Macbride Hall

Macbride Hall

Macbride Hall

What You'll Find Here

  • Anthropology Department
  • Biosphere Discovery Hub
  • Hageboeck Hall of Birds
  • Iowa Hall
  • Macbride Auditorium
  • Mammal Hall
  • Museum Studies Program
  • Museum of Natural History
  • State Auditor’s Office
  • Classrooms


17 North Clinton Street
Formal Name: 
Macbride Hall
Proudfoot and Bird, Des Moines, Iowa

The commitment to erect a quartet of monumental buildings around Old Capitol was furthered by President George E. MacLean (1899–1911), who saw it as an effort to compose a formal university campus and to express better the academic aspirations of a modern institution of higher learning at the turn of the twentieth century. Mac- bride Hall, named for Thomas Huston Macbride, eleventh president of the University of Iowa, is perhaps the clearest example of this determination; construction could not begin until Calvin Hall had been moved off the Pentacrest and across Jefferson Street to the north. Once completed, Macbride stood as a testament to the University’s place as an outpost of civilization on the prairie, and it marked a continued determination to remake the architectural image of the University on a grander and more ordered scale—one that embodied MacLean’s conception of the civilizing role of the modern university. The build- ing houses the largest classroom on campus, as well as the Museum of Natural History—the oldest existing university museum west of the Mississippi. For more than four decades, the building was also the home of the University’s library. Built in the basement with exposed interior columns instead of walls, to accommodate the ever-increasing collection, the library still became so short of space that the floor was eventually lowered to house even more books.
While Macbride Hall resembles Schaeffer Hall in plan and elevation, significant variations between the buildings prevent the uniformity of the Pentacrest from becoming tiresome. Both have projecting Ionic porticoes in recessed central sections flanked by two wings, and prominent rotundas grace the west side of each building. Macbride’s portico is shallower, however, and its cornice is topped with ornamental urns, not globes, as seen at Schaeffer Hall. The façade is also less severe than Schaeffer’s, with channeled limestone and sculpted reliefs above the windows. The freestanding columns of the east portico become engaged columns on the north and south end façades and pilasters on the west face of the building. The rotunda, like Schaeffer’s, is reminiscent of the Italian Baroque, creating a play of light and shadow that adds to the building’s visual power and interest.
The Pentacrest buildings are meant to be seen in the round, and Macbride Hall is a particularly good example. The harmonious proportions, portico, and rotunda are all evident at a quick glance, but a closer look reveals extravagantly carved panels on the first-floor windows of the wings and end façades. The creatures in these relief sculptures are grouped by species, each having an animal at the center and related creatures forming the swags. The program was developed by William Temple Hornaday of Eddyville, Iowa, and sculpted by Sinclair Shearer of Perth, Scotland. Charles Nutting, professor of zoology, arranged the groups in the correct relationship. All of the vertebrate classes are included. The field of the pediment represents a buffalo, moose, and elk. Like the animals in the window panels, these three have been included because of scientific, not just decorative, interest; they are the largest mammals indigenous to North America. Walking the perimeter of Macbride Hall, “reading” them, one can find a hawk, turkey, snapping turtle, llama, stingray, eagle, and walrus. The orna- mental urns at attic level on the end façades are studded with three human heads each, representing different racial types—all related to the anthropological study of humankind appropriate to “natural science” as understood at the turn of the twentieth century.


The building has limited access to persons with disabilities.

The accessible entrance is located on the east side of the building. It leads directly to the building elevator and is equipped with a power door opener. The single building elevator provides access to the south wing of the building. The north wing of the building at the first floor is reached be passing through the Museum of Natural History. The north wing of the building at levels two and three is reached by passing through the auditorium.
The nearest accessible parking is located in the IMU Parking Ramp on the west side of Cleary Walkway, approximately one block north. The vehicular entrance to the parking ramp is located on Madison Street across from the Iowa Memorial Union. To reach Macbride Hall, exit the ramp toward the east from Level 4 to the Cleary Walkway. Follow the walkway south to the Pentacrest.
Restrooms with limited accessibility features are located on the lower level of the building.
The building elevator is located at the accessible entrance to the building.