A Tale of Three Campuses: Planning and Design in Response to Cultural Heritage at Mills College, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University: Perhaps the Most Enduring Contribution We Can Make Is to Know Intimately What Makes Our Campus Special

By Fiene, Karen; Sabbatini, Robert | Planning for Higher Education, April-June 2011 | Go to article overview

A Tale of Three Campuses: Planning and Design in Response to Cultural Heritage at Mills College, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University: Perhaps the Most Enduring Contribution We Can Make Is to Know Intimately What Makes Our Campus Special


Fiene, Karen, Sabbatini, Robert, Planning for Higher Education


How do forward-looking institutions with rich landscape and architectural heritages integrate contemporary programming and design? This article explores the evolution of the Mills College campus and compares it with two larger western universities: the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and Leland Stanford, Jr., University (Stanford University). How has the character of each campus been preserved or lost, and what measures are being employed today to ensure each campus's cultural heritage is valued and reflected in current planning and design? The three campuses have commonalities, yet each exhibits a unique character and predominant architectural style.

Campus Beginnings

The first impression of a visitor to Mills College is one of being in a lush garden with buildings set within the landscape. Early 20th-century Spanish Colonial Revival buildings line an allee of overarching London plane trees (figures 1 and 2). Thick stucco walls with deep-set windows and gabled clay tile roofs create an intimate scale further embellished with porches, balconies, and decorative arched entryways. In contrast, the Beaux Arts ensemble of the classical core at UCB is characterized by stone pediments, fluted columns, and decorative architraves topped with clay tile roofs (figure 3).

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But there are also interesting similarities between Mills College and UCB. Like many colleges in the 19th century, the two institutions were founded by eastern educators with religious origins intent upon providing spiritual guidance during the early days of the Gold Rush. After outgrowing their modest beginnings, both institutions were sited at the confluence of creeks on gently sloping open farmland with views of San Francisco Bay. Both campuses benefited from the powerful influence of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, mother of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, and from the work of renowned architect Bernard Maybeck, who taught at UCB.

Frederick Law Olmsted's 1865 plan for the College of California, UCB's predecessor institution, incorporated the natural meanderings of several creeks that broke the grounds into loose quadrants and situated the major buildings at the crest of a promontory (figure 4).

Olmsted employed a similar concept in his early plans for Stanford University in Palo Alto (figure 5). However, influenced by the European traditions seen in his travels, founder Leland Stanford ultimately imposed a formal arrangement of quadrangles surrounded by arcades whose massing recalled the local Spanish missions (figure 6).

A common thread influencing the design of all three campuses is the Ecole des Beaux-Arts training of their primary architects--John Galen Howard, Bernard Maybeck, and H. H. Richardson. Another architect of great influence was Julia Morgan. In addition to her Paris training, Morgan was the first woman to graduate from UCB with a degree in civil engineering. It was at UCB that she met Howard, Maybeck, and trustee Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Through these connections she designed buildings for both Mills College and UCB. One of Morgan's first commissions was Mills College's iconic El Campanil, which forms the nucleus of the campus's historic core (figure 7). The 1904 tower was one of the first reinforced concrete structures in California, and it impressed wary engineers after it survived the devastating 1906 earthquake. Morgan went on to design five more buildings at Mills that introduced elements influenced by Spanish missions, a departure from the earlier Second Empire Victorian style of Mills Hall. Walter Ratcliff, Jr., another graduate of UCB, trained with John Galen Howard and later became the Mills College campus architect.

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Rapid and expansive growth in the 20th century led to campus sprawl and erosion of the historic core at each institution. …

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