Urban Fold

A Neotraditional Building Boom on Campus

Robert Goodspeed's picture

Across the U.S., dozens of colleges and universities are planning or building major campus expansions. However, unlike the 1990s which saw gleaming bioscience research facilities appear on campuses, the new construction is calculated to help attract and retain faculty and students with amenities for living and shopping. Almost without exception, these projects are in a strictly neotraditional design mold.

After decades of institutional architecture built for efficiency, schools without distinctive college towns or well cultivated campuses are finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage with universities with well cultivated campuses or college towns. Meanwhile, urban campuses are looking for ways to capitalize on their property, while providing amenities for the campus and local community. Here's a sampling of the many projects underway.

  • In Connecticut, University of Connecticut is planning to level their town's downtown for a $165 million mixed-use project with 800 residential units and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space.
  • In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania is planning a major expansion across the Schuylkill River, hoping to expand their facilities and bolster the community.
  • At the University of California at Davis, officials hope to break ground soon on the West Village project, which will eventually house over 4,300 people on what is now 224 acres of vacant university-owned land.
  • Ohio State University has been working for years to revitalize High Street in Columbus, Ohio.
  • Even tiny Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas is constructing a 30 acre residential and commercial project called the Village at Hendrix, a project originally inspired by none other than Andres Duany himself.

Perhaps the most ambitious -- and controversial -- of these projects is the pet project of conservative Catholic and Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan: Ave Maria, Florida. Through a similar legal arrangement used by Walt Disney to develop Disney World, Moghnahan and his partner Barron Collier Companies are developing a campus and college town of 30,000 for the Catholic university he helped found, Ave Maria University. As the campus takes shape, university officials hope it will be ready for fall 2007 classes.

Ave Maria, Florida

While so many projects are moving ahead rapidly, I can't help but wonder whether they will actually result in the sense of place of legendary college towns developed over decades. It seems unlikely these massive projects will support the diversity of retail and housing choice that is the hallmark of these memorable places.

Here at the University of Maryland where I am a student, administration officials are deep in negotiations with an as-yet unannounced development partner for the East Campus Project, where officials hope to transform a 38-acre parcel of land containing vacant greenhouses, aging dormitories, and bus parking into a dense, mixed-use project where faculty and students can "live, work, and play." A community group I co-founded is working hard to ensure the resulting project reflects the unique character of our community -- and is closely integrated to both campus and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Robert Goodspeed is a PhD student at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning.



Neotraditional Versus Orthodox Modernist On Campus

I don't think the battle is neotraditional architecture versus "institutional architecture built for efficiency." It is neotraditional versus orthodox modernist and avant gardist architecture.

For example, a year or two ago, the architecture faculty at the University of Virginia started complaining about the traditional architecture being built on the central part of the campus (including one building by Robert AM Stern). The Board of Vistitors seemed to be intimidated by them at first, but there was so much public resistance to modernist architecture in this UNESCO world heritage site that I think the Board is now much less impressed by their architecture professors. (U of V used to teach traditional architecture, but the department was taken over by dogmatic modernists who kicked out all of the traditionalists. Several traditionalist architects criticizing the faculty were U of V graduates.)

Likewise, Columbia chose Renzo Piano to plan its new Manhattanville Campus because it wanted "cutting edge" modern architecture - not because it wanted utilitarian architecture. Needless to say, Renzo Piano designed his usual glass boxes, which Philip Johnson would have considered cutting edge back in 1950.

Charles Siegel

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