Participate, Discuss, Comment
Submitted by David C. Balderston '55:
The 200th anniversary of Ramee's campus design presents an opportunity to emphasize a connection between an unbuilt part of his plan, and a current partial realization of that part, along with a lovely manifestation of it, Washburn Hall, that enhanced the campus for several decades in between.
If you look at both paintings by Ramee in the current Union magazine, behind (east of) the central domed "pantheon" can be seen a semi-circular structure that connected two flanking buildings to the north and south. This was part of Ramee's artistry, to repeat the rounded form of the pantheon in a curved structure of larger scale behind it, instead of using more of the straight, squared-off forms found in the rest of the buildings.
But Ramee's original curvilinear structure was never built, until it emerged transformed, beside the rounded dome of the new Nott Memorial--both in the then-popular high Victorian style following the Civil War. For beside the Nott there appeared Washburn Hall, shaped like a long banana with a bump in the middle. Housing a variety of campus activity offices, the bookstore, and a theatre in the middle, it endured, much loved, until the 1960s. Paul V. Taylor '62 wrote an eloquent "Eulogy for a Landmark" about it in a 1963 alumni magazine, long before his celebrated biography of Ramee. Regrettably, the footprint of Washburn Hall interfered with the construction of the much larger Schaffer Library.
A special feature of Washburn was its covered arcade, a walkway that hugged the building's inner facade with arched openings that faced the Nott. To some, this curved and protective shelter added a welcome softening to an otherwise formal set of neoclassical campus buildings.
More recently, the rounded form of Washburn Hall that echoed Ramee's original curved structure has been revived in the colonnaded walkways that curve between Schaffer library and the humanities and social sciences buildings. These curving connectors help to create a unified central campus design that conveys both academic dignity and human-scale charm, just as in Ramee's original plans.