Herbert Beckwith, 94, key figure in modern architecture in U.S.


Herbert L. Beckwith, 94, an MIT professor and architect who was a key figure in modern architecture in the United States, died June 3 at his home in Kingston, MA.

"Herbert Beckwith was a key figure in the introduction of modern architecture to the United States, and to MIT in particular. His buildings were strikingly innovative at the time; they don't seem so unusual now because, in fact, they did so much to define the subsequent architectural mainstream," said Professor William J. Mitchell, the dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.

Mr. Beckwith helped design 11 buildings at MIT, as well as buildings at Rutgers University; Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.; 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.

Born in Midland, Mich. on Feb. 4, 1903, he came to MIT from the Case School of Applied Science as a student in 1923. He received his SB in architecture in 1926, and taught at MIT from then until his retirement in 1968, except for a 2-1/2 year leave of absence during World War II. He received his Masters 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. 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, 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."

The 11 buildings he helped design at MIT include the war-time Radiation Lab, the Van de Graaf Generator building of 1948, demolished recently, and the Dorrance Food Laboratory of 1950, the first building at MIT to exceed five stories in height and the first at MIT 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.

Anderson Beckwith & Haible designed McCormick Hall, 1962-67, the first women's dormitory at MIT. The firm also designed the Whittaker Life Sciences Building, 1963, and the Pierce Boathouse of 1965.

Other buildings in the Boston area include the Science Building at UMass Boston, the Brookline Town Office Building and Raytheon's Executive Office Building in Lexington.

Mr. Beckwith, during World War II, 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 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.


Topics: Obituaries

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