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Black Mountain College Newsletter, No. 10, December 1940

Black Mountain College Newsletter, No. 11, January 1941






A. Lawrence Kocher
Summer 1940


The Decision to Move to Lake Eden

In May 1940, following Roosevelt's address to Congress asking for over a billion dollars to develop American defenses, Theodore Dreier raised the possibility before a community meeting that the college would have to abandon, at least temporarily, the Gropius-Breuer designs. With the events of May 1940 — the surrender of South Norway to the Nazis; the invasion and surrender of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg; and the invasion of France — the involvement of the United States in the European conflict appeared inevitable. Raising the requisite $500,000 would be a lengthy process, and even if the college could raise the money, wartime would mean restrictions on building materials.

On May 16, 1940, Dr. Willis Weatherford, president of the Blue Ridge College, Inc., notified the college of his plans to open a girls's school in the Blue Ridge buildings in the fall of 1941, necessitating a move by the college. He would lease the buildings to the college for the 1941-42 school year only if his plans for the new school had not materialized by March 1941. The college had three options: (1) to take a chance on the failure of the girls’s school, (2) to locate another campus with adequate facilities, or (3) to move to Lake Eden in simpler buildings which could be constructed by faculty and students.

The Kocher Design

The college turned to A. Lawrence Kocher, former editor of the Architectural Record and a proponent of modern architecture to design a complex of buildings which could be constructed in units by students and faculty – unskilled labor – working under the supervision of an experienced builder. Kocher had been interested in the college since its founding. In 1937, when the validity of buildings of modern design was being debated at the college, he had written to Theodore Dreier recommending a collaboration on designs by Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Josef Albers, and Alexander ("Xanti") Schawinsky. He wrote that such modern designs based on "the setting up of space and activity requirements...would be an inspiring example to other schools, all of whom were too strongly influenced at the outset by a desired appearance." (A. Lawrence Kocher to Theodore Dreier, September 24, 1937. Theodore Dreier and Barbara Loines Dreier Papers, North Carolina State Archives)

In July Kocher visited the college and agreed to make plans for simpler buildings that could be constructed by faculty and students. Within a month, he had completed plans for a building with four wings that would be modern in appearance and use both conventional and new construction methods and materials. Had they been completed, they would have provided a unified campus with most activities except dormitories and meals centered in the same building. Rendering and Model  Plan and Model

Whereas Gropius and Breuer had located their buildings on the south side of Lake Eden, necessitating the demolition of the dining hall and other buildings, Kocher placed his buildings on the opposite site of the lake. This plan would not require demolition of any existing buildings except Lakeside Cottage.

The plan called for a building with four wings radiating from a central hexagonal gathering hall which was the main entrance to the building. A short wing to the left of the main entrance provided for administrative offices and a reception room.. A second wing (moving clockwise) contained an exhibition hall in the narrow segment straddling Mountain Stream and a library with high ceilings supported by arches of laminated plywood. The third wing, the only wing constructed, provided for student and faculty studies, two faculty apartments, a classroom, an art studio, and an outdoor covered studio. After heavy rains and floods in 1940, the area where the Studies Building was located had been underwater, and it was anticipated that the use of stone construction and the open space on the ground floor would limit damage in future floods. The fourth wing provided for additional studies, a recreation room, counselor’s rooms, and a faculty apartment.

Although Charles Godfrey, the local contractor, favored a stone building, Kocher argued in favor of a stone first floor foundation with the two upper floors of wood frame with an exterior facing of transite, a corrugated asbestos-embedded concrete material.

Construction of the Studies Building 

The studies wing was selected for construction first because of the high priority the students placed in private study space. By January the roof was on the building; and the college was ready to apply the transite facing to the exterior. By February the steel sashes for the windows was in place. When the college opened in the fall, the student studies were not finished, and for the fall semester students lived and studied in the lodges. Pulleys were used to raise beds to the ceiling and providing for daytime study.

The Studies Building is the largest structure built by the college. It is 202 feet long and 28 feet wide. The two enclosed stories provided 61 student studies, 10 faculty studies and classrooms, and 2 faculty apartments. The ground floor is partially open, with 112 feet being enclosed.

Concurrent with the construction of the Studies Building, the college was winterizing existing buildings, and constructing small houses and farm buildings.

Models and plans for the Studies Building were published in the June 1945 issue of The Architectural Forum.

Photos courtesy North Carolina State Archives. Model, Black Mountain College Papers, F.S. Lincoln, photographer. Studies Building, Black Mountain College Research Project Papers. Richard Brunell, photographer.


The Black Mountain College Project gratefully acknowledges a grant from the Graham Foundation
for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts for a study of architecture at Black Mountain College.