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Emma Hartman Noyes House

Eero Saarinen & Associates, 1958
Parlor restoration, Leonard Parker Associates, 2000

This year, Noyes House, the last residential hall to be built on Vassar campus, will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Completed in 1958, Noyes House not only gave vertical dimension to Noyes Circle (dating back to the founding of the college - see more on the Circle below), but also added to the development of contemporary architecture at the college. In 1954, architect Eero Saarinen had developed a master plan for the north end of the campus. As part of this plan, Saarinen had proposed two crescent-shaped residential buildings to be placed around the Circle. Though only one of them was built, the project reinvigorated this historic site at the college.

The building's curved plan and its insertion in the landscape create a unique relationship to the site. Vertical brick piers in between the projecting window bays suggest but do not imitate the traditional Gothic style employed in many other buildings at Vassar. Constructed of poured-in-place concrete, the building houses 156 students, with double rooms on the front, singles along the back, and two house-fellow apartments at the east end of the ground floor. The most memorable interior space of the building is the famous "passion pit," more recently dubbed the "Jetsons' Lounge," located in the ground-floor parlor. This sunken circular seating area is depressed into the floor slab, and is where many poetry readings and small performances have been staged over the years. The surrounding living room includes Saarinen's well-known furniture. He was recalled as saying, "We have four-legged chairs, we have three-legged chairs and I have seen two-legged chairs. So we are going to build a one-legged chair, right?" The freestanding furniture in the living room is known as the Tulip Pedestal Series produced by Knoll Associates in 1956.

Noyes Circle

The Noyes Circle we see today dates back to the founding of the college. One of the earliest maps of the campus indicates that there were originally three circles in this general location; the two smaller ones were labeled "playgrounds." All of the circles were used for the purpose of exercise, which was so important to Matthew Vassar's notion of a complete education. The large circle had a diameter of approximately five hundred feet, the same dimension as the length of Main Building, and was surrounded by a road and planted hedges, presumably to protect the young women from outside onlookers. This circle was used for both walking and riding, which may explain its formal configuration in spite of the prevalent garden vocabulary at Vassar of irregular picturesque shapes. Dr Alida Avery, an early professor of physiology and hygiene, used the circle for her classes and later helped to organize the Floral Society in which students cared for the garden themselves, turning exercise into a useful and aesthetic mission. The Circle was also the site of the first field day for women in America, held on November 9, 1895. Despite "unpropitious weather," it was laid out for track events, and the students competed in the 100-yard dash, the running broad jump, the running jump, and the 220-yard dash.

Excerpted from
The Campus Guide
Vassar College, An Architectural Tour
By Karen Van Lengen and Lisa Reilly
Princeton Architectural Press, 2004

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, April 17, 2008