• U.S.

Education: Ring In the New

2 minute read

The change was still almost invisible to an old grad’s nostalgic eyes. But it was getting more noticeable all the time. After years of hewing to the traditional Colonial-Georgian-Collegiate Gothic line, U.S. colleges were turning to modern architectural styles. In its current issue the Architectural Record has collected a few prize exhibits of new college building.

The examples range from Yale’s new Art Gallery and Harvard’s new Graduate Center to the Midwest Interlibrary Center in Chicago, all with sleek, modern lines and whole walls of glass. Vassar’s new dormitory will be a low, T-shaped structure with banks of windows set in frames of white stone. Mt. Holyoke has already completed its functional new dormitory of red brick.

Other U.S. colleges are making similar experiments. On the Georgian campus of Maryville College, Tenn., a streamlined Fine Arts Center is going up, with organ practice rooms, a broadcasting station and a lawn-terraced amphitheater. The University of Arkansas is getting a Fine Arts Center that will have everything from glass-walled galleries to a theater whose seats and stage can be changed at will from proscenium to theater-in-the-round.

Part of the reason for the change, says the Record, is that modern architecture is cheaper. Georgia Tech estimates that it has saved at least 25% on its new Textile Engineering Building, with mill rooms, classrooms, laboratories and a 300-seat auditorium, all enclosed in a structure as simple as a box. Dean Joseph Hudnut of Harvard’s Faculty of Design has estimated that Harvard’s new Graduate Center will cost only $3,500 per pupil, as opposed to the $12,500 in previous dormitories.

But more than money is involved. For too long, the Record points out, presidents, trustees and donors have restricted architects to traditional forms. “What is wrong about such a practice, in American college buildings. . . is not so much the dead, level, heavy sameness of the results. . . It is the fear of advance, the denial of inquisitiveness which they express.”

Looking forward to the day when all U.S. colleges will turn from the past to the future, the Record concludes: “Unless a college building expresses in its architecture the advancement of thought and dissemination of knowledge which are the college’s reasons for existence, that building has in some degree failed to achieve its purpose. However well it may perform mechanically. . . it fails to function philosophically or even spiritually.”

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