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Roots: Our Origins

We created this category to collect stories of Kirkland College’s founders and those ideas and individuals who influenced them.  You can get a list of contents by using the dropdown menu to the right.

Here’s an example:  The Womb Room

Some suggested topics for new posts to contribute to this area:

  • Faculty biographies
  • The Barnard College influence
  • Major, Minor and McIntosh namesakes
  • Kirkland’s architect, Ben Thompson
  • Marimekko furnishings and influence
  • The original Red Pit

To suggest additional topics, add a comment below or email the editors.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2010 2:09 am

    Kirkland Architecture.

    As a senior at Concord Academy our college counsellor organized a trip for several of us, maybe 5 including Melinda Sherer and myself, to visit with the Admissions people on the campus of Hamilton College who were responsible for recruiting a class for the new Kirkland College. My mother had done the college tour with me to area colleges. This seemed interesting and my brother was a Senior at Hamilton.
    I LOVED IT. My parents said “Are you seriously considering going to college that is not even built yet?” YES precisely because it wasnt built yet. I loved the large slabs of concrete that were scattered about where they were testing finishes. I loved seeing the overall site plan and knowing that it was really going to be under construction while we were there. I loved that even the admissions people and Dean Nelbach who we met with, were asking us questions about the campus and the plans. I had no idea at the time that I would go on to Architecture School, but I did know that this sounded like an adventure and I was excited to get on board.
    Throughout my time at Kirkland I served on the Trustee Committee for Physical Plant. There was some story about the fact that at that early visit, I made some intelligent comments about the campus and someone remembered. I dont remember but being put on that committee really did launch my life. On the Physical Plant committee we worked through issues of campus design, construction scheduling and details and programming for spaces. Benjamin Thompson would occaissionilly attend these meetings. I think it is fair to say that Ben Thompson was vague, inspired, infuriating, exciting and a genius. He would show us slides of some far off place where people were interacting and would make connections to this campus with young women learning and growing. He would get excited about some new idea that the educational program was presenting that had big implications for the Architecture. He was engaging and excited about our campus. He respected my opinion as one of the members of the committee. He valued the process of design and the people who were engaged in it. He made us see the site as as important for the buildings as the buildings. He loved to talk to the Trustees about the flowers that were growing when they wanted to talk about costs. We worked thru many issues about how big the buidlings were going to be and how the dorms would be arranged and what kind of furniture there would be. We interviewed students about how the first dorms were working for them. We debated all issues of size and configuration. Many times Sam would have met with them in between so much was left to be brought up to speed.
    Two summers during my time at Kirkland I worked at Ben Thompsons office in Cambridge. He would give me things to do that were related to Kirkland or to similar projects. I worked on teams in the office and really learned how the whole process of Architecture was completed. Each fall I would return to campus to see how things had progressed. I am sure that all the hours I logged at BTA enriched my whole college experience immeasurably.
    For many people the buildings may seem stark and harsh. It was Ben’s attitude that the people and the colors and movement of life activated the spaces and the architecture. He believed in making the buildings have a sense of simplicity and sustainability. I dont particularly like the aesthetic of the campus, but I got the intent and appreciated the full picture he was creating.
    The campus has grown and been taken over by Hamilton and even taken on the inglorious name of the ‘dark side’. I think Ben Thompson would have been angered by that description as his heart was in that campus and his heart was anything but dark.
    There were moments years later when Sam and I talked about Ben and what it was like to work with him. I went on to work in his office for 8 years during and after architecture school. There was so much to accomplish and sometimes he was so much of the artist and so little of the type of person to get things done. But I also learned the strength of the office that he had built where everyone was valued and the team studio collaborative model was used in his office well before that became the norm.
    I was honored to be such a deep part of the Kirkland campus and I am still amazed to look back and see how significant this part of the Kirkland experience has been in my life.

  2. orchardgirl78 permalink
    February 8, 2010 7:48 am

    Hi Daphne:

    I am working on getting some of the original blueprints into a jpeg form and a discussion of how K-J’d renovation took great care to hono, restore, preserve and enhance design and philosophical elements of the original structure.The firm that recently completed the K-J renovations seemed meticulous rght down to the use of natural light, green patterned textiles and four small waterfalls.

    I was thrilled to read about your particular experiences with Ben Thompson and the creation of Kirkland’s physical presence. What you – and others have shared this weekend, also speaks to the intense mission of administrators to seek out the involvement of students . Your personal involvement in the evolution and creation of the physical plant shares an important part of the Kirkland College story and it is one of which, I was previously unaware. Thank you for sharing that!.

    Your post documents an unusual corporate-student engagement., but also underscores why we all work the way we do. Our opinions and thoughts mattered! It also illustrates how the architecture continues to reflect an innovative educational philosophy. Your decision to pursue architecture as a career further delineates the intensity of our college experience.

    I hope your narrative inspires others. It certainly got me thinking about topics worth exploration, such as self- governance, how we handled sports teams, the Keehn Co-op and teh Coffeehouse, to name just a few. Any takers?

    Thank you for engaging!


  3. April 10, 2010 9:53 am

    Ms. Petri –
    Loved your story about working for Ben Thompson. One of my fondest memories is the opening of the Art Center and Bob Palusky’s work.

  4. Sam permalink
    October 4, 2010 1:17 pm

    Basically, I second all that Daphne has to say about Ben Thompson. The experience of working with him and his young associates was a delight. But when I look at the masthead pictures on the Kirkland website, I am reminded of one early failure – those wonderful clear glass globes that originally topped all the outside lights. They were so fine to behold. They were also too much of a temptation for thugs of whatever origin who thought they made great targets for stones or snowballs. Gradually, we were simply forced to get white, opaque plastic globes as replacements. It made me deeply sad that there were those who would look at beauty and delight in destroying it.

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