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Campus Architecture

Shepard Hall, City College of New York, CUNY, 1903.

Architecture has traditionally been the public face of a university or college. From the earliest days of the new nation, the type and layout of the buildings reflected the mission of the campus. Thomas Jefferson’s “academic village” at the University of Virginia (See September) emphasized shared learning: faculty lived in pavilions above their classrooms, students stayed in attached housing. Stressing the secular nature of the university, at the center of the campus was the Rotunda library, where traditionally a church would have been. By the turn of the 20th century, public universities and colleges grew as new fields of knowledge and departments developed and demand for higher education increased. The City College of New York followed the lead of other major universities like Yale and Chicago and built a neo-Gothic campus when it expanded in the early 1900s, signifying its increased importance.

Yet, the Gothic style gave way to the “City Beautiful” movement, which arose out of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The new campuses symbolized state and civic pride. John Galen Howard, the UC Berkeley architect, wrote that its buildings should be “so beautiful that the student coming into their presence is uplifted and his ideas enlarged and purified . . .”

Later in the century, campus architecture became more utilitarian. Aided by the post World War II G.I. Bill, students flooded into colleges, often moving into hastily built Quonset huts and learning in large lecture halls. Campus building booms created the new facilities necessary for the growth, but the architecture lacked distinctiveness and a sense of place.

Today, colleges and universities often reflect the mixture of these styles with the older campus at the center and more modern buildings placed within or on the edges of the original campus. A current architectural trend is the construction of “green buildings,” which are designed to be more energy efficient and meet sustainable construction standards.

University of Montana, Missoula campus, 1908.
The Technology Center at South Mountain Community College, Phoenix, Arizona, 2009.
West Virginia University, Morgantown campus, 1900.
Aerial Perspective for the University of California, Berkeley, by John Galen Howard, 1922.