The Forerunners


Today, the Given building lies surrounded by later additions, but when it opened in 1968, it was a pristine example of International Style architecture, a clean-lined modern facility designed for the Space Age. More than 60 years later, its architectural style is somewhat hidden behind several newer connecting buildings, but its importance to daily life at the Larner College of Medicine continues unchanged.

By Ed Neuert


With local hospitals expanding, and funded research on the rise, Dean George Wolfe, M.D., in 1955 began an effort to increase both the size of the college’s student body and the breadth of its research programs. To accomplish this, an entirely new medical campus would replace the 1905 structure at Pearl and Prospect streets. Setting their sights on acreage on the eastern edge of campus, adjacent to the then Mary Fletcher Hospital, the New York firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, in partnership with Burlington’s Freeman French Freeman architects, in 1956 presented a design (above) for a six-story building. The concept got the ball rolling on planning and fundraising, even though the final building would be vastly different in design. Leading the design team was Ruth Reynolds Freeman, a pioneering female architect whose work is reflected in many other structures in the Burlington area..

photo of original model of Given building

(Above) The 1956 design presented by the New York firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, in partnership with Burlington’s Freeman French Freeman architects.

By the late 1950s, alumni of the college had risen to the fundraising challenge in a remarkable way. Out of 1500 living alumni in 1957, nearly 800 contributed toward the project, with the oldest donor being a member of the Class of 1895. As the building effort was divided into three distinct phases, it was decided to name the first completed phase the Medical Alumni Building in honor of the efforts of the college’s graduates. In 1957, architect’s plans had refined a bit, with an extended structure, including open courtyards, planned to connect with the six-story main building. This model (above) of the concept showed the double-courtyard two-story structure that would become the Medical Alumni Building. The rest of the plan would be significantly changed.

1964 multi-page report, “A Commitment That Can Be Fulfilled

1964 multi-page report, “A Commitment That Can Be Fulfilled"

With this 1964 multi-page report, “A Commitment That Can Be Fulfilled,” (above) the College of Medicine Building Fund made its case to potential donors to finish the project. By that time, phases I and II, the Medical Alumni Building and the adjacent Medical Sciences Building (later incorporated into the northern wing of Given) had been completed. “Now the urgency to progress to Phase III is dictated by the nation’s demands for more doctors, more medical skills, more knowledge, and better service,” said the report. The project had hefty fundraising goals. More than a million dollars had been raised from alumni, but the project needed more than an additional $7 million to be completed. Through the early years of the 1960s, funding was secured from a combination of gifts and grants from business, industry, the federal government, and foundations—the largest of the latter category being a grant from the Given Foundation.

Photos showing progression of building

Hall A magazine coverPIECE BY PIECE
Over the course of the late 1950s, the plan for the complex changed from a rectangular, six-story structure to a combination of a two-story Medical Alumni Building, linked to a larger, four-story, squarish building containing extensive wet labs, administrative offices, lecture halls and a large auditorium, as well as a cafeteria, lounge spaces, and a large open-air courtyard. A medical library was funded by a grant from the Charles A. Dana Foundation. Dana built a fortune in the auto parts business, and funded numerous medical-related projects, including Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The Given Building’s Carpenter Auditorium was funded by a gift from Harlow Carpenter, co-founder of the Sugarbush ski resort.

The project came together in phases, linked to its supportive fundraising. The photos above show the progression from empty lot in 1957, to the completed Medical Alumni Building in 1959. Next, a portion of what would become the north side of Given was completed in 1962, and temporarily named the Medical Sciences Building. In 1965, with all funds in hand, ground was broken on the rest of the project, and Given was finally occupied in the autumn of 1968. Three significant buildings were dedicated on the same October day: Given, UVM’s new Marsh Life Sciences Building, and the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont’s Baird Wing. The college’s magazine, then called Hall A, dedicated its entire fall issue that year to photos of the new building and the arduous task of the “big move,” as the college transferred in a matter of weeks from its old home across campus.

Photos showing progression of building

The color architect’s rendering above shows Given as it existed in its pure International Style upon completion. In just a few years, new structures would connect on several sides: first the Rowell Building on the west, then, in 1999–2000, the Health Science Research Facility to the south. Finally, in 2005, the Medical Education Pavilion and the new medical library wing would connect the north side of the building to the medical center. The Medical Alumni Building was demolished to make way for this latter project. What lies ahead? Given will undoubtedly remain the heart of medical campus; but as with most aging hearts, some surgical renewal is in order. Plans are now being formulated to renovate much of the building, including its roof, windows, and mechanical systems.

Heinz ketchup bottle

A little-known fact is that there may never have been a Given Building if, in 1869, a 24-year-old Pittsburgh, Pa. businessman, Henry J. Heinz, had not formed a company to sell pickles and condiments. By 1875, his “57 varieties” included Heinz Ketchup, and the business flourished. Decades later, Heinz’s daughter, Irene Heinz Given, and her husband, John LaPorte Given, formed a foundation to channel their fortune toward the support of medical science. The Given Foundation’s $2 million donation in 1965 (equivalent to about $20 million today) closed a significant fundraising gap and made the project’s completion possible, a fact recognized by the naming of the complex. (The building was initially called the “Given Memorial Building,” but “memorial” was soon dropped from its formal name.)