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In the fall of 1945, with sixty students enrolled, the college was already crowded. When the GIs enrolled, the student body grew within two years to nearly a hundred. On the recommendation of Walter Gropius, the college asked two young architects Norman and Jean Bodman Fletcher to design buildings and oversee a postwar construction program. The Fletchers had recently won both first prize in the Pittsburgh Architecture Design Competition "A House for Cheerful Living" and were co-winners of the Pencil Points Small House Competition. Along with Ben Thompson they were winners of the 1946 Smith College Dormitory Competition. Although at first  the Fletchers were interested in joining the faculty, they decided instead to join The Architects Collaborative (TAC) which was being formed in Cambridge by Ben Thompson, Walter Gropius and others.

In February the college commissioned TAC to work on a long range plan, to prepare a site plan, and to design a dormitory for women students, with Norman Fletcher as principal architect. The college hoped to have a member of the team in residence although Fletcher advised them that it would be essential for the new group to be together if they were to be a coherent, unified practice. Enthusiasm was high, nevertheless, and on one evening students passed the hat and raised over $500 for the new building.

Norman Fletcher visited the college for three weeks in March 1946 and held many discussions with members of the community. He returned to Cambridge to draw up site plans and preliminary plans for a dorm for sixty women students and four staff. When the plans arrived in May and discussions were held, students "under the leadership of designer Don Wight and promoter Jack Bailey" (both students), presented an alternative plan for small units combining sleeping and study space for six students. Heated discussions ensued and the question of "when is a decision a decision at Black Mountain was raised?" Why had students not presented this idea in March when Fletcher visited? Small dormitories would necessitate a new site plan as well as new dormitory designs and extra expense. It also would mean a delay in construction which the college had hoped to begin in the summer or fall. Despite the difficulties and after long discussions, the community rejected both the student plan and the large dormitory. They agreed instead to build small units with sleeping space for ten to twelve students. There was concern that to combine sleeping and study space would encourage cliques and isolation of individuals or groups from the general community. With many apologies and explanations of the role of community in the learning process, the architects were asked to return to the drawing board.

In the fall when the new plans arrived, the Permanent Housing Committee -- determined that any "good ideas" would be given a chance to reveal themselves before they moved ahead -- posted the plans for everyone to study. The community was then divided into small groups of ten or twelve, and a secretary recorded all criticisms. These were then compiled into a general report for the architects. Fletcher had suggested that the small units be grouped into "neighborhoods" and that possibly four units might be connected to a common living room by arcades . In general the arcade was not favored, although there were no objections to the "neighborhoods." There was a request for a large social room with a fireplace in each dorm where students could gather. There were also suggestions with respect to closet size, soundproofing, placement of the fireplace in the living rooms, grouping of beds, windows, and other details. To the suggestion that each dormitory be of a different design to avoid monotony, Fletcher responded with an eloquent critique of his own.

Although the TAC plans were never realized, for the Black Mountain community the process provided an invaluable lesson in democracy and in planning. Although $10,000 had been raised for construction of the first dorm, TAC was not able to send an architect to supervise construction. In the meantime FHA barrack-type buildings had relieved the immediate overcrowding. Although Ted Dreier remained in correspondence with TAC through the summer of 1948, a crisis during the 1948-49 school year led to the resignation of Dreier and other faculty, and the TAC plans were abandoned.


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.