Sasaki master plan

Hideo Sasaki’s master plan of 1962 guided the university through its biggest period of growth and radically transformed the campus. Created by the noted landscape architect Sasaki, the plan focused the university on hiring top architects for major projects, from the Fine Arts Center to the Campus Center to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. Acclaimed by critics, the plan was not as well-received by many students, who reacted strongly to the striking size and modernity of the campus’s rapid development.


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After struggling with the design of new Orchard Hill dormitories, architect Hugh Stubbins recommended in 1960 that the university hire a new master planning firm to create a more defined direction for campus development. On his recommendation, the university selected Sasaki, Walker and Asssociates in 1961 to review and potentially update the 1957 master plan by Shurcliff, Shurcliff & Merrill. In February 1962, the firm made its first recommendations to the university in the form of a master plan Review. In it, firm principal and founder Hideo Sasaki identified two areas of weakness for the campus: weak design relationships between certain buildings and disorganized, confusing circulation patterns. Sasaki did, however, also stress that the suggestions it contained were the result of “preliminary impressions” and “much detailed study is needed… which should culminate in a revised long-range general development plan.” [ 1 ]

Soon after, Sasaki’s master plan really began to take shape – a series of reports between 1962 and 1964 revealed the specific areas of weakness on the campus and began to illuminate a sustainable and effective direction for future development. Sasaki was a meticulous planner: for one circulation report, he went so far as to measure the exact number of cars passing through key intersections during each hour of the day and used the results to inform his recommendation that a new loop road be built around campus. This careful methodology paid off: the resulting master plan effectively anticipated massive growth in several different arenas while also establishing a new direction for architectural design on the campus.

The Shurcliff, Shurcliff & Merrill plan was created when the university had 4,400 students and anticipated a distant future of 10,000. When Sasaki was hired, the university had almost reached 10,000 and was fast en route to growing even more. Instead of promoting the very traditional development of low buildings focusing on fitting in with the old campus, Sasaki tackled the problem of growth head on in strikingly modern terms. He proposed radically reordering vehicular circulation to the outskirts of the campus in order to create a make the university more pedestrian, as well as rapidly developing certain areas at a scale never before seen at the university. He also recommended that the university hire a consultant to review all projects in order to ensure architectural quality – on his recommendation, the university selected the noted modernist Pietro Belluschi. In these ways, Sasaki’s plan set the stage for the uncompromisingly modern architecture of the university that rose in the late 1960s and early 70s.

Working closely with Belluschi as well as the architects hired by the university to design individual buildings – Kevin Roche, Gordon Bunshaft and Marcel Breuer, to name a few, Sasaki oversaw the largest period of growth in university history. Between 1963 and 1975, nearly 50 major buildings totaling 2,000,000 square feet were constructed, more than doubling the size of the campus. The Fine Arts Center, Whitmore Administration Building, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, Southwest Residential Complex and Campus Center were just a few of the projects constructed under the guidance of the Sasaki plan.

The Sasaki master plan reshaped the university’s planning process and the campus. It expressed the huge growth of the university with buildings of equally huge bulk and transformed the circulation patterns of the campus in the period of just a few years. It did, however, encounter some problems. Many of the buildings cost far too much for the university to maintain; others were completed hastily and poorly. The Fine Arts Center, one of the cornerstones of the plan, was delayed in its construction by nearly 10 years; by the time it was completed in 1975, several departments had already outgrown it. In addition, due to lack of funds, many key interior features were left out of the construction, including graphics to orient visitors – particularly important in such a complex building. Despite these issues, the plan and most of its buildings earned high praise. Critics called the Fine Arts Center “brilliant” and “a joy.” [ 2 ] A lengthy article about the entire Sasaki plan in Architectural Record lauded it for handling the university’s growth “with great skill,” going so far as to say that it “could serve as a guide to expanding colleges and universities everywhere.” [ 3 ]


In 1976, The Alumnus asked faculty with experience in architecture and design to assess the plan and the buildings it engendered. Ervin Zube, then the director of the UMass Institute for Man and Environment, said that the results of the plan “come very close to being successful.” He praised the generous use of concrete in the new construction, calling it “very bold and good.” Arnold Friedman, then a professor of design, said that although the relationship between different buildings “leaves a lot to be desired,” the architects’ desire to employ highly modern, progressive design was “appropriate.” [ 4 ]

Students were less taken with the plan and its buildings. Though 85 percent of students thought that the campus overall in 1976 was “very pleasing” or “somewhat pleasing,” only 53 percent approved of the then-quite-new Du Bois library, and 72 percent found the Fine Arts Center “inconvenient” or “very inconvenient.” Fifty-eight percent of students saw no evidence of a master plan in the design of the campus. [ 5 ]


  1. Halainen, Bill, “Campus architectural merits evaluated,” The Alumnus (April 1976).
  2. Sasaki, Hideo, et al. Comprehensive Circulation Study #3: Campus Traffic Survey (15 April 1963).
  3. Sasaki, Hideo, et al. University of Massachusetts – Master Plan Review (20 February 1962).
  4. Schmertz, Mildred, “Distinguished Architecture for a State University,” Architectural Record (May 1966).
s/sasaki_master_plan.txt · Last modified: 2021/09/03 12:47 by
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