Fitch Hall of Pharmacy

Fitch Hall of Pharmacy (1949) is named in honor of Fred Fitch (1870-1951), its benefactor of $100,000. Fitch, by age twenty-two, had become a barber, experimenting with hair products. Soon he was manufacturing over forty hair-care products and cosmetics at the F. W. Fitch Co. in Boone, Iowa. By 1917, the W. Fitch Co. had moved to Des Moines, and subsequently had plants in California, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Canada.

Fitch Hall was one of the first two buildings to be erected in an expansion plan for Drake University in the years following the World Wars. Fitch Hall and its sister building, Harvey Ingham Hall of Science, were joined in academic purpose, as well as physically connected by Des Moines’ first skywalk.

Fitch Hall sits perpendicular to Harvey Ingham Hall of Science and is connected at its top level to the Hall of Science by an enclosed footbridge, an architectural reference to the Walter Gropius designed Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, which was built between the World Wars. This walkway is also a predecessor to the many skywalks that adorn downtown Des Moines today.

The architects behind the Drake University postwar expansion plan were Eliel and Eero Saarinen, who with their Michigan-based firm, Saarinen, Swanson, and Saarinen, were creative forces on the U.S. architectural scene at the time. Having designed a great portion of the Cranbook schools, outside Detroit, Eliel Saarinen was prepared for the job of moving university landscapes into the future—and making sure that more than their form was modern and future-leaning. The Saarinens’ vision was that function was an integral part of form, and the function of preparing and educating our next generations was key to successful design and enduring structures.

At a time when the U.S. was expanding its role on the world stage, the Saarinens were expanding the canon of architecture with their particular attention to internal and external connections. The dominant window walls and placement of the staircases at Fitch Hall, for example, create a dialogue between the interior of the building and its surroundings.

Signature elements of the Saarinens’ design aesthetic are found in Fitch Hall in the details that create adornment and function. The large oak panels, combined with blue and grey ceramic acoustic tiles, and asphalt floor tiling, are juxtaposed to offer myriad textures, sizes, shapes, and colors. These same elements help to unite Fitch and Harvey Ingham Halls.

Text: Michaela Mullin, Rebecca Rieck, and Yvette Sutton