Alumni Pool

Added by admin, last update: November 24, 2015, 6:11 pm

Alumni Pool
Alumni Pool. 1940. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Museum.
6 Vassar Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States
42° 21' 41.6016" N, 71° 5' 25.8432" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Education (EDC)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:
Dates: Commission / Completion:Designed 1939, completed 1940.
Architectural and other Designer(s): Laurence Bernhart Anderson and Herbet Lynes Beckwith, architects.
Others associated with Building/Site: James Holt, mechanical engineer; Walter C. Voss, materials engineer; Donald W. Taylor; soil conditions; Kenneth C. Reynolds, hydraulics; Thomas R. Camp, filtration system; Parry Moon, lighting designer
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s):
Current Use: Swimming/aquatics.
Current Condition: Fair. The building once sat at a "back" court on the campus, and stood as the most significant structure in the court. The construction of the nearby Compton Lab and Dorrance Lab (also designed by Beckwith), along with other buildings has completely shrouded the pool, and significantly altered the context and the purpose of the once-walled Class of 1923 garden. The garden, on the south side of the pool, was originally intended for sunbathing, and only portions of the east and west walls remain.
General Description:

The building is a two-story, steel-frame, flat-roof structure. Clad in yellow brick on three sides, its most striking feature is the wall of glass on the south elevation. Two small blocks are stepped away from the building's main volume at the northwest corner. A block containing coaching offices and a smaller entrance lobby distort the otherwise rectangular form of the structure. Inside, the building consists of a 125 feet-long room, containing the main, six-lane, 42-by-74 feet pool and a secondary, 20-by-40 feet practice pool. There is a gallery with seating for approximately 340. As originally planned, shower and locker rooms for men are located on the first floor, with women's changing rooms and showers on the second.

Construction Period:

Steel-frame construction, clad in brick and glass.

Original Physical Context:

Although the original context has been significantly altered by later buildings, Alumni Pool was intended as the centerpiece of a "back" court on the MIT campus, and envisioned by the architects to be a nucleus of a much-larger athlectic complex. The placement of the main pool volume is such that the south elevation's large wall of glass was orignally a natural-light source for the pool, and the adjacent walled garden served as an outdoor sunbathing location in the summer months. As part of the construction of the Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry, and scheduled for completion in 2003, required the demolition of later (1943, and 1955) additions to the pool.

Technical Evaluation:

The building was designed to best meet the functional needs of the swimming pool, offices, and bleachers, and therefore adhers to the modern-movement tenet of form following fuction.


Intended to serve the athletic needs of the MIT campus, and planned as part of a larger program to improve athletic facilites at MIT. "Second unit in the Institute's program for better facilities for building the man as well as the mind, the new structure is the fist unit of the great recreational center planned for the future."

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Along with the adjcent Briggs Field House, also designed by Anderson and Beckwith and completed in 1939, Alumni Pool is recognized as one of the first buildings on a college campus built in the modern style. The pool's two-dimensional grid pattern of the glass-and-steel frame is an early example of what will later become a hallmark of Anderson and Beckwith's so-called I-Style Modernism, as defined by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson.

The building represents a collaboration between several alumni of MIT. Both Anderson and Beckwith, the architects, graduated from the Institute's School of Architecture in 1930 and 1926, respectively, and served on the School's faculty. In 1937, Anderson and Beckwith formed a firm with William E. Haible, although neither Haible nor the firm is credited with any involvement with Alumni Pool. In 1965 Anderson was appointed dean of the School of Architecture and held that position until 1972. Several of the building's engineers and consultants were also MIT alumni and faculty: James Holt, 1919, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering; Walter C. Voss, 1932, Head of the (then) newly formed Department of Building Engineering and Construction; Donald W. Taylor, 1934, Assistant Professor of Soil Mechanics; Kenneth C. Reynolds, 1925, Associate Professor of Hydraulics; Thomas R. Camp, 1925, Associate Professor of Sanitary Engineering; and Parry Moon, 1927, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.

General Assessment:
At the time of the structure's completion in 1940, Alumni Pool was judged as "second to none in ability to serve the purpose for which it was designed." The materials selected for construction represented the most economical and efficient products available. Such features included tempered glass, special acousic materials, and double glazing, and radiant heating in the pool-deck tiles.
Text references:

Orginal plans for the building remain in the archives of the MIT Facilities Department. The MIT Museum has the records of the Alumni Pool and its architects.

Kimball, Francis H. "Sports Buildings." ARCHITECTURAL RECORD 89 (February 1941): 68-71.

Cambridge (MA) Historical Commission. "Alumni Pool." File available at the Cambridge Historical Commission, 831 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-3068. Referenced 16 May 2003.

Burks, Sarah. "Memorandum to the Cambridge Historical Commission: D-757: 6 rear Vassar Street (Building 57, Additions Only)." Cambridge, MA, Cambridge Historical Commission, 1999. Photocopied

Recorder/Date: Colleen M. Meagher/ May 30, 2003
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