Campus Heritage in the 21st Century: Notable Precedents and Inspiring Antecedents: A Responsible Regard for Campus Heritage Is Part of Higher Education's History, and Is Becoming More Intentionally Woven into Campus Development
Dober, Richard P., Planning for Higher Education
As physical evidence of institutional aspiration and achievement, ambition and accomplishment, campus heritage (broadly defined) has emerged as a major component in comprehensive campus planning and in devising a site-specific sense of place. Physical actions related to campus heritage include the renewal and/or repurposing of landmark architecture, the restoration of legacy outdoor spaces and gardens, and the protection and installation of microscale elements such as benches, sculptures, and trees honoring local events and personalities.
In the first category is Muhlenberg College's version of Old Main (figure 1), an instructive example of campus heritage as transformative art. Originally a library and now a multipurpose office and classroom building, the landmark tower is a studied interpretation of Christopher Wren's entranceway at the University of Oxford's Christ Church College. It was intended to suggest a connection to classical university education and aesthetic values, a notion popular at the time the Muhlenberg edifice was constructed.
Campus heritage on a microscale is illustrated by the four columns standing on a lawn at the University of Washington (figure 2). These columns, the remnants salvaged from a fire that destroyed a historic and admired campus building, create a tribute to local history.
A responsible regard for heritage not only influences recognition and respect for the contributions to campus design of earlier generations but also affects new development.
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The melding of old and new can strengthen image and identity, respond to the search for authenticity in experiencing the built environment, and demonstrate participation in the historic preservation movement--a politically charged issue in some cities and towns. Reference to heritage can provide leaders with an element of emotion and sentiment in their appeals for support and funding for high-priority deferred maintenance and new construction at a time when public and private universities are struggling to fund human resources and financial aid and, in some instances, to simply survive.
Scanning the history of American higher education, one will find notable precedents for heritage as we have defined it. These include the invention, evolution, and spread of architectural styles influenced by heritage considerations. Thus, the Collegiate Georgian, Greek Revival, and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles were formulated and intended to be three-dimensional statements of cultural affinity with antecedents (early colonial institutions, democracy, and Oxbridge, respectively).
As a heritage statement, Collegiate Georgian provides some interesting examples of architecture as tribute to the beginnings of American higher education. In the 1920s, Harvard University filled both sides of the Charles River with picture-postcard Collegiate Georgian architecture, including a new campus for the business school and a half-dozen dormitories--the famed Houses. Brooklyn College's new campus (1936), the central campus area at Oklahoma State University (1970), Bucknell University (1980--see figure 3), and The College of New Jersey (2005) feature Collegiate Georgian buildings that have a stylistic resemblance to each other. The common elements can be traced back centuries to the College of William & Mary: a red brick box, steeple, pronounced portico, dormered roof lines, and white-trimmed windows and portals.
Duke University's West Campus is an informed example of heritage-rich Collegiate Gothic. The donor, James B. Duke (1924), adopted Princeton University's version as a suitable template for his eponymous institution. Successive generations have paid homage to the style at Duke with some visually interesting combinations of forms, materials, and door and window detailing. Princeton adopted the style earlier in the century during Woodrow Wilson's tenure as university president. Wilson believed that recreating Princeton's physical image in the form of an Oxbridge college would attract students from the South.
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Bates College's Collegiate Gothic building is an informative example of style as fashion--where funds permitted a campus would erect an example as a statement of institutional vitality regardless of the surrounding context. In time, the singular became a heritage statement.
Collegiate Gothic also provided Yale University and Washington University with a three-dimensional setting that influenced subsequent contemporary construction. The magnificent and monumental could not be ignored. Under the umbrella of "contextual architecture," the modern designer and client paid homage with designs that had a family resemblance to antecedents through their abstracted forms and materials.
Outstanding contextual architecture can also be found in the newer buildings around Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia, in the expansion of the central campus at Stanford University, and at Scripps College. Each campus is loaded with deep-rooted respect for the works of earlier generations.
In contrast, architectural heritage at Brown University involves constructing an example of the moment's leading style. As one would expect, as buildings age their interiors have been adapted to meet new needs and requirements while maintaining their outward appearance. The result is a palpable three-dimensional index to changing taste, technology, fad, and fashion.
Arguably, a green lawn surrounding trees and buildings may be the oldest continuous campus heritage statement. Not at all institutions, of course, but the formula has become a design expression that often defines the word "campus" as an image for the public at many of America's 4,200 colleges and universities. Examples from coast to coast include Marston Quad at Pomona College and Harvard Yard, models of honored heritage spaces.
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A generous definition of microscale heritage spaces would include the Shakespeare garden at Northwestern University, the century-old agricultural test plots at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the war memorial at Amherst College, and the image-defining historic walks at Howard University and the University of South Carolina.
In the examples that follow we underline an aspect of heritage not to be overlooked: the role of institutional leadership in recognizing and promoting heritage in campus planning, project formulation, and implementation. Again, there are precedents. Old Mains at the Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Arkansas are splendid period pieces and, for their time, adventuresome heritage-influenced designs. The origins and fate of each exemplify typical choices in addressing heritage issues and outcomes.
Penn State's first version of its Main Building used stone from an adjacent quarry. Severe deferred maintenance resulted in the building's demolition. The second version, designed by the prolific Charles Z. Klauder in the 1920s, reused the stone from the first in the facade and site-defining walls--gestures ripe with and rooted in local history emphatically encouraged by Penn State's leadership.
Klauder's contribution to campus heritage is also noteworthy in the Collegiate Gothic detailing of his multipurpose building (1927) at the University of Pittsburgh. With the active involvement of the university president, each of the major interior academic spaces was designed to bring to mind vernacular and emblematic architecture associated with the homelands of the city's immigrant populations.
Klauder's invention of a style using regional building materials and climate-sensitive forms and detailing at the University of Colorado at Boulder (1921) yielded a campus design motif that was later mandated by the administration and trustees as the template for the architecture to follow, positioning the university high on the list of physically attractive American institutions.
The University of Texas at Austin example is a variation on the decisions to take down a functionally obsolete building (1875) rife with construction flaws and to use a prominent site more fully. Architect Paul P. Cret was commissioned (1935) to design a legacy replacement. His first proposals generated heated discussion about how heritage is best expressed three-dimensionally in that part of Texas. The accepted solution was a modified Beaux-Arts base with a skyline tower; the detailing was intended to remind the viewer of the region's Hispanic-American roots.
For over a century, the University of Arkansas's landmark Old Main (1875) survived construction deficiencies, several fires, termites, and partial abandonment. Scheduled for demolition, it was saved (1991) by an astute university president who used heritage sentiment to package public and private funds for a comprehensive restoration and repurposing project.
During the last third of the 20th century, heritage emerged as an important element in strategic campus planning decisions to save and reuse college edifices vacated when replacements were necessary for growth, functional quality, and competition. Carleton College offers two model projects. Leighton Hall, a 1926 chemistry building, was redesigned for the humanities (1972), and Sayles-Hill, a 1910 gymnasium, was reconfigured as a multipurpose campus center (1979). In these instances, memories of place, people, and events were shrewdly publicized by the administration to muster approval among campus constituencies and to gain trustee support for implementation and funding.
Too often, site history is not sufficiently recognized as heritage, beginning with nature's endowment--hilltop, lake, riverside, forest, fen, and plains. Before it was a campus, the land was something else. Site acquisition and transformation is a tale worth telling. For example, during America's westward settlement in the 19th century, communities and creeds promoted the ideal that the presence of a college signaled progress and stability. Recognizing the three-dimensional evidence of a campus's beginning years can be instructive and inspiring.
In sum, heritage has always influenced campus design. The recent historic preservation efforts sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and the initiatives of the Society for College and University Planning/Getty Foundation are welcomed actions that help solidify and further a good cause.
Arguably, given precedents, antecedents, and current interest and activity, the campus could be considered a communal art work. As such, might not each campus have a curator of buildings and grounds, a tenured academic position responsible for promoting campus heritage during place-making and place-marking? In addition to representing heritage concerns in campus planning, facility programming, and related matters, that person would provide or sponsor an annual review of heritage-influenced policies, plans, and projects. As a result, the status of campus heritage as homage to the past, present reality, and guidepost for the future would be elevated, generating the desired distinctive sense of place.
Richard P. Dober, AICP is a senior consultant at Dober, Lidsky, Mathey, a firm specializing in all aspects of campus and facility planning. During his 50-plus years of professional practice, he has served several hundred colleges, universities, schools, related institutions, foundations, and government agencies worldwide. His recent assignments include the preparation of a strategic restoration plan for Lithuania's oldest higher education campus, Vilnius University, founded in 1569 and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. In addition to numerous articles, reviews, and editorials, he has written a cluster of benchmark reference works on campus development, including Campus Planning (Reinhold Publishing), which has been in print since 1964.…
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Publication information: Article title: Campus Heritage in the 21st Century: Notable Precedents and Inspiring Antecedents: A Responsible Regard for Campus Heritage Is Part of Higher Education's History, and Is Becoming More Intentionally Woven into Campus Development. Contributors: Dober, Richard P. - Author. Journal title: Planning for Higher Education. Volume: 39. Issue: 3 Publication date: April-June 2011. Page number: 36+. © 2009 Society for College and University Planning. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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