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Malcolm E. Morrell Gymnasium

Malcolm E. Morrell Gymnasium

Morrell Gymnasium. Date unknown. Catalog no. 2658.1

Although there was no new building at Bowdoin between 1958, when Coleman Hall was finished, and the fall of 1963, when Coles Tower was begun, that five-year period was a time of intense planning for educational innovations and the facilities to house them. Bowdoin had made a commitment to expand the number of students to 925, and for this were needed a "necessary supplement for Hubbard Hall . . . additional dormitories . . . [and] enlargement of the gymnasium," according to President Coles in his 1958-1959 Report of the President. While the gymnasium was a less glamorous project than the Senior Center, it had the advantage of the same architect, Hugh Stubbins and Associates of New York.

As early as 1945, Alonzo Harriman and Associates had prepared a rendering of a building for squash courts, to be placed to the north of Sargent/Hyde and to repeat exactly the facade of the Curtis Pool. The hockey arena was destined for land in the Pines across the former route of Harpswell Street. By 1964 a decision had been made to abandon the Georgian Revival and work in a more contemporary idiom.

The greatest difference between Stubbins's design for the new facility and the older gymnasium structures was fenestration. Sargent, Hyde, and Curtis depended upon windows for interior light and air; the windows enlivened and articulated the exterior surfaces. New building technology and air-conditioning presented the architect with different options for lighting the Morrell Gymnasium, although there is a row of office windows in the granite basement level on the north and west facades.

The entrance is on the north. The west flank, which is partially obscured by the heating plant, is set back from the facade of Sargent. On the south, the new gymnasium is subtly attached to the old, so that each building maintains its own exterior integrity.

On the principal facade, the architect exercised considerable ingenuity to create a transition from the outdoors to the interior. A paved courtyard three steps down from sloping sides accommodates the crowds attending games, commencements, and other large gatherings. It was an important part of the architect's program to provide seating for 3,000, and in 1966, for the first time, awarding of degrees was held in the gymnasium rather than in the First Parish Church.

The simple massing of three parts reinforces the sense of entrance in an asymmetric plan. The narrow block with doors and cantilevered canopy is set back from the planes of the two wings. The east wing, six bays wide, houses the basketball court, and the west wing, which holds offices, is three bays. To weight the narrower wing, the architect designed its blind arches just a fraction wider than those to the east.

The materials are red brick laid in Flemish bond set upon a granite basement. An earlier perspective by Hugh Stubbins of the entrance facade shows the west block divided into thirds by vertical channels and the east block articulated by projecting vertical piers. At some point the decision was made to echo the arched openings of the older athletic buildings. The effect is benign and certainly not as assertive as the earlier scheme.

The completion of the Senior Center, Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, and the Malcolm E. Morrell Gymnasium ended fifteen years of almost continuous building and renovation activity on the Bowdoin campus. Of this group of modern buildings, only Coles Tower is truly assertive, while the other two are accommodating to the sites and in no way intrude on earlier buildings.

The New Gymnasium was dedicated in June 1965. Among the speakers was Malcolm E. Morrell '24, director of athletics since 1928. Morrell retired in 1967 and died in October 1968. In June 1969, the building was rededicated to him.

Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.

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