Peabody Terrace

Added by admin, last update: August 17, 2012, 2:00 pm

Peabody Terrace
1-34 Peabody Terrace
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
42° 22' 1.7508" N, 71° 6' 50.6628" W
Javascript is required to view this map.
Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Residential (RES)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:
Dates: Commission / Completion:Commission 1960(c); completion 1964(e)
Architectural and other Designer(s): Josep Lluis Sert of Sert Jackson & Gourley
Others associated with Building/Site: Leland Cott, FAIA of Bruner/Cott and Associates, renovation architects
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s):
Current Use: Harvard University Graduate Student Housing.
Current Condition: Intact and well maintained.
General Description:

An arrangement of three 22-storey concrete towers linked to mid- and low-rise apartment blocks with full height glazing at balconies and a central pedestrian plaza. It features exposed monolithic concrete construction. The massing is rectilinear with blocks that step down toward the Charles River.

Construction Period:

Monolithic concrete core and exterior walls with balconies. Brightly painted metal ventilation panels and movable sunshades.

Original Physical Context:

Riverside, high-density urban institutional and residential site.

Technical Evaluation:

A pioneering application of reinforced concrete for residential use and elevator-based circulation diagram to private units with natural light and ventilation from opposite orientations.


A dense residential community within a consciously demarcated site associated with a single institution. Peabody Terrace symbolized the mobility and the diversity of the Post war University population. The high turnover and academic culture of the residents emphasized their difference from the permanent occupants on the surrounding streets. The Modern Style further expressed the difference between the two populations.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Sert produced two other high-rise complexes in the Boston area and a number of less conspicuous buildings of lesser scales. They introduced an early Brutalist aesthetic with a strong philosophical and visual link to Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation and to many of his proportional and planning concepts. The building is highly admired by architects and generally resented by the owner and its neighbors.

Internationally, Sert’s reputation is centered on his work associated with Joan Míro and Galerie Maeght. In the United States, the institutional buildings for Harvard and Boston University are unique examples of work at a large scale that adhere closely to Le Corbusier’s planning and design concepts. Locally, these buildings are of major significance due to their placement along the riverfront skyline and in the urban center of Harvard Square. Peabody Terrace is the only high-rise housing use in Sert’s oeuvre in such a visible setting. Its appearance remains as radical in 2004 as it was when it was built. The complex is the most iconic of Sert’s large buildings.

General Assessment:
Harvard University was the North American center for the development and promulgation of Le Corbusier’s ideas. Sert’s buildings and teaching were the most extensive and most influential factors in this movement of Modern Architecture during the CIAM era in the generation following Gropius’s and Aalto’s student housing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The buildings remain unique in their organization and form in the United States and abroad.
Text references:

José Luis Sert: 1901-1983. Josep M. Rovira. Electa: Milan, 2000.
Progressive Architecture. “Yesterday’s Paradigm, Today’s Problem.” June 1994.
PROCESS: Architecture. “Josep Lluis Sert: His Work and Ways.” December 1982, Edition 34.
José Luis Sert: Architecture, City Planning, Urban Design. Knud Bastlund. Praeger: New York, 1967.

Recorder/Date: Henry Moss, AIA, Leland Cott, FAIA; 19/7/04
P.O. Box 230977
New York, NY 10023
Terms of use | Contact | Privacy Policy | Credits
© 2017 DOCOMOMO US Google+