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Prof. Herbert Beckwith, designer of 11 MIT buildings, dies at 94

Herbert L. Beckwith, a retired MIT professor and architect who designed the swimming pool and 10 other buildings and brought modern architecture to the MIT campus, died June 3 at his home in Kingston, MA, at the age of 94.

Born in Midland, MI, on Feb. 4, 1903, he came to MIT from the Case School of Applied Science as a student in 1923. He received the SB in architecture in 1926 and taught at MIT from then until his retirement in 1968, except for a two-and-a-half-year leave of absence during World War II. He received his master's degree in architecture in 1927. In addition to teaching, he served the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in many capacities.

In 1934, he became an assistant professor and in 1937 co-founded the firm of Anderson & Beckwith with fellow faculty member Lawrence B. Anderson (MAr '30). Mr. Beckwith became associate professor in 1939 and professor in 1947.

Robert Bell Rettig, in his "Guide to Cambridge Architecture: Ten Walking Tours," wrote:

"Anderson & Beckwith's Alumni Swimming Pool introduced the International Style to MIT [in 1938-39]. Among the building's noteworthy features are its off-center, corner-windowed entrance, its sharp-edged cubistic masses, and its south-facing window wall opening on an enclosed garden."

Discussing Rockwell Cage, built in 1947, Mr. Rettig wrote:

"Anderson & Beckwith were the pioneers of modern architecture at MIT. Glass-walled, clear-span Rockwell Cage is attached to their Briggs Field House of 1939. Through unassuming athletic facilities such as these, new stylistic currents infiltrated the Institute's classical bastions."

Other buildings include the wartime Radiation Lab (Building 24) and the recently demolished Van de Graaf Generator building near East Garage.

In 1950, the firm (now Anderson Beckwith & Haible) designed the Dorrance Food Laboratories (Building 16), the first building at MIT taller than five stories and the first to use the glass curtain-wall construction.

In 1953 and 1954, Mr. Beckwith served as an associate of architect Eero Saarinen in the development of the Kresge Auditorium and the MIT Chapel.

With McCormick Hall (1962-67), Anderson Beckwith & Haible built the first women's dormitory. In 1963, the firm designed the Whitaker Life Sciences Building (Building 56). The Pierce Boathouse of 1965 completed the firm's buildings on campus.

Other buildings in the Boston area designed by the firm include the Science Building at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, the Brookline Town Office Building and Raytheon's executive office building in Lexington.

The firm, with Mr. Beckwith as senior partner, also designed buildings at Rutgers University; Fisk University in Nashville, TN; the University of Rochester, and the University of Virginia. He also designed the US Embassy in Taiwan, the American Insurance Underwriters Building in Tokyo, and various buildings in Rangoon, Manila and Bermuda.

During World War II, Mr. Beckwith was executive officer of the Princeton University Station of the National Defense Research Committee. He married Elizabeth McMillin in 1945 and returned to MIT in 1946 as director of exhibitions. He became professor of architecture the following year, and served as acting head of the Department of Architecture in 1956-57. He retired from MIT in 1968.

He served on numerous architecture professional boards, including as president of the National Architectural Accrediting Board.

Mr. Beckwith leaves his wife, Elizabeth, of Kingston; a daughter, Suzanne B. Bynum of Cambridge; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A graveside service was held June 9 at Evergreen Cemetery in Kingston.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 11, 1997.

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