The three-hundred-acre campus of Wellesley College was set out over formerly derelict farmland beginning in 1868. The landscape design was the work of the founders, Pauline and Henry Fowle Durant, and reflected the ideas of both Andrew Jackson Downing and Frederick Law Olmsted. The Durants' central decision was to preserve the existing irregular glaciated topography and to design upon it a landscape with many features of a park. To topographical variety were joined treed hillsides, valley meadows sown with wildflowers, a variegated understory of rhododendrons and native plantings, and a grassed central green. A large water feature, Lake Waban, defines the south side of the campus. Much of this distinctive 1870s landscape vision remains into the present day.
Within the parkland setting, the college opened its doors to 314 women in 1875. A single, vast building designed by Hammatt Billings combined dormitory accommodations, classrooms, chapel, laboratories, gymnasium, library, and other functions. The building was a four- and five-story red brick, mansard roofed, Second Empire structure marked by towers, pavilions, gables, and spires. As the college grew, expansion was largely haphazard; it was not until 1902 that the concept of planning was agreed to under the leadership of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
Fire destroyed College Hall in 1914 and there followed a brilliant twenty-year period of rebuilding, much of it directed by Ralph Adams Cram and embodying Olmsted Jr.'s ideas. The most notable work was the administration building, Green Hall. This and related buildings cling to the rim of the hillside at the center of the campus. Designed by Day and Klauder, they reveal a vigorous and consciously feminine version of Collegiate Gothic.
After World War II, modernism was embraced as the new style for the campus, appearing first in 1952 with the Gropius-influenced New Dorms by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott. The outstanding building is Jewett Arts Center (1958, Paul Rudolph), which turned the central hillside into an opensided quadrangle. More recently, the Science Center (1972–1978, Charles Rogers of Perry, Dean, Stahl and Rogers) mixes technology references with concrete, glass, and painted metal; and the Davis Museum and Cultural Center (1993, Rafael Moneo) adds an austere boxlike exterior that gives few clues to the dramatic five-story interior.