The Stewardship of Campus Heritage

By Audrain, Calvert W. | Planning for Higher Education, April-June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Stewardship of Campus Heritage

Audrain, Calvert W., Planning for Higher Education

The nuts and bolts of campus heritage stewardship - It's not so simple to preserve the past.


Even as technology and globalization are changing the way we live and view the world, colleges and universities have become increasingly interested in preserving historic campus buildings and sites. Heritage has become more important to students, faculty, and staff, as well as to alumni, who have often been its prime supporters.

This article focuses on the stewardship of a campus's heritage - the preservation, maintenance, and care of heritage buildings and sites. There are a number of landmark or heritage designations, ranging from institution-specific and local to state and national to the National Register of Historic Places. Sometimes a structure may be called a "landmark" and other times a "heritage building." The distinction becomes important when the designating agency specifies guidelines regarding the building's care, as will be discussed in this article.

There are several critical components to the stewardship of campus heritage: identifying and designating heritage buildings or sites; creating a campus plan that includes a section on heritage; setting up a systematic process for maintenance that addresses campus heritage issues; developing a process of budgeting for maintenance and recapitalization; and recognizing the larger context of campus heritage, including its impact on local neighborhoods.

Declaring a Building a Landmark

The first - and most critical - act of stewardship is the identification of a building as a heritage structure. This is only the beginning of stewardship and preservation, but it is essential for most of what follows. Without this designation, the possibility of preserving the building - maintaining it with appropriate materials and techniques - is left to chance.

The questionnaire of the Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project, funded by the Getty Foundation, provides a guide to identifying significant places:

What places on campus are the most important and meaningful to your institution's history and/or mission? These places may include a building (interior or exterior space), an area of the campus, the campus plan itself or its arrangement of buildings, an open space (such as a lawn, a mall, a vista, or a playing field), or other types of structures or locations. Are there particular buildings or sites that are especially significant in terms of architecture, landscape, American history, the history of education, religion, engineering, or culture in general?

Places may include individual buildings, entire campus arrangements, campus plans, and landscapes that possess some distinctive aspects of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, and association. (Council of Independent Colleges 2006, p. 1)

This article will generally focus on buildings, not sites or landscapes, although many issues will readily apply to both.

Getting a building designated as a landmark can be difficult. In an article appearing in the Chronicle of Higher Education following the May 2002 Campus Heritage Preservation Conference in Chicago, reporter Lawrence Biemiller noted some of the objections to landmark designation reportedly expressed by higher education administrators and trustees:

Say the word "preservation" around top college administrators and many go rigid with fear.

A president might remember tense meetings with an influential graduate-school dean eager to build on a prime campus site inconveniently occupied by a minor Victorian landmark. A provost may recall a long legal battle with community organizers determined to preserve a decrepit mansion or marketplace owned by the institution - organizers who were unmoved by arguments about the changing needs of the university. A vice president could be thinking of the price tag for rehabilitating a concrete fortress from the 1960s that many people think is unspeakably ugly, even if it is the work of a world-famous architect. …

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