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Choate Rosemary Hall Science Center


This building is one of two designed by Pei for Choate Rosemary Hall; both were gifts of Choate alumnus, philanthropist Paul Mellon, who was also the patron of Pei’s East Building at the National Gallery of Art. In 1970-72, Pei built the Mellon Center for the Performing Arts on a gateway site between the recently merged campuses of The Choate School (for boys) and Rosemary Hall (for girls). Sixteen years later, by which time the two schools were fully integrated, Pei built the new science center. In every sense, it is a building of connection. Unlike the architectural concrete Mellon Center, the science building is more residential in scale and clad in red brick to complement older neighbors. Built on previously impassible marshy terrain, the building is a physical link, a walk-through hub, at the center of the upper and lower campus precincts.

The design is based on a system of overlapping and radial geometries that form two linked components: a 3-story L (housing laboratories and classrooms) and an angled 2-story wing (housing a conservatory, offices, and additional classrooms). The two components interlock around a conical glass wall and the outdoor courtyard it embraces to fill the center of the building with light. Pei prevailed in building a 160-foot-long bridge over adjacent wetlands as it was clear to him that this would be the direction of future campus development. The bridge is the main approach into the science center, entering on the second floor from the lower campus, continuing as an open corridor around the light-filled conoid, and exiting on the opposite side of the building through a monumental archway to a 100-foot-long pedestrian embankment to the upper campus.


Axonometric / Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

Of all Pei’s educational commissions, only the science building and Mellon Center were designed for high school students. At 47,000-square feet, it was one of Pei’s smallest buildings, coincidentally executed at a time when he was engaged with some of the largest, most important projects of his career. The building was completed in 1989 together with the Bank of China Tower, Meyerson Symphony Center, the Grand Louvre (Phase 1), and the headquarters of the Creative Artists Agency, all of which prompted Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New York Times, to declare 1989 “the year of Pei.”

Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Ian Bader, Design Architect
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners