Fulfilling the Vision

At various points in its history the home of an alligator, a clutch of chickens, and a python, Evans Hall has also played host to two Nobel Prize winners and two generations of Andover students. Despite its colorful past, the building has in recent years seemed a tragically transient presence on campus, as if it had never really grown into the role expected of it upon its completion in 1963. On the other hand, the newly completed $28 million Gelb Science Center, which opened this week, revitalizes the curriculum and pays homage to both the more memorable idiosyncrasies of its predecessor and the spirit of the Academy itself. Designed as an environmentally friendly, architecturally appropriate addition to a school of red brick, Gelb proves that sometimes, everything is in the details. The large windows help alleviate lighting and heating costs; all of the cabinets are made of wood from sustainable growth forests; and the zinc roof protects the water supply from the contamination caused by run-off from an iron one. Subtle touches like the roof’s prominent overhang go a long way, according to the head architect, Bruce Wood, towards making sure that the building itself does not “stick out too much.” The product of Campaign Andover’s $208.9 million raised, Gelb was also born of the high cost to renovate Evans – a price tag projected at $15 million – and of the greatest direct donation in Academy history. It is that largesse, with privilege as a way to give back to the community rather than as a burden, which Mrs. Chase referred to in her All-School Meeting speech this week and which embodies Andover’s “non sibi” attitude. The architects and planners who brought us Gelb have not only erected a building, but have also recommitted the school to Thomas Cochran’s idea of an aesthetically rich – and thus, enlightening – physical plant. That is not to say, however, that the newly vacated Evans does not share in this tradition of generosity and vision for the future. For it too sprung from a benefactor, Thomas Mellon Evans, and from a sweeping vision of the Academy, the Andover Plan, that led to the construction of Stearns, Stevens, Stimson, and the Copley Wing of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. In addition, although Evans appeared to many as an unsightly relic of a bygone architectural era, its international style allowed it to “hide its large size,” over 67,000 square feet, and made it look as if it were “float[ing] on a small band of glass perched atop a modest beam created to hide the large basement floor,” according to Michael Williams, director of facilities. Another impressive feature stems from the fact that despite its sprawling layout, it is impossible to see the entirety of the building from any one point on the ground. Of course, Evans had its fair share of bugs and problems, but most of its unique characteristics – the radon pipes, the comfy reading chairs, the stuffed birds – made the structure more endearing to those who taught and learned there, from a Chemistry classroom to the student publication offices in the basement. Though never beautiful, Evans too contributed to the cultivation of its students, and thus, in its own way, has served to fulfill Cochran’s dream. And Gelb should further aid the Academy in aspiring to that grand but attainable vision.