavy framing—perhaps a reaction to students blinding the windows in Baker House (MT17). Problems with adjusting air currents and sunlight are evident despite the claims of a passive solar wall and maximum energy utilization.

Elegance in details is wanting, hardly surprising in a work that purports to be of the twenty-first century. But the ghost of Le Corbusier hovers, his Unités d'Habitation on the outside and the irregular sculptural forms of Ronchamp's towers within. The student jury is still out concerning the success of the building.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Simmons Hall (Bldg. W79)", [Cambridge, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 309-310.

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