Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Modern Architecture and the U.S. Campus Heritage Movement: Improvements in Attitudes Are Noticeable, but Modernist Campus Heritage Is Still Threatened

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Modern Architecture and the U.S. Campus Heritage Movement: Improvements in Attitudes Are Noticeable, but Modernist Campus Heritage Is Still Threatened

Article excerpt


The history of an educational institution is maintained both in its traditions--the customs and practices of the school-- and in its physical dimension--the buildings, landscapes, and other cultural resources that define its "campus" In the past 15 years, the memorialization of the American college and university campus--whether in urban, suburban, or rural contexts--has become a centerpiece of both the Society for College and University Planning's (SCUP) annual programs and the practice of its membership. But within recent history, it could be argued that campus preservation has largely existed by default, such that institutions maintained existing buildings for reasons of pragmatism or finance but not necessarily on the basis of cultural or historic significance.

Despite exceptions to this characterization, it is worthwhile to note a paradigm shift toward the deliberate conservation of existing and historic buildings in the contemporary approach to campus planning and development. The evolution of modern architecture at American colleges and universities, characterized by reconception of traditional learning environments and intervention within preexisting contexts, has led to our current appreciation for the campus as a rich architectural assemblage that is managed through time. Today historic preservation is more broadly understood as an act of institutional stewardship, a successful tool for strengthening diverse stakeholder relations, and a companion to sustainable development goals.

Early American Modernism and the Educational Environment

An examination of 20th-century architecture in the United States cannot begin without referencing the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Although his body of work did not include many educational facilities, Wright's approach to design was influenced by reforms in educational practice occurring at the turn of the 20th century. In his 1932 autobiography, the architect passionately reminisced on his formative experience with the kindergarten exercises of Friedrich Frobel (Wright 1932), and his exposure to this method became a touchstone for his philosophy of autodidacticism. In the early decades of Wright's independent practice, he frequently worked with clients who were either educators themselves or advocates of the progressive educational reform espoused by John Dewey. The educational principle of "learning by doing" was central to two of Wright's earliest commissions--the Hillside Home School (1901-03) designed for his aunts in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and the Playhouse (1912) designed for the Coonley Cottage School in Riverside, Illinois. (1)

Ultimately, Wright's greatest contributions to the character of American educational buildings were his concepts for complexes and site design. His career spanned a period in the evolution of architecture and planning that was significantly influenced by innovations in construction methods and the expansion of the automobile culture. Wright responded to these global technological changes with a theory of organic architecture that was determinedly both "modern" and American. Organic architecture grew from Wright's early "Prairie School" style and maintained tenets previously defined by the Arts and Crafts Movement, such as a respect for the properties of materials. However, his formal manner of integrating spaces into a coherent whole and the inspirations he drew from site and context were a bold departure from the Beaux Arts tradition of design that dominated the architecture of his era.

After the closure of the Hillside Home School (figure 1), Wright took over the property, which was adjacent to his own Taliesin home, and further developed the complex as a school for architects (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation n.d.). Conceived with then wife Olgivanna, the curriculum included a liberal assimilation of the fine arts and continued the principles of practical education through apprenticeship. In designing a series of connected, although functionally specific, wings, Wright conceived a "Main" building to accommodate working, dining, residential, and recreational areas. The complex, which evolved over time and was rebuilt following two fires, always maintained a rectilinear arrangement of courtyards and terraces that distinguished the building's functional zones while fostering a sense of community for its inhabitants. The program, known as the Taliesin Fellowship, encompassed all aspects of life at the campus-like estate and was largely self-sufficient.


At the age of 70 and having no similar commissions, Wright was approached to design "a great educational temple in Florida." The request came in the form of a 1938 telegraph from Ludd M. Spivey, president of Florida Southern College (FSC). The private liberal arts school was founded in 1885 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which Spivey was a minister. But he also held advanced degrees from the University of Chicago, where he was influenced by Dewey's philosophy of teaching (Smith 2008). Despite Depression-era conditions, Spivey undertook a remarkable mission to create a new academic complex, relying on great resourcefulness and (at least initially) student labor.

Wright's initial developmental plan (figure 2) evolved from the Lakeland campus context. Since designing the first Taliesin, his approach to site design had expanded to incorporate specific construction modules jointly inspired by site conditions and program. The campus's major axis extended north from the shore of Lake Hollingsworth, and the six-foot-square module design was loosely derived from the tree spacing of the site's existing citrus grove. At this time, Wright was also designing his Taliesin West complex in Arizona, and at FSC he used a similar set of angles to define the campus circulation and reportedly minimize obstructions with the existing grid of trees.


As the FSC plan evolved--at times referred to as the "College of Tomorrow" or "Child of the Sun"--the symbolic arrangement of structures remained consistent. In the final scheme, the library, science, and music halls formed a triad with a chapel at the center. The spiritual symbolism of this arrangement no doubt satisfied the ideals of the college. But for Wright, who characterized his faith as "nature spelled with a capital 'N'" the design was equally compatible with his organic architectural concepts. Similar to traditional aspects of campus design, academic departments were differentiated by formally distinct buildings. The assemblage was unified by a system of open-air circulation given architectural form through expressive cantilevered esplanades to provide shade in the hot climate. Following acceptance of the master plan, Wright produced preliminary building designs; the details and construction were supervised by his apprentices on site.

Many aspects of Wright's organic philosophy were embraced in the work of Richard Neutra, but their respective designs reflected differences of age and education. Neutra, born in Vienna, Austria, was a generation younger than Wright and arguably possessed less of Wright's autodidactic character. As a young student he was directly exposed to Sigmund Freud and other Austrian scholars of the period before beginning studies in engineering. His early interest in architecture was first influenced by Otto Wagner and then by Louis Sullivan, whose "Kindergarten Chats" (including the famous lesson "form follows function") he intended to translate for an Austrian audience. (2) Neutra's admiration for Sullivan eventually brought him to Chicago, but only just before the elder architect's death in 1924. After a brief period of employment with Wright, Neutra moved to Los Angeles and became a naturalized citizen.

Neutra's first educational buildings were rooted in a period of investigation that eventually found acceptance through a unique set of conditions. (3) His design for the "Rush City" Ring Plan School (1929) explored the community school typology for a suburban context. The rational spatial arrangement formed two distinct outdoor spaces--an inner courtyard for collective assembly and an outer zone extending from a ring of classrooms. The overarching principle was that the space of a classroom should mediate the indoor and outdoor environments. Four years later, the Long Beach earthquake devastated the Los Angeles area and particularly the public school system, which suffered 70 collapses. These building failures and the lack of seismic engineering led to regulations for the design and construction of all public schools in the state. Given that many of the structural failures occurred in multi-storied masonry buildings, Neutra's concept of single-story buildings with immediate access to the outdoors was seen favorably by the commissioners of the Los Angeles school board. His first project for the Corona School (1934-35) was a single wing of classrooms and employed a shear wall structural method (figure 3). Opposite the teaching wall, large sliding steel and glass doors opened onto an outdoor teaching patio defined by paving and hedges. With Los Angeles's moderate weather, this feature satisfactorily enlarged the instructional area by 30 percent. Although "open-air" schools were not a new concept, previous U.S. examples were primarily focused on enhanced ventilation in response to the tuberculosis epidemic. Neutra applied the values of ample fresh air and natural light to a more comprehensive reconception of the relationship between student and learning space. The 38 ft. x 24 ft. open rooms promoted flexible seating arrangements and eliminated the "rank and file" fixed furnishings that still dominated many school buildings of the era. Although Neutra first instituted these concepts in elementary and secondary schools, they were later adapted for his postsecondary projects. His fullest campus design was realized at Orange Coast College (1950-53) in Costa Mesa, California (figure 4).



If Neutra's scientific interest in the educational environment was complex, then the formal language that defined his school designs was simple by comparison. His embrace of functionalism and the relationship of his work to that of architects on the European continent were demonstrated in the 1932 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Modern Architecture exhibition, along with its accompanying text, The International Style (Hitchcock and Johnson 1932). Many of the featured projects focused on post-World War I architectural responses to societal and industrial conditions, particularly housing demand. The exhibit introduced the American public to the latest advances in design and construction and served in the interwar period as the definitive survey of contemporary architecture.

Later in the decade, a series of events further promoted the Modern movement within the practice of American architecture and on the academic campus in particular. Following the MoMA exhibit, three widely publicized architectural competitions focused on postsecondary schools were held. In early 1938, MoMA co-sponsored a competition with Wheaton College for the design of a new Art Center. Later that year, Goucher College advanced its relocation from downtown Baltimore to the city's northern suburbs by soliciting proposals for a new campus plan and college library. Finally in 1939, the American National Theater and Academy sponsored a competition for a proposed Festival Theater and Fine Arts Center on the campus of the College of William & Mary. Of the three competitions, only the winning Goucher College proposal by New York architects Moore and Hutchins was realized. Despite this shortcoming, the national exhibition of the proposals and the coverage in both the professional and popular press presented the public with radically different concepts for the American campus. Architects featured in the MoMA exhibit, such as Neutra and recent German emigre Walter Gropius, were invited to participate in all three competitions and their proposals were among the most innovative. (4)

The participation and influence of Gropius on American architecture in the 1930s represented a shift away from the centralization of the Modern movement on the European continent. By the beginning of the decade, the German Bauhaus school, which Gropius founded, was both a theoretical and practical leader in industrial arts and design. Ultimately, however, the rise of the National Socialist regime in the Weimar Republic and its rejection of modern architecture prompted an exodus of Bauhaus leadership for academic positions in the United States. Gropius and his student Marcel Breuer arrived at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1937 In the following year, Mies Van der Rohe, the last Bauhaus director, arrived in Chicago to lead the Armour Institute of Technology. Each of the architects continued their individual quest to innovate the process of design and construction at their new sponsoring institutions and beyond.

Prior to submitting his design proposals for the American competitions, Gropius had applied modern design strategies in two other academic projects--the Bauhaus complex in Dessau (1925-32) and Impington Village College (1935-37), which was completed during a brief partnership with Maxwell Fry before arriving in the United States. With the opportunity to design the new Harvard Graduate Center (1948-50), Gropius and his newly formed practice, The Architects Collaborative, worked within the existing campus context (figure 5). Plans for the new student center and dormitories maintained the existing scale of adjacent four- and five-story brick structures, but used a hyphenated composition of rectilinear housing wings to define an expansive sequence of courtyards.


Although the building forms were naturally simpler than their Georgian Revival neighbors, subtle geometries were reinforced through the differentiation of limestone and brick exterior treatments. The building structure was expressed through interplay of solid mass with the voids of windows and breezeways. The use of pilotis at the courtyard elevations additionally lightened the building bases and enhanced the visual experience of the ground plane.

Harkness Commons, as the project was later named, was cited in both the popular and professional press as a novel approach to academic architecture. With or without its influence, other modern ensembles soon emerged on college campuses, most notably the designs of architecture faculty Harold Bush-Brown and Paul Heffernan at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Interestingly, the modern work of architects Marion Manley and Robert Law Weed for the University of Miami actually pre-dated Gropius's work at Harvard. Their Memorial Classroom Building (1946-47) was the first new building to be constructed on the Coral Gables campus and was composed of two linear multi-story classroom blocks linked by a lecture hall (figure 6). Exposed concrete finishes and other structural components were a common feature of these early postwar projects, and certainly aspects of thrift contributed to their acceptance by college administrators. For the Harkness Commons project, Dean Joseph Hudnut publicized that construction cost per student had been reduced from an average of $12,000 (for the Georgian Revival dormitories) to $3,500 (MacLennan 1948).




As Gropius began his first university commission at Harvard, another European modernist, Alvar Aalto, was completing a residential project for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed in 1946 during his visiting professorship. Although not exclusively an educational structure, Baker House was an innovative expression of the dormitory typology for communal living and a deft demonstration of the unconventional use of curvature to manage the resident experience of an urban site (figure 7). Similarly, Marcel Breuer's Ferry Cooperative House (1948-51) at Vassar College reconceived the student residence as a block of units elevated above a generously glazed ground floor, with flexible configurations for communal living and study spaces (figure 8).

As Wright was beginning his first plans for Florida Southern College in 1941, Mies Van der Rohe was developing the master plan for the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Notably, the conception and implementation of the two campuses occurred at roughly the same time, and each represents the largest collection of its designer's built work. Their respective campus designs represent the defining attitudes of American and European modern architecture at mid-century.

Shortly after Mies's arrival in Chicago, the Armour Institute merged with another school to become IIT His academic tenure and his design for the newly invigorated institution extended over the course of three decades and included a major building campaign facilitated by the growth of the school's South Side campus through municipal slum-clearance initiatives.5 The proposed architecture was certainly viewed as a departure from the existing historic context. But such contrast ultimately owed less to architectural style than to the scale of urban renewal, which was typical of similar projects throughout the country. Mies proposed a rational framework for an academic environment and on the flat site created a unified block apportioned according to a 24-foot-square module. As intended, the grid applied equally to both the arrangement of building interiors and the open space in order to promote a unique aesthetic continuity within the campus. The grid also supported modularization of building materials in an effort to control construction and material costs for steel, glass, and buff-colored brick. After constructing a series of noble yet modest classroom and administration buildings, Mies completed S. R. Crown Hall (1950-56) for the architecture school (figure 9). The long-span steel-frame structure enabled a column-free open plan for the main floor and demonstrated the architect's innovative concept of "universal space"--infinitely adaptable to changing use.


The Postwar American College Campus

While the influence of the architectural precedents described previously contributed to the emergence of Modernism on college and university campuses, other change factors were involved as well. In the first half of the 20th century, the development of U.S. educational facilities was spurred by federal funding. During the Great Depression, the federal distribution of funds to state university systems through the Public Works Administration (PWA) (and later through the Works Progress Administration [WPA]) led to the construction of thousands of public postsecondary facilities throughout the country. Toward the end of World War II, postsecondary admissions began to increase greatly. The passage of the GI Bill in 1944 provided funds for returning veterans to begin or complete their education. Additionally, the movement toward coeducation gained further ground during the war era when male institutions either merged with local female schools or decided to temporarily admit female students. By 1955, a system of mass higher education had expanded across the nation to accommodate nearly 2.5 million students annually (U.S. Census Bureau 2009).

In general, the PWA federal funding campaign raised the standard of construction for public school buildings across the nation by mandating the use of fire-resistant steel and concrete construction. Although the educational projects of the New Deal were dressed in the popular historicist revival styles of the day, the national promotion of modern building technologies on public campuses did lead to an acceptance of modern design principles. Further, the introduction of specialized building materials, such as reinforced concrete and the glazed curtain wall, led to greater functional differentiation of building forms.

Following the moratorium on campus construction during World War II, colleges and universities rapidly got back to the business of expansion. A typical example of the progression in architectural tastes can be seen in the design of the Science Building completed in 1954 for Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University) (figure 10). As on many other U.S. campuses, the college's greatest expansion of science and laboratory facilities occurred during the 1950s. The building design evolved over a 10-year relationship with Georgia architect Elliot Dunwody. The designer's previous PWA-funded work for the college employed Beaux Arts composition and the Colonial Revival style, and such principles were followed in his first design for the Science Building, completed in March 1942. The drawings proposed a symmetrical three-story structure with an entry portico and an interior organized by a long double-loaded corridor. The drawings were revised along a similar approach through 1948, except for the notable addition of uninterrupted bays of horizontal windows. Three years later, the design was transformed again for final construction. The 1951 design was an asymmetrical building massing with a setback relationship to the street. Devoid of Classical ornamentation, the treatment of the exterior shifted to a simplified formal expression of its brick, limestone, and glass materials. Although the college continued to utilize historic styles in its dormitory construction, the change in approach for this and subsequent research and laboratory facilities embraced the symbolic connotations of science with modern design.

During World War II, many institutions received federal funding for new gymnasiums or auditoria that served immediately as facilities for military officer training. After the war, the expansion and diversification of academic units supported the development of specialized building typologies--among them multiple variations of scientific, industrial, and even domestic laboratories. Academic libraries began to be the equal of laboratories and other departmental facilities in demonstrating an institution's research potential. The imperative to increase the accessibility of collections, combined with new criteria for controlling and expanding storage, led to immediate determinations of obsolescence for most prewar academic library structures.



Commissions for new facilities led to campus landmarks such as the 1953 Price Gilbert Memorial Library (figure 11) by Bush-Brown, Gailey, and Heffernan at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Crossett Library (1959) by Pietro Belluschi at Bennington College. Both buildings featured extensive use of modern glazing systems; notably, the Memorial Library also included a double-height reading room with a north-facing curtain wall. In later decades even more extravagant modern library concepts emerged, particularly when supported by an able patron. Gordon Bunshaft's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University (1963) housed a fragile collection within a windowless cube, though it created dramatic presence in the filtration of natural light through its frame of thin, translucent Vermont marble panels.

The world crisis culminating in World War 11 stimulated an emphasis on the humanities among private institutions and prompted a reconsideration of the technical curriculum at many state colleges. Beginning in the late 1950s, the concept of the academic campus as the seat of culture led to the development of buildings for fine and dramatic arts, libraries, and museums. While pioneering faculty at design schools such as Cranbrook Academy and IIT were able to promote Modernism for their own classroom and studio facilities decades earlier, the architectural style was not commonly adopted by colleges and universities before this time. Louis Kahn's Yale University Art Gallery (1953) was uniquely designed as both an exhibition space for the institution's collection as well as an educational environment for the instruction of art and architecture (figure 12). Other notable facilities followed at private institutions, such as Paul Rudolph's Jewett Arts Center (1955) at Wellesley College and Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (1962) at Harvard University (the architect's only completed project in this country). The trend of investment in specialized facilities expanded further on public campuses after the passage of the 1963 Higher Education Facilities Act. This legislation authorized a five-year program of federal grants and loans for classrooms, libraries, and laboratories at public community colleges and technical institutes, as well as undergraduate and graduate facilities at other institutions of higher education. Two years later, it was incorporated into the broader Higher Education Act of 1965 as part of the Great Society program.


The passage of these two laws resulted in a major general college building program. Within the decade, the federal contribution to postsecondary education increased more than 300 percent (Snyder and Dillow 2010). The Performing Arts Theater and Fine Arts Center (1966-68) by Richard Aeck and Associates at Augusta Junior College (now Augusta State University) was a representative project of this era. The theater was sited at a prominent location near the campus gates and featured a structurally sophisticated, cantilevered entrance canopy (figure 13).


By the 1940s, student residences had become a common amenity at colleges and universities. The English model of the residential college was adopted by many private institutions in the northeast, particularly through the support of educational patron Edward S. Harkness during the 1920s and '30s. At Yale, Harkness's contributions were designed by his favorite Gothic Revival architect, James Gamble Rogers. Forty years later, architect Eero Saarinen reconceived this typology for Yale's Stiles and Morse Colleges (1961-62) (figure 14). Like his father Eliel's Gothic interpretations at Cranbrook Academy, Eero experimented with form and layout to define an architecture of experience. His designs for the complexes included intimate courtyards similar in scale to those employed in Rogers's nearby designs. But the highly irregular plans created a far more enigmatic space that seemed to evolve directly from the shapes of the rough-cut stones used in the masonry walls. Saarinen's expressionist approach to contextual design became a precedent for new buildings at many other Collegiate Gothic enclaves, such as Duke University's West Campus.


Even at those schools that did not adopt the English pedagogical model, the domain of private boarding houses was eventually claimed through institutional initiatives to secure enrollments by providing dedicated student housing. In addition, the 1950 Housing Act provided educational institutions with loans for housing repairs and additions as well as for the construction of new facilities for students and faculty. One notable campus housing project was I. M. Pei's East Campus Dormitories (1964-65) designed for the fledgling New College in Sarasota, Florida (figure 15). In this early independent project, Pei continued the rational design approach of his mentors Gropius and Breuer, creating a tightly knit complex of residences defined by narrow courtyards to provide cross ventilation and natural shading. The project of another Gropius/Breuer acolyte, Hugh Stubbins, also deserves reference, albeit on a much larger scale. The Southwest Residential Area (1966-68) of the University of Massachusetts Amherst was conceived as a complex of 19 structures providing residential, dining, and event spaces (figure 16). The project was sited outside the historic campus core and utilized a mixture of high-rise towers and low-rise structures that balance density with scale. In such a quasiurban project, student interaction and a sense of community are promoted through a pedestrian-oriented site design that includes both formal and informal outdoor spaces.



But of course, the list of innovative and experimental modern campus buildings--student unions, athletic complexes, etc.--could go on. And as principles and methods developed, design firms began to specialize in academic buildings--most notably Perkins & Will and Caudill Rowlett Scott (CRS) following their early work in the Midwest and Texas, respectively. To accommodate the continuously growing postsecondary population, multiple studies and evaluations of the existing educational system and its capacity were conducted at both the federal and state level. Facility criticism revolved around the catchphrase "egg crates," which suggested that rigid classroom design and architecture were impeding education and pedagogy. Such observations prompted the development of a scientific approach to rationally organize, or even industrialize, educational construction. By this time, states had evolved into diversified postsecondary systems defined by research universities, senior colleges, and community colleges. In addition, state legislators and academic administrators foresaw an approaching surge in university enrollment due to the baby boom.

To increase the participation of educators in building design and to better match facilities with educational needs, the nonprofit Ford Foundation established the Educational Facilities Laboratories (EFL) in 1958. The EFL's mission was to stimulate new ideas for better and more economical school and college buildings. Led by former school superintendent Harold B. Gores, the program initially focused on the issues of primary and secondary school facilities. By the 1960s, the organization included staff drawn from the leading architectural practices focused on education, including Jonathan King of CRS. The EFL's 1964 national report, Bricks and Mortarboards, summarized the prevailing issues and constraints affecting four major types of campus buildings--classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and dormitories (Educational Facilities Laboratories 1964). The topic of "scale" was naturally an issue with all four typologies, which were collectively criticized as incapable of accommodating the enrollments forecasted for the following six years. The most transformative aspect of the report was its priority on constructing large-scale lecture halls. The enlargement of instructional facilities reflected the many recent advances in audiovisual technology, but was also due to a nationwide shortage of teachers that necessitated larger section sizes. Although allowances for traditional small group and seminar instruction spaces did not disappear, their construction was largely superseded by the immediate demands of mass education.



Such large-scale facilities served as building blocks for expansion of the largest state systems (California, New York, and Illinois). Edward Durell Stone's design for the State University of New York at Albany (1961-72) and Walter Netsch's design for the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) (1963-68) were among the largest and most ambitious public education projects of the era. Although Stone's Uptown Campus in the pastoral city outskirts (figure 17) differed from Netsch's design in UIC's urban context (figure 18), both projects adopted "mega-structure" concepts to unify disparate programmatic elements through expansive building footprints. On both campuses, pedestrian planes are elevated above "inhabited" plinths containing large-scale classrooms and service functions. However, such all-in-one concepts ultimately restricted conditions for alteration or expansion (not unlike the "Old Main" typology of the historic era) and were either eventually demolished (in the case of UIC) or fell out of architectural favor. A more enduring model (figure 19) for the "instant" campus was achieved in the design by Paul Rudolph (with Desmond & Lord) for the Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (1964-72) (now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth). Rudolph, too, was motivated if not bound by conditions of infrastructure in designing a contemporary university. But unlike in other projects from the era, he actively anticipated the nature of the campus's evolution and stated that his central core "must be strong enough as a center of the campus, and other architects will add on to that. But the cohesiveness of the center remains intact" (Cook and Klotz 1973, p. 91).



Parallel to the development of new university complexes, the late 1960s also saw the expansion of higher education opportunities through the nationwide development of community or "junior" colleges. These schools represented a new academic campus typology, expressly conceived without a residential component yet able to service a larger regional area thanks to the dominant automobile culture. Ernest Kump (with Masten and Hurd) and landscape architect Hideo Sasaki's design for Foothill College (1960-62) in Los Altos, California expressed the growing regionalism that began to distinguish modern architecture across the country (figure 20).

Notably, this period also saw a number of modern interventions within older existing buildings. In 1959, The Architects Collaborative performed a "gut renovation" of the interior of Harvard's Boylston Hall (1858) to create a new language study center (figure 21). In 1965, Paul Rudolph performed a similar architectural procedure at Emory University in his design for the Pitts Theology Library (figure 22). Both interior designs employed contemporary spatial and technological concepts, and yet substantiated the reuse of existing buildings on the academic campus. In navigating their historic contexts and the relationship between a building's interior use and its exterior contribution to the campus, the projects were largely successful. However, Boylston Hall did, in an unfortunate wholesale manner, replace the original exterior wood windows with large expanses of glass. Such losses of historic fabric became routine in the following decades as existing buildings were heavy-handedly modified to meet the criteria of contemporary construction.



"Old Main" and Today's Campus Heritage Movement

For every generation, certain visions of the "historic" tend to dominate popular thought. The nation's earliest preservation initiatives focused on sites representing political independence and cultural hegemony such as Independence Hall (1816) and Mount Vernon (1854). The list of 19th-century landmark restorations also includes Princeton University's Nassau Hall (figure 23), which hosted the Continental Congress in 1783. Following not one but two fires, the school's administration rebuilt the structure to honor its historic appearance and context. Later in the 1800s, private and public initiatives organized to commemorate events and individuals associated with the Civil War. This cycle of commemorative acts, largely realized through private philanthropy or political largesse, continued into the 20th century.

For the generations that came to maturity after World War II, the practice of preserving historic buildings and sites has become an imperative, something seen as in the public's best interest. The 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) was the watershed moment in the U.S. preservation movement. The original legislation established the National Register of Historic Places, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the framework for a system of checks and balances used to evaluate diverse cultural resources before initiating development projects (Murtagh 1988). At the time of the NHPA legislation, the concept of American cultural identity had evolved significantly from its prior focus on colonial beginnings. The nation had prevailed through the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II and was approaching its bicentennial. At this point of reflection, there was growing interest in the period of prosperity following the Civil War, when America established itself as a nation through the development of institutions such as colleges and universities.


Arguably, at the moment preservation reached the national consciousness, public interest was focused on the historic era associated with "Old Main" (figure 24). Notably, over 33 percent of the four-year institutions operating in 1966 were founded between 1862 and 1899.6 Richard Dober's (2007) eloquent text devoted to the legacy of Old Main provides a survey of the physical characteristics and describes the emotional resonance of these inaugural college buildings. They were constructed in a range of architectural styles popular at the time for governmental and institutional buildings. Many were picturesque Victorian or Richardsonian confections that supplied a fledgling school with visual delight in a park-like setting. The Old Main buildings that survived to the postwar era (likely more were lost to fire than demolition) achieved a certain measure of significance as their weathered brownstone, copper patina, and simple mass of load bearing walls stood in contrast to subsequent modern constructions.

Throughout the 1970s, the immoderate and at times egregious imposition of new academic facilities within existing campus or neighborhood precincts all too often became synonymous with modern architecture in general. However, this criticism fails to parse the manner in which existing context is addressed by a building's outward trappings. Certainly, tabula rasa has been the license of many movements in architectural history and subject to debate in every instance. By the 1960s modern design was embraced throughout the architectural profession and used in a variety of academic applications, some more successful than others.


The NHPA slowly began to influence the development patterns of colleges and universities. Then (just as today), the tenets of the act were only applied to projects initiated by federal agencies or in receipt of such funding. It is important to note that originally the provisions for the review of project impacts (Section 106) applied only to properties actually listed in the National Register. It was not until 1976 that Congress extended the act's provisions to properties not yet listed but still meeting eligibility criteria. The requirement to consider all eligible historic resources within a project area promoted a greater sensitivity toward historic contexts, prompted the survey of undocumented resources and archaeology, and contributed to the recording of local history.

Created by the NHPA, State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) assumed their role in the process by surveying the historic resources of private and public colleges and universities and providing expertise in preparing nominations to national and state registers. SHPO involvement increased at the state and local level through the 1980s as many provisions of the NHPA, including Section 106 review and Section 110 agency stewardship programs, were adopted by states to regulate their own project funding and facility maintenance. By the late 1990s, over one million buildings were listed in or part of districts listed in the National Register, with an average of 30,000 added annually. Clearly, the NHPA has contributed to the protection and conservation of innumerable historic resources.

By the turn of the 21st century, conditions were ripe for an evaluation of the college and university campus on a national scale. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of college students increased by over 50 percent from 10 million to 15.3 million (U.S. Census Bureau 2009), and most American campuses were experiencing the impact of increased facility demand. Although a framework for campus preservation planning had been suggested by comparable federal and state facility management programs, there were no models that sufficiently justified the benefits of historic preservation among other competing interests within the conventional academic physical master plan process. This condition persisted despite frequent conflicts concerning institutional responsibilities under federal and state regulations. The Getty Foundation Campus Heritage Initiative program, detailed elsewhere in this issue of Planning for Higher Education, recognized the opportunity and need to assist the college and university sector in the management and preservation of its cultural resources.

In the 86 grants provided by the foundation, considerable attention was given to Modernist architecture and landscapes, including studies at the campuses of Cranbrook Academy, Bryn Mawr College, Florida Southern College, University of Arkansas, and the State University of New York at Albany, as well as a program-wide survey for the Council of Independent Colleges. Parallel to the Getty Foundation program, other initiatives furthered the discourse on campus preservation's relationship to modern design. The Cranbrook Academy symposium and student competition, "Preservation as Provocation" (2006-07), was conceived to balance aspects of preservation with architectural design. The program used Eliel Saarinen's completed campus design as a laboratory for investigation. Instead of traditionally adapting buildings to satisfy new library and museum programs, the competition promoted ideas inspired by the context--in essence investigating programs to complement the existing buildings.


In recent years, there has been significant recognition of Modern buildings and landscapes on private and public campuses across the nation. National Historic Landmark status, the country's highest honor, has been given to S. R. Crown Hall at IIT, Richards and Goddard laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Air Force Academy campus. In addition, major restoration and rehabilitation campaigns at IIT, Florida Southern College, and Yale University have demonstrated both the value of Modern movement resources and the potential to sustain them into the future.

Despite this positive evidence, the legacy of the Modern movement continues to be threatened. Many buildings and landscapes, particularly those of regional or state significance, remain unrecognized in campus inventories. Further, premature determinations of obsolescence often arise from insensitive facility program surveys and condition assessments. Too often, conditions resulting from deferred maintenance or correctable building faults are cause for building replacement. Many buildings of the era are characterized by designs involving minimalist detailing or experimental construction efficiencies. Although these aspirations may have led to the elimination of traditional construction "redundancies," such details can in most cases be remediated to sustain long-term use.

As in all preservation campaigns, subjective opinion can be a strong impediment to conservation. Sentiments opposing the Modern movement exist among design professionals, administrators, and users. Stylistically biased planners typically regard campus buildings from the era as aberrations or remnants from some Dark Age of institutional development. The persistent demand for state-of-the art facilities also encourages the perception of these buildings as "outmoded" or "dated" among department heads and university administrators. And given the market competition for the best students and scholars, negative comments on facility appearance have taken on greater significance. Although there may be no remedy for the avowed anti-modernist, professional planners and designers must overcome such conflations and objectively distinguish building symptoms from the building itself.

In the mind of this practitioner, the preservation of Modern movement architecture and landscapes has broadened the understanding of preservation as a valuable component of planning and design. Overcoming this philosophical hurdle followed inevitably from the preservation movement's first reactions to expansive change in the built environment in the post-World War II era. The college and university campus will always be a site characterized by perpetual development and transformation in response to contemporary research and demand. But today we share a greater appreciation for the fact that old (and existing) buildings need not be obstacles in the field of progress.


Bluestone, D. 1998. Mecca Flat Blues. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 57 (4): 382-403.

Cook, J. W., and H. Klotz. 1973. Conversations with Architects. London: Lund Humphries.

Dewey, J. 1915. Schools of Tomorrow. New York: E. P Dutton and Company.

Dober, R. P 2007. Old Main. Ann Arbor, MI: Society for College and University Planning.

Educational Facilities Laboratories. 1964. Bricks and Mortarboards: A Report on College Planning and Building. New York: Educational Facilities Laboratories.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. n.d. Taliesin--Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture: Historic Legacy. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from the World Wide Web:

Hitchcock, H. R., and P Johnson. 1932. The International Style. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

Kornwolf, J. D., ed. 1985. Modernism in America, 1937-1941: A Catalog and Exhibition of Four Architectural Competitors. Williamsburg, VA: College of William & Mary.

Lamprecht, B. 2005. Richard Neutra, Bolshevik of School Building. Lecture transcript. University of California, Los Angeles.

MacLennan, N. 1948. Harvard Decides to "Build Modern," New York Times, Oct. 25.

Murtagh, W. J. 1988. Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America. Pittstown, NJ: Main Street Press.

Smith, K. 2008. Frank Lloyd Wright's West Campus of Florida Southern College: An Overview. In The Frank Lloyd Wright Campus, Florida Southern College Campus Heritage Preservation Plan, Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects, 81-173. Lakeland, FL: Florida Southern College.

Snyder, T. D., and S. A. Dillow. 2010. Digest of Education Statistics 2009. (NCES 2010-013). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2009. Table A-1: School Enrollment of the Population 3 Years Old and Over, by Level and Control of School, Race, and Hispanic Origin: October 1955 to 2008. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from the World Wide Web:

Wright, F. L. 1932. An Autobiography. New York: Longmans, Green and Company.


(1.) Dewey (1915) offered early praise for the Coonley School in Schools of Tomorrow.

(2.) Sullivan's "Kindergarten Chats on Architecture" started as a series of separate articles published in Interstate Architect and Builder (1901-02) in which a master architect teaches a student principles of architecture and philosophy. The text followed a Platonic style of dialogue also used by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.

(3.) Context provided by Lamprecht (2005).

(4.) For a full account of the competitions, see Kornwolf (1985).

(5.) For more on this context see Bluestone (1998).

(6.) Data collected by the author on the institutional founding of 1,604 U.S. public and private four-year colleges.

Jon Buono is a senior associate in historic preservation and design with Einhorn Yaffee Prescott in New York, New York. He also serves on the board of DOCOMOMO United States and contributes to the international organization's register of significant Modern movement resources. He has led planning projects for numerous private and public colleges and universities. In 2005 (while with Lord Aeck Sargent Architects) he led a multidisciplinary team funded by the Getty Foundation's Campus Heritage Initiative to create the University System of Georgia's "Campus Historic Preservation Plan Guidelines."

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