As enrollment for programs in BYU’s College of Biological and Agricultural Sciences swelled in the mid-1960s, the college was strapped for classrooms. Dean Rudger H. Walker called on the university to provide a new building designed with life science in mind, and the Board of Trustees drew up plans during the 1966 to 1967 academic year.
Around the same time, six BYU stakes reached out to the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints requesting that BYU design the new building to accommodate eight wards (original plans made the building large enough for four). In order to meet this request, BYU administration decided to split the planned building into two: one for laboratories and faculty offices, the other for lecture halls suitable for both classroom instruction and Sunday worship. Walkways at multiple levels connected the buildings. The laboratory building became the Widtsoe Building, and the other was named the Thomas L. Martin Classroom Building.
The name was a happy triumph for Walker. Thomas L. Martin was an English immigrant and internationally-renowned agronomist, and he was an agricultural science professor at BYU from 1921 to 1958. During that period he also served for a time as dean of the College of Applied Sciences, later renamed the College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences, making him a predecessor to Walker. However, their connection was even more personal: Martin had taught Walker while at BYU, and Walker was Martin’s first student to enroll in a PhD program. In total, about 110 of Martin’s students went on to earn PhDs, for which the American Society of Agronomy cited him as “teacher of the year” in 1950.
Central Utah Architects designed the edifice, and BYU contracted Tolboe Construction for building. Tolboe began construction in July 1968 and finished in 1969.
Throughout the Martin Classroom Building’s three stories (one underground, two aboveground), there are about 40,000 square feet of floor, twenty-four lecture rooms, and enough seating for over 2,000 students. Because the university planned to use the building for science lectures with slide projections, the classrooms have no windows, ensuring sunlight never interferes with projection visibility.
BYU remodeled the Martin Building in 2000, and in 2014 it added an elevator. (Previously, the only elevator access was through the Widtsoe, which BYU razed in 2015.)
In the twenty-first century, the Martin Classroom Building—typically nicknamed the MARB for its building code—hosts classes in many subjects, not just life science. Unfortunately, the MARB is not as beloved as its namesake was. Students often lament the windowless rooms, originally designed as a feature, for being dispiriting. And without the old walkways into the Widtsoe Building, the MARB’s single stairwell is frequently crowded. A satirical website declared the MARB one of the “BYU buildings no one cares about” and suggested “the highest priority” for any campus improvement should “be to fix the MARB so it is not absolutely terrible to get in and out” by adding “entrances for each level,” unwittingly hearkening back to the days when the Martin Classroom Building did have exits at multiple levels into the Widtsoe Building.
Students may not appreciate the MARB as much as their forebears admired Dr. Martin, but with so many lectures assigned to his Classroom Building, it will continue affecting their lives.