The Evolving Campus

The campus today is the result of over 120 years’ development: both planned, and opportunistic.


Urban Campus 1890-1938

When Northeastern was founded in 1898, the school offered classes in the YMCA on Huntington Avenue and later from Cullinane Hall on St. Botolph Street (built in 1911 and acquired by Northeastern in 1930.)

The older industrial character of what is today the campus south of Huntington Avenue provided the University with opportunities to gradually acquire older buildings built mostly in the first two decades of the 20th century. As a result, Northeastern has a modest legacy of older, re-purposed and renovated industrial buildings that add to the mixed stylistic, urban character of the campus.

Cullinane is still in service as an administration building and the Forsyth Building (built in 1926, acquired in 1949) serves as classrooms and student health services today. The largest collection of repurposed industrial buildings is the United Realty complex, formerly the United Drug Complex (built in phases between 1893 and 1913, acquired by Northeastern in 1961). This large brick and timber frame building fronting on Forsyth and Leon Streets serves a variety of academic and research uses. The complex also contains the University’s central steam plant within its core. The facility, along with Ryder Hall on the opposite side of Centennial Quad (built in 1913, acquired in 1976), presents significant challenges to serving contemporary academic uses, but does contribute to the West Village’s diversity of architectural character by providing some traditional industrial urban fabric along an important campus and city corridor.


 The Matthews Arena, formerly the Boston Arena, is another significant Northeastern building from the early 20th century, which serves as the University’s basketball, hockey and convocation facility. Matthews (built in 1906 and acquired by Northeastern in 1980) lacks any distinct architectural character on the exterior with the exception of a fragment of the ornate terra cotta entrance arch preserved on the building’s main entrance from St. Botolph Street. Despite the lack of notable exterior elements, the scale and intimacy of the interior space with its slender trusses and balcony seating, is a distinct reflection of its age and history as the world’s oldest indoor hockey rink.

Northeastern has also acquired and renovated a number of row houses and apartment buildings, built between the 1890’s and 1920’s, within the East Fenway neighborhood. The University values the traditional scale and fabric of these residential buildings and has served as a steward of the historic character of this important Boston neighborhood. In Roxbury, older residential and industrial fabric on the south side of Columbus Avenue, are also part of the inventory of older Northeastern facilities. The character of Columbus Avenue has been improved through NU’s renovation of these buildings from the 1920’s, augmented by the newer infill housing that has been built along Columbus in the past decade. The Fenway and Roxbury buildings contribute to the variety and richness of Northeastern’s urban campus context and identity. The master plan proposes to further enhance this character by improving the quality of the campus edges that abut these historic neighborhoods, and to enhance the public connections from the historic fabric through the campus.


Prior to Northeastern’s origins in the late 1890’s, the area of today’s campus contained mostly industrial uses as well Boston’s two oldest professional baseball parks abutting the rail yards for the New York-New Haven line. With the exception of the YMCA and some commercial buildings east of Gainsborough, there were very little built Huntington Avenue uses, although the future site of the MFA had been assembled. On Columbus Avenue, the site of the Carter Playground had been established as a City of Boston public park. By the 1930’s, just prior to construction of Northeastern’s first built facility, the area had seen significant commercial and industrial growth with the ballparks demolished and the rail uses expanded. Huntington Avenue had also been developed with much of the historic mixed-use fabric that exists today filled in. The United Realty complex and what is now Ryder Hall were also built along the west edge of Forsyth Street as well as the MFA and the former Forsyth Institute (140 The Fenway).


1938-1979: Establishing the Modern Northeastern

The architectural history of the built Northeastern campus begins with the pervasive white glazed brick modern buildings, which were the predominant style of almost every facility built by the University from 1938 through the end of the 1970’s. For most of its history, Northeastern’s campus character was identified by the consistency and predominance of this singular architectural expression. Well over a dozen academic, athletic and residential buildings were constructed in the signature Northeastern style characterized by a crisp, late modern style of glazed brick piers, flat roofs, and vertical windows which was repeated for almost all campus development over four decades.

The design standard of this era was established through the original campus competition entry produced by Shepley Bulfinch Architects, which proposed the three academic buildings organized around what is now known as the Krentzman Quadrangle.

This initial campus master plan, which introduces a Bauhaus inspired rigor to the industrial urban fabric, established the signature Northeastern presence along Huntington Avenue beginning with Richards Hall (1938), Ell Hall (1947) and Dodge Hall (1952). The Cabot Center was built in 1952, further establishing the campus frontage along Huntington. With the exception of the original Krentzman Quad buildings, and the collection of residential buildings on the north side of Huntington Avenue built in the 1960’s, the majority of the white glazed brick campus buildings are somewhat repetitive, non-descript, and were not sited as part of a planned ensemble of buildings and open space. Consequently, many of the original Northeastern buildings, while part of the signature architectural style of the campus, are not necessarily distinct or memorable.

The facilities built in the 1960’s and 1970’s do not have the same façade depth and detail as the steel sash windows gave way to aluminum frames, which consequently appear flatter and less distinct than the first generation of buildings around the Krentzman Quad. Several of the original campus buildings are also characterized by small, inefficient footprints and present significant challenges to renovation and repurposing to satisfy contemporary academic needs.


In 1938, the first phase of the original Northeastern academic quadrangle was constructed with the siting of Richards Hall perpendicular to Huntington Avenue setting up would eventually become the Krentzman Quadrangle with the completion of Ell Hall in 1947 and Dodge Hall in 1952.  By the late 1960’s, the majority of Northeastern’s white, glazed brick campus had been completed. While the rail line remained active, the yards and much of the related industrial uses had been demolished for surface parking lots that served Northeastern at the height of its commuter campus era. The freshman residence halls were completed on the north side of Huntington Avenue by the mid 1960’s.


1980-1995: An Aesthetic and Campus Transition

In 1982, two small buildings in the Law School precinct (Cargill and Kariotis) were constructed as the first departure from the 1938 guidelines established by the Shepley Bullfinch master plan. Cargill Hall introduced slate tile and Kariotis featured red brick, albeit both buildings are considered insignificant and are burdened by unsuccessful building footprints. More ambitiously, beginning in the mid-1980’s with the Snell Engineering Center and the Snell Library designed by the Architect’s Collaborative, the core campus architecture began migrating away from the white glazed brick buildings that dominated more than four decades of growth.

The introduction of white pre-cast concrete in these buildings can be seen as consistent with the campus palette in color if not material. The Snell Engineering building can be seen as a literal transition as it maintains panels of white glazed brick within a pre-cast frame. The Library, built entirely in pre-cast, also challenges the simple form and massing of the earlier buildings by introducing saw tooth bays and outdoor space beneath cantilevered overhangs that remains part of an important campus pedestrian path today. The two Snell buildings were followed by the construction of Shillman Hall (1995) and Egan Hall (1996) that continued the gradual evolution of a more diverse campus aesthetic. Egan was designed with the white pre-cast aesthetic introduced a decade earlier, but also incorporated some post-modern elements such as stylized columns and a curved apse space at the west end of the building. Shillman Hall introduced red brick elements and curved glass curtain wall into a pre-cast framework.

The other significant building from this era was the Marino Center (1996), which also contributed to the diversification of the campus architecture as well as a new, prominent public presence on Huntington Avenue. The building incorporates pre-cast and cast stone masonry units and a large expanse of glass curtain wall fronting the street. The building not only announced a very public departure from the original Northeastern aesthetic, it also presented a much more active and transparent face that reinforced the importance of Northeastern’s Huntington Avenue presence on both sides of the avenue.

With the construction of Egan, Shillman and Marino, Northeastern had completed the transition to a more diverse architectural palette, although through a relatively conservative architectural language. Likewise, the Egan and Shillman buildings represented a new shift in campus growth to the west and recognized the future importance of Forsyth Street and the new Ruggles Station completed in the mid-1980s. By the end of the 1990s, with two new academic buildings fronting on the Ruggles / Forsyth circle and a major new student recreation center on Huntington, Northeastern was poised to continue the campus transformation through the redevelopment of the expansive surface parking lots and the industrial fabric between Ruggles and Forsyth Streets.


By the 1990’s the introduction of the MBTA Orange Line had opened up the potential for Northeastern’s campus growth to the west and south. The redevelopment of surface lots began in the 1970’s and 1980’s as the original campus extended south to the tracks. The Ruggles station connector (1985) provided an important link across the tracks connecting Roxbury to the campus across the tracks. The Egan and Shillman academic buildings were built as part of the eventual re-centering of the campus around the Ruggles station and on the west side of Forsyth, the United Realty complex and Ryder Hall had been acquired and repurposed for academic and facilities uses.  The Marino recreation facility was completed in 1996 establishing a prominent new architectural identity for the campus on Huntington Avenue.

1999 to 2012

1999 to 2012: The West Village and a Campus Transformation

The next phase of campus development which was reflected in the prior IMP, which resulted in the construction of over two million gross square feet of new facilities and over 5,000 student beds and  was the most ambitious period of growth in the University’s history. The decade long build out of the West Village created a collection of residential buildings centered on a series of landscaped quadrangles including the large, oval Centennial Quad. The West Village represents the first collection of planned buildings that define an open space since the Krentzman Quad developed over the 1940s and 1950s and the Science Quad which was built out in the 1960s.

The West Village buildings, designed primarily by William Rawn Associates, further contributed to the diversity of campus architectural style. West Village A, B and C buildings, fronting Parker and Ruggles Streets, introduced a new vocabulary of a striped brick masonry pattern punctuated by large, open portals leading to a centralized open space. The scale, prominence and strength of this architectural language established a striking departure from the simplicity and relatively modest scale of Northeastern’s traditionally understated architecture. The strong identity of West Village contributed to a successful rebranding of the University as it transitioned from a commuter campus toward a residential campus.

The subsequent phases of the West Village introduced an even more diverse palette of architectural materials including the rusticated, cream colored cast masonry units of West Village F and the elegant, curved glass curtain wall of the Behrakis Health Science Center (2002) – the only new academic facility built by Northeastern in almost two decades. The completion of Behrakis marked the trend toward taller campus buildings, which continued through the later phases of West Village with the completion of West Village H (2004). West Village H introduced a distinctly different contemporary architectural character with its pristine glazed curtain wall façade prominently fronting on Huntington Avenue, and the glazed fin façade of the podium marching along Parker Street.

The introduction of the high-rise scale to the Northeastern campus continued south of the MBTA tracks with the completion of International Village in 2009. The pre-cast and curtain wall building utilizes planes of color and playful window composition to create a strong, contemporary expression and a prominent visual icon at the convergence of Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street. The design of the GrandMarc residential tower (subsequently renamed East Village) behind the Huntington Avenue YMCA also utilizes a diverse palette of pre-cast concrete panels, metal panels and a dynamic pattern of fenestration fronted by the historic YMCA façade on Huntington – a symbolic convergence of Northeastern’s contemporary campus character with its origins in the historic Boston fabric. The development of the Northeastern campus, from the collection of early century re-purposed industrial buildings, to the mid to late 20th century campus to today, has resulted in a diverse and eclectic environment that is befitting of the campus’ urban context and its embedment in the city fabric. Yet within this varied architectural character there are still strong “districts” or “precincts” of distinct and consistent character. The evidence of the campus evolution, through the legibility of the distinct periods of growth and adaptation, is one of the strengths of the campus and an expression of its urban legacy.

1999 to 2012

By 2013, through the previous Institutional Master Plan, Northeastern’s transformation from a commuter campus to an undergraduate residential environment had been realized through the development of the West Village, Columbus Avenue infill and International Village. In 2013, the new Institutional Master Plan was approved by the City of Boston. The plan will guide the University in its ongoing evolution to toward a Tier 1 research university by adding to and transforming the academic facilities while continuing to improve the residential and student life aspects of the campus.