The Lillie Auditorium, Home of TEDxWoodsHole: A Room for the Ages

By Matt Person

What would the pioneering Woods Hole scientists who first used Lillie Auditorium for science lectures in the mid-1920s think of this year’s TEDxWoodsHole?

We could speak of how dramatically this communications/lecture/theater space has changed since that time, but that would not be entirely accurate. Yes, there’s a sound and video system and carpeting…but the actual space, the sculpted concrete 1925 amphitheater space, has not really changed much in close to 90 years.

You can still rest your hat on a hat holder, which is underneath every wooden seat in the auditorium! The wooden seats themselves have been slated for the chopping block a number of times over the years as notions of what makes a solid lecture space chair have changed, but for now we think that the original chairs are exactly where they should be.

These Lillie facts are a testament to good design serving the communication needs of the MBL; the space and its remarkable ambiance and the human knowledge dissemination process which first took place here in the 1920s still continue today, pretty much unchanged, except for the PowerPoints, perhaps.

When the architecture firm Coolidge and Shattuck designed this space in the 1920s, they understood that this was not a concert hall, nor was it to be a theater, or a deep-well college lecture hall. They understood the importance of community and conversation as a vital element of the Woods Hole science process, and it is that element which has made this space such a success. Lectures are able to shift from being given to being discussed and argued over in a seamless segue…and you can always see the entire community in the auditorium, because the seats broadly and gently sweep back and up, encouraging a relaxed, open atmosphere. In fact, Coolidge and Shattuck seem to have created the ideal venue for TedXWoodsHole!

Community and conversation have always permeated life in Woods Hole. Indeed, in Volume 2, Number 1(July 8th 1927) issue of the MBL Collecting Net newspaper, Dr. Edwin Grant Conklin of Princeton University wrote an article “Naming of Woods Hole is Traced To Norsemen.” If you take a moment to read this article, you might agree that the cutting-edge thinking, the imagination, and the collaborative incisiveness, which are at the heart of TEDxWoodsHole, have always been here at MBL and in the Lillie Auditorium, as a reading of this article would make a great TEDx presentation today!

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