Austin Hall

By the late 1870s, Harvard Law School had outgrown Dane Hall, its home in Harvard Yard since 1832. Christopher Columbus Langdell LL.B. 1853, the school’s first dean, commissioned architect Henry Hobson Richardson to create a new building that featured large amphitheater-style classrooms designed for teaching using the case method, a pedagogy that Langdell originated. 

“I like the squeaking floors, the groaning of floorboards underfoot. They conspire to suggest the passage of many feet before. Austin with its vast lecture rooms, its rabbit warrens above, and odd-shaped burrows below, is always reminding one that to be a Harvard Law student is not a new thing.” 

Sabin Willett ’83, from “Austin Hall After a Century,” Harvard Law School Library, 1983

Completed in 1883, Austin Hall was the first building constructed on the law school campus, and today it is one of the oldest buildings in continuous use for law teaching in the United States.

Langdell Hall

Two decades after the opening of Austin Hall, Harvard Law School Dean James Barr Ames LL.B. 1872 commissioned a new building to accommodate the law school’s growing population and library

Langdell Hall, which opened in 1907, was designed with Ionic columns reminiscent of the school’s earlier home in Dane Hall. The building was named after Christopher Columbus Langdell, dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895.

Langdell’s Caspersen Room displays rare books, manuscripts, and memorabilia documenting the history of the law.

Today, the library’s collection features over 170 languages and contains over 2 million items (physical and digital), including more than 100,000 rare books and the primary law from 240 jurisdictions across the globe, making it the most extensive academic law library in the world.

Then & Now Harvard Law School Campus series