Magazine article University Business

Creating Campus Appeal: Architecture's Effect on the Message Conveyed about an Institution

Magazine article University Business

Creating Campus Appeal: Architecture's Effect on the Message Conveyed about an Institution

Article excerpt

THE BEAUTY OF A COLLEGE campus is a powerful influence on students' choice of college and the affection of alumni for their alma mater. No one truly understands what leads a student to select one college over another or why, many years later, the emotions of alumni are linked to specific places on campus. At some level, these individuals all recognize that the campus is the physical manifestation of an educational philosophy to which the college is committed and that is conveyed through educational experience.

A central quadrangle, for example, is surely an expression of the goal of encouraging students, for whom studying is usually a solitary activity, to interact and literally cross paths with others as they move from one class or activity to another. A college where the chapel is the largest building on campus sends a different message from one where the library or field house is the biggest. On a campus where an "Old Main" houses the senior administration, the meaning is changed from when it once housed classrooms and faculty offices. An older, well-preserved building in a prominent location tells visitors that the college values its traditions and its history. And the planning and creation of contemporary buildings signal the college's willingness to foster the best of innovative architecture, thus contributing to an expansion of knowledge of and experience with the physical environment.

Because the early days of American higher education were dominated by private institutions, many of the oldest and architecturally most significant campus buildings can be found on the campuses of private colleges and universities. "The Council of Independent Colleges, with support from the Getty Foundation, has collected data about and images of 2,100 of these buildings, which are located on 389 campuses. Known as the CIC Historic Campus Architecture Project (HCAP) and led by architectural historian Barbara Christen, this project has a fully searchable website ( that is proving to be of interest not only to scholars of history, architecture, education, and other disciplines, but also to admissions staff members, facilities managers, and other institutional administrators.


The website can be used to examine and compare buildings of a certain type--science labs, for example. It can also be searched by date and materials of construction, building function, architect/landscape designer, and geographic region. It offers extensive bibliographic resources as well.

The uses of the website are evolving well beyond the original idea. Recently, a consultant to a college that was about to renovate its 1950 library wanted to find other institutions with similar buildings that had undergone major renovations. Ten minutes of searching on the CIC HCAP site yielded information about a half dozen colleges with libraries that fit their search limits, and telephone calls to these colleges led to useful advice. In theory, an enterprising chamber of commerce could even promote a tour of a region's colleges on the basis of the buildings the schools have identified as significant.

Campus planners and alumni often have very different opinions about campus architecture. When alumni are asked about the buildings on campus that they like or about the design plans for a new structure, they often express conservative stylistic preferences, with Collegiate Gothic often being a favorite. When campus planners and architects are surveyed about campus buildings, however, they are often dismissive of the lack of imagination that led to a decision to build another building in this style when more innovative options were available. …

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