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

By Dober, Richard P. | Planning for Higher Education, April-June 2011 | Go to article overview

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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[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

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. …

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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
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