Phillips Hall opened in 1919 to house many of the university's science departments, which had been scattered around the campus. The Departments of Math, Physics, and Engineering were the first occupants. As Phillips was being built, the Tar Heel boasted that the new building would be the "best equipped of its kind in the South" and that it would "equal those at Harvard and Yale." In addition to modern scientific facilities (including a "dynamo room"), it contained reinforced steel and concrete that were supposed to make it fireproof. It has been expanded several times since 1919, including the addition of the Phillips Annex, built in 1960 to house the university's Computation Center.
The distinctive style of Phillips Hall, called English Collegiate at the time it was built, has led to one of the most unlikely, although persistent, myths about the campus. Students have suggested that it was not designed for UNC—Chapel Hill at all, that the campus architect received plans meant for another campus. The design of Phillips Hall, however, was intentional, with the building style specified in the construction contract. It was built during a period of architectural experimentation on campus, with buildings such as the Smith Building, Campus Y, and Battle-Vance-Pettigrew departing from the style of the older buildings. It has not been one of the more popular buildings on campus. Historian Archibald Henderson wrote that "the general effect was that of an industrial plant, suggesting automobiles or sewing machines."
The building is named for three members of the Phillips family, all of whom taught at UNC in the nineteenth century: James Phillips, an early math instructor; Charles Phillips, who taught math and engineering and briefly served as acting president of the university; and William Battle Phillips, who earned the university's first doctorate when he received a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1883.
Date Established: 1918
Date Range: 1918 – Present