[Paleopsych] CHE: My Favorite Building

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My Favorite Building
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.25

[Yes, the Rotunda is there. In fact, the Lawn as a whole. It's at the 

    Some of the most distinctive and influential features of any college
    are its buildings. In fact, many people carry with them lasting images
    of a specific campus building, one that resonates with personal
    meaning. We asked people in a variety of fields to name their favorite
    building on any campus.

    Witold Rybczynski, a professor of urbanism at the University of

    My favorite campus building is Moyse Hall, at McGill University, in
    Montreal. It was built between 1839 and 1843 by the architect John
    Ostell, although it has been much added onto and expanded over the
    years. I like it partly because it is the center, quite literally, of
    the campus where I spent six formative years as a student, and many
    more years as a teacher. It's an old friend.

    But I also like the architecture. It's a solid-looking Palladian block
    with a severe Doric porch, in a style somewhat reminiscent of the
    18th-century English architect William Kent. The porch is in the
    center, as it should be, and the axiality is emphasized by an elegant
    cupola. However, on each side, wings of different design form an
    asymmetrical composition, reminding us that this disciplined building
    has adapted to changing circumstances. I love its seriousness. The
    rational, terse, vocabulary of British Classicism has always seemed to
    me more suited to an institution of higher learning than the medieval,
    fantastic imagery of Collegiate Gothic.

    Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College:

    The Wolfson campus of Miami Dade College, located in downtown Miami,
    has served as the focal point for a civic and cultural renaissance at
    the city's center. The campus began in a storefront location in 1970,
    but its success soon demanded a permanent facility.

    I hold a special affection for the original building at the Wolfson
    campus, designed by Hilario Candela, an architect from the firm of
    Spillis Candela. It remains one of the most welcoming and energetic
    environments in all of downtown Miami. Each day students stream into
    an open-air, six-story atrium that serves as the great lobby of the
    campus. And if you gaze up, you find outdoor walkways on each floor
    spiraling up to the skylit ceiling. People can see each other across
    the balconies and from the escalator that winds its way to the top
    floor. The building invites the air and sun of Miami, but, most
    important, it invites countless connections and conversations.
    Building One, from Day 1, has kept us all in touch.

    Dick Enberg, a CBS sportscaster and former assistant professor of
    health education at California State University at Northridge:

    Central Michigan University's dominant building for more than 70 years
    has been Warriner Hall, designed by the Detroit architectural firm of
    Malcolmson and Higginbotham. Constructed in 1928, it is a Gothic,
    three-story, brick, ivy-covered structure named after a former
    president of the university. While the campus has grown around this
    architectural centerpiece, it remains the institution's signature

    When I was a student in the 1950s, Warriner Hall represented the
    primary home of my daily education, providing the library, classrooms,
    auditorium, administration offices, and university mailroom. It was
    from the second-story parapet in early June of my senior year that
    Charles Anspach, the president at the time, spoke personally to my
    class in an inspiring pregraduation address that "dared us to be
    great." For me, Warriner Hall's strength of structure symbolizes the
    power and richness of my education, allowing full opportunity for a
    nobody to become a somebody.

    Whitney Gould, urban-landscape writer at the Milwaukee Journal

    It was the building we loved to hate -- a redbrick colossus, its
    turrets and battlements evoking a Norman castle. As a student in the
    1960s, when I ventured into the Old Red Gym at the University of
    Wisconsin at Madison, it was mostly to wait in endless lines to
    register for classes that were usually full by the time I could sign
    up. The wood floors creaked and sagged; the dark interior, with its
    closed-off rooms and painted-over windows, reeked of obsolescence.

    Today this Romanesque Revival fortress, built in 1894 as a combination
    gymnasium and armory, is enjoying a phoenixlike rebirth. Having
    survived several brushes with the wrecking ball, decades of neglect,
    and even a 1970 firebombing, it was transformed in 1998 into the
    campus visitor center and home to a dizzying array of student
    services. The exterior, once so forbidding, is now a symbol of
    continuity. The interior has been cleaned and polished to a
    fare-thee-well, showing off its beautiful bowstring trusses and
    wide-open spaces.

    I love this building. I love it for all the history it has seen:
    artillery drills and basketball; speeches by the likes of William
    Jennings Bryan, Eugene V. Debs, and Upton Sinclair; the shuffling feet
    of God knows how many students. I love it for its ungainliness and
    quirkiness. I love it for reminding us that if you can hold the
    bulldozers at bay long enough, one generation's eyesore may become
    another's treasure, fusing past with present, warts and all.

    Nathan Glazer, a professor emeritus of education and sociology at
    Harvard University:

    It is not simply an act of undergraduate patriotism that leads me to
    select Shepard Hall, the 1906 main building of the City College of New
    York, designed by George Browne Post in English Collegiate Gothic
    style as part of a four-block campus in upper Manhattan.

    What sets Shepard Hall apart is not the richness of its exterior
    design -- although the exterior is certainly impressive, with its
    black Manhattan schist, trimmed with white terra-cotta decoration
    -- but how well it is suited both to its unique site and to the
    function for which it was designed, to serve as the central building
    of a small college.

    City College, which I attended in the 1940s, is located on Hamilton
    Heights overlooking the Hudson River. Shepard Hall is designed in the
    shape of a crossbow or an anchor, with the bowed portion crowning the
    heights and matching its arc, while the arrow or stem of the anchor
    faces into the rest of the campus. Its floor plan is that of the "e"
    in the euro (C), and I can think of no other building with that plan.

    The bow contains the classrooms; at its corners are larger pavilions
    that contain larger lecture rooms. The second floor of the arrow is a
    wide corridor holding the administrative offices, with grander ones
    for the president where the arrow meets the bow. Above that is the
    Great Hall, an astonishing space for ceremonies. At the end of the
    arrow is a double-storied semicircular library, a wonderful space in
    my day into which to disappear among books. It is still a library, now
    for music.

    The building, almost 100 years old, has been infinitely adaptable. It
    is to the credit of the practical architectural intelligence of Post
    that, whatever the external dress -- he was perfectly willing to
    design it in Beaux-Arts Renaissance style, if that was what the client
    wanted -- he had an excellent sense of what kind of spaces a small
    college needed, and how they should be deployed. Shepard Hall, built
    at a time when each major building had to appear in an architecturally
    correct historicist exterior, has proved far more adaptable than the
    college's large postwar buildings that have been built under the
    Modernist mandate for flexibility and efficient accommodation of

    E. Gordon Gee, chancellor of Vanderbilt University:

    In my 25 years as a university president at five different
    institutions -- Brown University, Ohio State University, the
    University of Colorado, West Virginia University, and now Vanderbilt
    -- I have been responsible for either building, renovating, or
    maintaining just about every architectural style under the sun. I have
    seen spectacularly successful buildings that literally changed the
    look and personality of a campus. And I have seen equally spectacular
    disappointments that raise the question, "What were we thinking?"

    Perhaps more than any other institution, universities create a
    continuum from past to future. That is why my favorite building is
    Management Hall, home to Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of
    Management. Designed by Gyo Obata, Management Hall actually consists
    of two separate buildings connected by a three-story stairwell filled
    with natural light.

    The original building, constructed in 1888, housed Vanderbilt's
    engineering program -- the first at a private university in the South.
    The 1982 addition, a brick and glass structure, and its accompanying
    courtyard, offered the school of management a residence that is
    striking for both its modern appearance and its Victorian-era
    architectural flourishes.

    In addition to the actual building, its location near the geographic
    center of the campus makes it a favorite of mine. Within 100 feet of
    Management Hall stand the Law School, the Divinity School, and the
    College of Arts and Science, and then that area is ringed by magnolia
    trees -- some planted nearly a century ago. On any given day, hundreds
    of faculty members, administrators, and students from every discipline
    pass through this area, making it the perfect spot in which a
    chancellor can be reminded of everyone he serves.

    Janet L. Holmgren, president of Mills College:

    Mills Hall, designed by S.C. Bugbee and Sons and now a historic
    landmark, is the centerpiece of Mills College's 135-acre urban campus
    in Oakland, Calif. When the building was constructed in 1871 -- 19
    years after Mills was founded -- it was the entire college. By the
    time I became president in 1991, Mills Hall remained beloved by
    alumnae and students but was in need of major restoration following
    the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

    Thanks to $10-million in Federal Emergency Management Agency support
    and contributions from Mills supporters, including a major gift from
    the great-great-granddaughter of the original donor, the Victorian-era
    masterpiece, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was
    completely renovated in 1994 and is now a showcase with approximately
    45,000 square feet and more than 120 rooms for offices, classrooms,
    lounges, and guest quarters.

    Like another favorite building of mine, Nassau Hall at Princeton
    University, where I served as provost before coming to Mills, Mills
    Hall echoes with the voices of the past and stands as a monument to
    the permanence and vitality of American higher education. These
    buildings are more than bricks and mortar; they are living history and
    represent both the security of generations past and a solid foundation
    for the future.

    Andrew Holleran, a novelist and short-story writer, and a writer in
    residence at American University:

    Northeastern Florida is not noted for its architecture. This is why
    St. Augustine is such a joy. It still looks like a subtropical version
    of a little English town in Sussex, with steeples and a fort and
    narrow old streets lined with small shops, and the old Hotel Ponce de
    Leon designed by John Carrere and Thomas Hastings -- now Ponce de Leon
    Hall, the main building of Flagler College.

    I take my visitors to Flagler to show them a remnant of fin de siècle
    America, when north, not south, Florida was the national resort. (The
    railroad only went as far as St. Augustine.) Step inside the hall, and
    you enter the world of Edith Wharton and Henry James: a time when
    women used parasols, not sunblock, to shield them from the sun, and
    carriages took people on drives, since the beach was and still is far

    The foyer's polished wooden caryatids; the mosaics, tiles, and ceramic
    frogs; the plashing fountain; the domed dining room bespeak a time
    when men made things by hand. It's torture that most of the building
    is off limits to you (because you're not enrolled) and that the dining
    hall, with its Tiffany windows and sublime ceiling, is the preserve of
    students -- and not, say, your bedroom (ultimate fantasy).

    But let us be grateful for what is: Had Flagler College not taken over
    this hotel, it would probably be McMansions and strip malls. Instead,
    the pleasure dome that Rockefeller's partner, Henry M. Flagler,
    decreed, like Kubla Khan, in 1887, remains -- even if it has ended up
    more like Ozymandias surrounded (once you leave St. Augustine) by the
    desert of our car culture. That's one reason Ponce de Leon Hall is my
    favorite university building: It repudiates all the schlock we've
    built since.

    Michael J. Lewis, a professor of art history at Williams College:

    There are so many counterfeits of Pembroke, the superb and stately
    dormitory that defines the Bryn Mawr College campus, that it is not
    easy to see with fresh eyes. But one should try. It is the best of its
    kind: those turreted whimsies that make up the Collegiate Gothic
    movement. Its countless replicas always have an air of amiable
    preposterousness about them -- crenelated and castellated against the
    pillagers who never come -- but Pembroke is flawless. Like a great
    piece of music, it has an ineffable fitness and rightness to its parts
    that defies all analysis.

    Pembroke is the work of Walter Cope and John Stewardson, America's
    finest college architects, who drew its plans in 1892. They later
    reprised its theme at the University of Pennsylvania, at Princeton,
    and at Washington University in St. Louis -- but never so successfully
    or so simply.

    Perhaps the reason is light. The typical college dormitory is a
    barrack, camouflaged with a few sprigs of ivy: bedrooms and bathrooms
    wrapped around a stingy and badly lighted corridor. But Pembroke is as
    bright as a greenhouse. The wings that seem from the outside to
    meander aimlessly are in fact purposefully broken, and turn at right
    angles so that each run of corridor terminates in a bay window and a
    generous view.

    These wings stiffen and become more formal as they converge at the
    centerpiece of the building: a massive arched gateway that serves as
    the base for the lofty dining hall above, its corners marked by four
    octagonal towers. In the evening, the high mullioned windows of this
    dining hall catch the sunset, and for half an hour it is a shimmering
    cage of stone and light.

    Alas, the building has suffered at the hands of its unkind renovators,
    but Pembroke is exquisite even with its scars. And like every great
    building, it has a mystery at its heart: How is it that a style that
    emerged in the monastery -- marked by introverted quadrangles and
    sheltered cloisters -- should serve so aptly and so splendidly as an
    image for the modern woman of the progressive era?

    Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami:

    All great universities have at their heart great libraries, and the
    Otto G. Richter Library, designed by Watson, Deutschman & Kruse, is no
    exception. Our library is predominantly a glass structure, allowing
    for year-round Florida sunlight, and overlooks the campus green. A
    recent renovation added an illuminated glass clock tower and a
    pavilion that houses the university's Cuban Heritage Collection
    reading room.

    The library is always crowded -- days, nights, and weekends. A new
    Starbucks in the library provides an outdoor reading room and helps
    fuel late-night hours. When students are cramming just before finals,
    our library remains open 24/7, and so, too, does our Starbucks.
    Students call our library "Club Richter."

    We all know that traditional study methods have changed, and more of
    our students are studying in groups, so we have created specific areas
    in the library for discussion purposes. The university is raising
    money to support a $33-million addition to the Richter Library,
    creating more study and collection space.

    Rufus Glasper, chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges:

    My favorite buildings at the Maricopa Community Colleges first and
    most important satisfy the functional and programmatic requirements
    for the users, and, second, integrate a high level of architectural

    The design for the Life Sciences Building at Mesa Community College,
    by DWL Architects + Planners Inc., started with the science faculty
    members analyzing various configurations of the tables needed to serve
    the many different courses taught in a single lab, including botany,
    general biology, human anatomy, microbiology, physiology, and zoology.

    Each course had different presentation and student-grouping
    requirements. The solution was to provide a custom-shaped, movable
    table that would enable the instructors and students to quickly
    reconfigure the lab to meet their needs. The final product was the
    result of significant input and dedicated teamwork among faculty and
    staff members, architect Jeremy A. Jones, and consultants from
    Research Facilities Design of California.

    The shape of the lab tables then dictated the size of the individual
    laboratories, which in turn, drove the dimensions for the entire
    building. Open areas with comfortable groupings of seating and
    extra-wide corridors encourage informal learning outside of the
    classrooms. In addition, teaching and learning combine with beauty
    through the large aquarium in the hallway, where students can study
    fish and plant life. Outdoors, the xeriscaping, or low-water
    landscaping, provides a real-life lab in desert plant life.

    This is just one of the many innovative buildings at our 10 colleges
    that satisfy the needs of our faculty members, students, and
    community, while at the same time meeting high aesthetic objectives.

    Sarah Williams Goldhagen, a lecturer in architectural history at
    Harvard University's Graduate School of Design:

    I have a long list of "favorites" -- and those are only on the East
    Coast campuses I know best. They include Max Abramovitz's Hilles
    Library at Radcliffe College; Henry Hobson Richardson's Austin Hall at
    Harvard; Kevin Roche's Fine Arts Center at the University of
    Massachusetts at Amherst; Paul Rudolph's Jewett Arts Center at
    Wellesley College; Robert Venturi's Wu Hall at Princeton; and the
    Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania, by Frank
    Heyling Furness.

    None of these is a perfect building. But each is provocative to look
    at and wonderful to be in. Each solves complex programmatic and site
    issues with originality and grace. Most important, each is a teaching
    building, offering lessons about the many facets that make a
    successful work of architecture: design that is in tune with current
    trends but transcends them, that acknowledges a building's social
    role; that accommodates practical needs with an eye to a changing

    If I had to choose, my current favorite building is the one in which I
    work: John Andrews's Gund Hal,l the Graduate School of Design at
    Harvard. A large building of exposed reinforced concrete and large
    plate-glass windows, stepping down from five stories to one, the
    school of design would hardly be the favorite of many people. (It even
    leaks a little in the rain.) But it uses its site at the east edge of
    the Harvard campus beautifully, opening onto a courtyard in back,
    while in front faculty and administrative offices look onto America's
    greatest Ruskinian building, William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt's
    Memorial Hall.

    And in my 10 years of teaching in Gund Hall, I am impressed again and
    again by how the "trays" -- the spaces in which Harvard's students
    work on their projects, which are hung one atop another under a
    gigantic stepped skylight -- create a sense of community and common
    purpose. Here architecture itself promotes the notion that
    architecture is an art of collaboration and mutual exchange. To me,
    Gund Hall's urbanity, and its successful shaping of the social life of
    the institution it houses, is worth circumnavigating a few buckets
    when it rains.

    Graham B. Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University:

    My favorite building is the new Information Sciences and Technology
    Building on the University Park campus of Penn State. It was designed
    by the noted architect Rafael Viñoly, in partnership with Perfido
    Weiskopf Architects, and dedicated in 2004.

    This $70-million, 200,000-square-foot signature building is remarkable
    in that it solved a major logistical problem for the university. It
    connects our main campus to an evolving east campus by spanning a busy
    road. In effect, the building is a bridge, conceived much like the
    Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, with a "street" actually running
    through the building, and with academic attractions running along the

    This architectural wonder is an S-shaped building with three levels,
    spectacular views, and an attractive mix of red brick, glass, and
    metal. Its lines create a look that is modern while building on
    traditional campus architectural features.

    This building is also a favorite of mine because of the way it evolved
    from a creative exchange between architect and client. Mr. Viñoly,
    colleagues around the table, and I had spirited discussions about the
    building's concept, its footprint, and its lines. He was masterful at
    leading us to choose the options that I suspect he had in mind from
    the beginning, even while being open to his client's concepts. We once
    debated the color of the brick with vigor until the moment that he
    determined that it was the mortar's color that was the problem. He
    sent for a brush, painted a section of mortar on the spot, and voilà,
    we were all happy.

    William McDonough, an architect and former dean of the School of
    Architecture at the University of Virginia:

    My favorite academic facility is actually a complex of buildings and a
    landscape: Thomas Jefferson's "Academical Village," the original
    campus of the University of Virginia. Living in Pavilion IX on the
    famous "Lawn" for five years, I saw firsthand why Jefferson's
    buildings and grounds hold such a revered and hallowed place in the
    history of academic architecture. Two centuries after their design,
    the much-imitated rotunda, colonnades, pavilions, and lawn still
    continue to symbolize the essential academic experience Americans have
    come to know as "college."

    The entire composition exquisitely represents educational ideals: the
    Platonic poetics of the academy and the Aristotelian rationality of
    the lyceum. The great Rotunda, based on the Pantheon of Rome, with its
    perfect Platonic orb set into a porticoed temple, encases on each of
    its lower floors two oval, ovarylike rooms: the feminine, the center,
    the source. The dome, with its oculus, houses the library, where book
    stacks and reading niches circle the room and illumination enters the
    world of the reader from above and from the orientation of the
    reader's choosing.

    The Aristotelian order is represented by the buildings and colonnades
    that cascade from the rotunda along the edge of the central lawn. The
    colonnades' Doric columns, framing a protected passageway for all the
    student rooms, connect the 10 pavilions, each of which houses
    classrooms and faculty quarters -- a fully rationalized and realized
    community of learning.

    When one looks toward the Rotunda, the pavilions are intimately drawn
    together; one feels a concentration of space, body, and intellect.
    Looking from the Rotunda, toward what Jefferson intended to be an open
    view of the Blue Ridge, the pavilions draw apart as one gazes out to
    the expansive world of nature beyond. Between his design and the
    landscape, Jefferson connects the roots of his civilization to the
    hopes of a new world. His architecture celebrates and embodies
    enlightenment, the aspiration of education itself.

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