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Sunday, December 24, 2017

William W. Bosworth

The Bosworth Dome, gracing the architectural centerpiece
of the MIT campus, Building 10.
On the morning of April 1, 1982, students and faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), located on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge awoke to the sight of a campus police car perched atop the "Great Dome" of MacLaurin Building (AKA simply as Building 10, above). How did it get there? No, they didn't build a very long ramp. That would have been to easy. Apparently students took the car apart and hauled it piece by piece to the relatively flat surface atop the dome. There they reassembled it, all in the dead of night and without a single casualty (below). The prank was nothing new. MIT students had been pulling such April Fool's stunts annually almost since the school was founded in 1861 (two days before the first battle of the Civil War). In 2003 students commemorated the 100th anniversary of manned flight by placing (or landing) a full-scale replica of the Wright Flyer atop the dome. In 2006, in a similar stunt, students commemorated the fifth anniversary of 9-11 by mounting a firetruck atop the dome (which must be very well constructed). In 2009 they did the same thing with a full-scale model of the moon lander to commemorate the 40th anniversary of man's landing on the moon. In 1999, they turned the dome and its drum into a somewhat shortened R2D2 (no indication as to what they were commemorating with that one). This is about architect William Wells Bosworth, the MIT graduate who inadvertently made all this possible.
MIT officials have no doubt wished many times they'd chosen a different design for their "Great Dome"...or a different architect.
When Building 20 was designed around 1913, William Bosworth quite innocently chose to pay tribute to the dome topping the ancient Roman Pantheon--a graceful architectural masterpiece and a historic breakthrough in concrete engineering. He undoubtedly never dreamed his dome might invite such harebrained stunts. With its interior stairway and exterior steps leading to a mildly rounded roof (below), Bosworth made it all to easy for students to mount their pranks. There's even a round, flat platform atop the dome ideal for "parking" cars and firetrucks.

Bosworth's Building 10 cross-section
William Bosworth didn't just design a much-abused dome, or only Building 10 beneath it, but many of the nearby structures such as the Rogers Building next door, and the Walker Memorial (below) just a couple blocks up Memorial Drive. Actually, he designed the whole MIT campus and several other buildings on it. Needing more space, MIT abandoned their Copley Square campus in 1916 for a new "New Technology" campus. Three years earlier, multimillionaire John D. Rockefeller Jr. had recommended his personal architect, William Bosworth, to design a campus aimed at long-term, planned growth, and Neo-classical architectural elegance. Despite his misbegotten dome, Bosworth delivered--magnificently.
Three of Bosworth's more memorable MIT buildings.
William Bosworth, the architect for the main campus group, was himself a graduate of the MIT Architecture program in 1889, before attending the Ecolé des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1896. His classical training is evident in his sensitively rendered watercolors and architectural drawings. However, Bosworth’s facades belies a forward-thinking steel and concrete structure, designed in collaboration with the engineers John Ripley Freeman and Charles Stone of the engineering firm Stone & Webster. There is a great deal of focus on Bosworth's external facade and the Great Dome. Yet, skin that away, take away the limestone bricks, take away the dome, and look at the structure. It’s unbelievably modern. It's in no way a conservative artifact. Reinforced concrete wasn’t a common building material at that time in history. It was new, symbolizing cutting edge science and technology.
Construction of Building 10 and the Bosworth Dome,
MIT, ca. 1915.
In 1916, the MIT administration and the MIT charter crossed the Charles River on the ceremonial barge, Bucentaur, built for the occasion to signify MIT's move to a spacious new campus largely consisting of filled land along a one mile tract on the Cambridge side of the Charles River. Bosworth's neoclassical "New Technology" campus had been funded largely by anonymous donations from a mysterious "Mr. Smith", starting in 1912. In January 1920, the donor was revealed to be the industrialist George Eastman (of Kodak fame). Between 1912 and 1920, Eastman donated $20 million ($236.6 million in 2015 dollars) in cash and Kodak stock to MIT. The money was as well-spent as the architect was well-chosen.
Apparently there was one major, and several minor  pre-existing buildings on the site before Bosworth was called in.
William Wells Bosworth first caught my eye as I noticed that he was born in Marietta, Ohio, (my own birthplace), a small city about fifteen miles from where I live now. The year was 1868. Bosworth began his training as an architect at MIT, at the time one of the leading Beaux-Arts oriented schools in the United States. In 1896 he left for Paris to study at the famous École des Beaux-Arts. Attending the École was a must for anyone who wanted to make a name for himself in the United States, especially during the years following the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Upon his return to the United States in 1900, Bosworth worked for the firm Carrère and Hastings, which had recently won the competition to design the New York Public Library, their best-known project.
One of the most important American architects of the early 20th-Century.
In 1906, Bosworth was called in to design a garden for the prominent philanthropist, the New Yorker Valentine Everit Macy (not the department store Macys), who lived at Scarborough-on-Hudson. This led to Bosworth’s acquaintance with Frank Vanderlip. Bosworth designed for Vanderlip a gate for his family estate north of Tarrytown, New York, as well as the Scarborough School not far from Vanderlip’s estate (below). The school still exists today.
Scarborough School, Tarrytown, New York,
William Bosworth, architect.
These commissions led to other mansions and gardens, eventually landing Bosworth the job of redesigning the gardens of John D. Rockefeller Jr's estate, Kykuit, correcting the work of no less an architectural icon than Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York's Central Park. John D. Senior was unhappy with Olmstead's work and assumed control of the design himself, transplanting whole mature trees, designing lookouts and the several scenic winding roads. In 1906, the further design of Kykuit's grounds fell to Bosworth, who laid out the surrounding terraces and gardens with fountains, pavilions and classical sculpture. These gardens in the Beaux-Arts style are considered Bosworth's best work in the United States as they look out over tremendous views of the Hudson River. These original gardens still exist, with plantings carefully replaced over time.
A "tea house" designed by Bosworth for the Rockefeller
Around 1916, about the same time Bosworth was supervising the MIT expansion, he received from AT&T the opportunity of a lifetime to design their new headquarters building at 195 Broadway in New York City. The 398 foot-tall building is steeped in history. At one time dubbed ‘the Telephone Building,’ 195 Broadway was the site of the world’s first transcontinental and transatlantic phone calls. The structure features 29 stories and is located in the heart of the Financial District. It sits adjacent to the Freedom Tower and the new World Trade Center.
AT&T Building, 195 Broadway, NYC, 1916,
William Bosworth, architect.
Bosworth’s promising U.S. career came to an abrupt end when John D. Rockefeller Jr., visited France in 1922. He was appalled at the dire condition of French monuments. He set up a fund in 1924 to pay for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles and the Château de Fontainebleau. Bosworth was put in charge of the project. He also took over the restoration of the Notre-Dame de Reims. In 1934, he supervised the restoration of Queen Marie Antoinette’s Trianon "cottage" near Versailles. Although Rockefeller's project ended in 1936, Bosworth remained in his adopted country in semi-retirement, building a house he called Villa Marietta, for himself and his family in Vaucresson. There Bosworth died in 1966 at the age of ninety-seven.


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