Building Blunders of Brandeis, Part IV: Disposable Architecture

This post is part of a series that addresses the physical aspects of our campus, specifically the history and the current state of Brandeis University architecture and planning.

One of society’s ongoing problems is what to do with old buildings.  Do we demolish them and build something new?  Do we renovate and re-purpose them?  If they’re particularly special, we might even restore them to their original state.  Brandeis is no more immune to this problem than any city or town.  In fact, college campuses may feel the pressures to demolish old buildings stronger than any other communities.  Colleges depend on large donors to renew their facilities, and large donors want their names on fashionable new buildings.

Demolition of the Friedland Life Science Building
Demolition of the Friedland Life Science Building

For several weeks now, crews have been working at demolishing the Friedland Life Science building and the Kalman Pre-Medical Building.  To my best knowledge, no one has made a fuss.  I’m not a science student, but I’ve visited both of these buildings.  Friedland was actually pretty quirky and interesting, with large white panels covering much of the exterior and short windows at the top of each floor, creating glass divisions between its five stories.  I believe it was designed by firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott, which had some very famous founders.

Friedland Life Science Building. Architects: Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott. Built 1956-58.
Friedland Life Science Building. Architects: Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott. Built 1956-58.

Should we really treat buildings such as Friedland as disposable?  I don’t think so.  Sure, they’re not very much in style today, but someday we may come to regret losing them.  Harvard’s now-loved Memorial Hall once faced the wrecking ball because 50-or-so years late it had fallen out of style.  Sure, Friedland isn’t so grand, nor was it probably constructed so well, but it’s so… well, modern.  It was of the era of the Space Race, and in my opinion it showed it.

Friedland isn’t the only building with a funky, modern style.  Goldman-Schwartz?  East?  Spingold?  Schwartz and Brown?  All of these buildings have been deeply neglected over the years.  Under the right conditions, any of these buildings could receive its death sentence.  At Brandeis, we take the attitude that after a building goes up, it’s okay to leave it to decay forever.  I urge Brandeis to treat its buildings with greater respect.

If you need reinforcement for what our ’50s and ’60s-era buildings could look like, visit the lobby of Gryzmish across from the campus center.  Without  daily wear from students, the interior has stayed fairly well preserved.  Really, take a look.  Once the examples of that style are destroyed, they will never come back in quite the same form.

Winter Sun Sets Over Friedland
Winter Sun Sets Over Friedland






8 responses to “Building Blunders of Brandeis, Part IV: Disposable Architecture”

  1. staffmember

    oh, by the way — Friedland is now just a pile of rubble. It was very impressive watching it be demolished.

  2. staffmember

    I have been told that the annual utility bills to keep Friedland and Kalman running were prohibitively high. Both buildings would have required massive infrastructural improvements to be used as science labs. There would also have been substantial clean-up and renovation costs to use them as anything else (one hears that there were asbestos and mercury issues in Friedland; a consultant came by to take a chip of my office floor from under the rug before I moved out of my Kalma office).

    For similar issues with a considerably newer building, look up “Newton North High School”, which is being rebuilt for a second time.

    Science buildings are not the best choice for architecture to preserve.

  3. Wow Andrea, how did you find that? It’s remarkably similar. Too bad we don’t have the original. Still, East looks cooler. If only the university would restore it…

  4. Andrea

    Since you mentioned East, I thought you might be interested in this Marcel Breuer version of basically the same building as East, at what was then an NYU campus but is now Bronx Community College (it was built in 1964 or 65, before East opened). It might be sort of hard to see from this photo, but the building is curved like East, even:

    Also there is this wack lecture hall there, also by MB:

  5. I think Phil’s point is that we should be spending the money to preserve our buildings, not spending money on knocking them down and building new ones.

    Phil, I’d like to submit into evidence the fact that Brandeis consciously spends millions less than it should on building upkeep (they call it deferred maintenance) to cut costs.

    I’d like to submit into speculation (I.E. “I’m pretty sure that:”) Brandeis has done this for years.

  6. Here’s some more about laboratory design and adaptive reuse from R&D Magazine:

  7. Nat,
    You would be correct in saying that I have not done research science at Brandeis, but I have been in both buildings. I said so in the post. I will not claim any knowledge about science research facilities, but I do believe strongly in the theory of adaptive reuse. Even if they’re recycling >90% of the materials like they did with the admissions center, it’s an awful waste of society’s resources to treat buildings as expendable, disposable objects. That’s the point I was trying to get at. Even if with renovations it would still be unfit for research, then it could be used for non-lab classrooms, offices, etc. I did a little Googling and came up with this slideshow, “New Labs and Old Buildings” from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Every site and every building is different, but there’s a model out there.

  8. Nat


    It’s pretty clear that you haven’t ever done research science on this campus, and from your article, I’m also pretty sure you’d never been inside either Friedland or Kalman, the two buildings which are getting demolished.
    Both buildings were woefully unsuitable for pursuing modern science research, and I don’t say that lightly. The facilities both limited what our researchers can do and endangered their safety when they tried to do what they could. The teaching labs in Kalman had too few fume hoods, and given the expected increases in admitted students, I’m sure that had they not been replaced by the ones in the new science center, we’d be turning students away from lab classes.
    The two buildings were completely inadequate from a functional perspective and regardless of what you think of them from an aesthetic perspective, they absolutely had to go.