Cowles Hall was made possible by a gift from the Cowles Foundation in 1941. President Samuel Stevens anticipated the need for better facilities during World War II and quickly built Cowles Hall and Darby Gym in 1942 to accommodate the Officers’ Candidate School. Cowles was not available for civilian use until 1945. With the completion of the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center and its new dining facilities, Cowles and Quad dining halls were no longer needed. Cowles dining was retrofitted to provide additional accessible housing. The Des Moines architectural firm Herbert Lewis Kruse & Blunck designed the retrofit, and Neumann Brothers DesignBuild Solutions completed it.
Cowles Hall features two student lounges and one public kitchen. The rooms are assigned as singles, doubles, and apartment-style quads. Cowles has dorm-style housing and a lounge west of the main entrance, with apartment-style housing to the east. The apartments include double-height living rooms, bedroom lofts, and a hallway looking over the living space. Two of the apartments have first floor bedrooms and accessible kitchens and bathrooms.