Medbury Hall

Drake University was founded by the Disciples of Christ in 1881. Although the University separated from the church, it maintained the Bible College (later known as the Divinity School), founded in 1888. In 1954, the School began construction on a new facility, completing Charles Medbury Hall in one year. Individual donors and more than 170 Iowa churches made it possible through contributions amounting to $265,000. Furnishing of the new building alone cost $40,000. Each church and individual donor that made a contribution toward the construction of the structure has their name inscribed on a stone slab between Medbury Hall and Oreon E. Scott Chapel. Memorial plaques throughout the building honor donors for the furnishings.

The Saarinen firm had substantial experience with religious commissions, as evident in the design of Medbury Hall. For example, a circular skylight allows a solid beam of natural light into the otherwise dark stairwell. This element has obvious spiritual references. Eero Saarinen believed that architecture should “stimulate man’s imagination or give man confidence or make him feel proud.” This is an instance in which the dramatic qualities of the architecture make its intentions clearly evident. A similar light is the focus of Scott Chapel.

Because the Divinity School closed in 1968, Medbury Hall now houses the religion and philosophy department and the headquarters of the Honors Program. The building was originally made up of different units designed to fit specific purposes such as study, discussion, lecture, fellowship, and meditation. The building’s spacious lounge continues to foster community and learning by providing a space for everyday interactions.

Text: Ashley Machacek, Anthony Roark, Nicole Werner