Planning for Higher Education Journal

The New Sensibility about College Architecture

Journal Cover
From Volume 18 Number 4 | 1989–1990
By Michael Farewell

College and university architecture and campus reflect tradition and history. Thomas Jefferson called these institutions "academical villages." They appear in a myriad of forms, where building "modern structures within the context of historical styles always presents a unique design problem." Thus, universities must relate building design with the historic character of older buildings and with the campus layout. The new sensibility concerning campus architecture can be seen in building arrangment, walkways, plant groupings, and gateways. Historical structures must match landscape design as well. However, this approach discards adding new buildings that look exactly like old ones. Instead, the new sensibility tries to preserve buildings through renovation and adaptive use. The new sensibility is based on two major movements: (1) Historic preservation, which tries to preserve the past in the present and (2) Contextualism, which integrates new buildings into the existing order to reinforce it. Institutions can plan better by enacting design ordinances that preserve their scale and character. Colleges and universities should adopt the following principles to preserve their architectural character: (1) The institution should require a current survey and conduct a historical analysis to determine the character of the buildings. (2) Insitutional leaders should require the architect to determine the important qualities of existing buildings in relation to campus layout. (3) All new construction should develop in relation to features identified as characteristic of the original buildings. (4) The relation of new buildings to the entire campus should be shown. Essentially, the new sensibility requires architects and campus planners to focus on campus character to represent the tradition and history to the public.

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