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Collegiate Gothic Architecture of Boston College

a literature of stone

by Boston College Fine Arts Professor Jeffery Howe, excerpted from Transforming Light: The Stained-Glass Windows of Boston College

The architecture of Boston College was hailed from the outset. Devlin Hall was awarded the J. Harleston Parker medal in 1925 by the Boston Society of Architects, an award given every three years for the new building judged to be the most beautiful in the Boston area. Ralph Adams Cram, a tireless advocate of the modern Gothic Revival, praised the new campus:

For some years everyone who has seen the beginnings of the new Boston College—and who has not?—has realized that something was happening here in Chestnut Hill that was immensely significant. The extraordinary beauty of the site and the striking qualities of the architecture make a combination that not only gives immediate satisfaction to the eye but stimulates the imagination as to the future. Certainly, here is a scheme under way which promises to work out into one of the greatest artistic features of Massachusetts, even of the United States. . . . Altogether, the profession of architecture must feel it is already heavily in debt to Boston College and its architects.

Nonetheless, the Collegiate Gothic style was eclipsed in the second half of the twentieth century, as international modernism swept the field. The triumph of the International style was so complete that even at Boston College it was out of the question to build a Gothic-style building until the late 1980s. The restoration of Bapst and Burns Libraries won an award for its sensitive adaptation of the Collegiate Gothic style in 1986. Among the chief architects of this project, as well as the renovation of Devlin Hall (1993), was Royston Daley. Subsequent projects, such as the renovations of Fulton Hall (1995) by Svigals + Partners and Higgins Hall by the firm of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott (2002) remade those clunky 1950s-style buildings into elegant modern Gothic monuments. The Collegiate Gothic had returned as the signature style of Boston College.

The powerful tower of Gasson Hall and the impressive grouping of the original buildings on the Heights are the first and greatest artworks sponsored by the University. In creating their ambitious scheme, Father Thomas Gasson and the architects Charles Donagh Maginnis and Timothy Walsh did not allow themselves to be limited by the exigencies of the moment, but looked to the riches of the past and, seemingly, to the unforeseeable riches of the future.