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Standing in Silhouette: The Southwest Dormitories at UMass

Opening in Fall 2021 in conjunction with the symposium at UMass Amherst and UMass Dartmouth,"Brutalism and the Public University: Past, Present and Future"  October 22-23, 2021.

Opening reception: Greenbaum Gallery, November 6, 2021, 11 am

Brochure: Digital Brochure Link

Articles: Umass Magazine Article Link, Daily Collegian

A city unto itself complete with skyscrapers, plazas, streets and parks, the Southwest Residential Complex was designed by Hugh Stubbins & Associates between 1964 and 1966 and completed by the early 1970s. It is one of the most significant of the modernist projects which transformed the UMass Amherst campus in the late twentieth-century into the world-renowned research university it is today.

A young woman photographed from below, stands in front of one of the Southwest towers on the campus of UMass Amherst. Architectural features of the building are outlined in red.This exhibition looks beyond the Southwest’s hard-partying reputation to consider how its diverse population engaged with this Brutalist architecture of concrete, brick and stone during its first decades. The key image for this exhibition is of an unknown young woman who stands before a tower, her silhouette as proud and tall as the complex’s remarkable skyline. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, students like her were excited to be at the forefront of the educational and social experiments which unfolded at the Southwest. Her image is one of the many striking photos which the University produced to promote the complex when it was new. The photos evoke optimism about modern architecture and education. The names of these photographers are also unknown.

Drawing upon such images and texts found in the University archives, the exhibition and accompanying brochure explain the buildings themselves and little-known episodes in the Southwest’s history, among them a housing crisis and protest, new in-house educational programs like the “Project 10” living and learning experiment, and how students appropriated spaces for themselves to make the Southwest a vibrant and unique place. The establishment of the Malcolm X Cultural Center, Stonewall Center, and the Latinx American Cultural Center in the 1970s and 1980s further transformed the Southwest Residential Complex into a place for inclusivity and empowerment. Of course, the Southwest was not just the scene of social progress. Noise and partying are part of the its complicated history as well. Today, the Southwest faces new challenges as the campus copes with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funded by the UMass Arts Council and the Department of the History of Art & Architecture. All images courtesy of UMass Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) except where noted.


Research and Exhibition Designers: Callie Krekorian, BS in Architecture, Minor in Art History, UMass Amherst 2020 Jordan Luther, BS in Architecture, Minor in Art History, UMass Amherst, 2021

Research Assistance: Lauren Robinson, M.A. degree candidate American History, UMass Amherst

Advisor: Timothy M. Rohan, Associate Professor, Department of the History of Art & Architecture, UMass Amherst

The Louis and Hilda Greenbaum Gallery is located in 302 Elm House in the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community (CHCRC) and is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. when classes are in session.