Beautifully Designed Architecture of Universities

Beautifully Designed Architecture of Universities

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Union South

While football stadiums and arts centers are great for bringing in revenue and connecting with the larger community, the interests and opinions of students are not always front and center. One building where they are is a student union. However, that doesn’t mean those structures aren’t without especially when one of them costs almost $95 million (2011 dollars) to build.

Created with the input of some 36,000 students, Union South at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) is a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, 277,000-square-foot, LEED-Gold-certified student union with an art gallery, bowling alley, climbing wall, billiard hall, movie theater, restaurants, hotel, and banquet hall. It has drawn praise from many, but also criticism from some for its seeming financial extravagance---usually by those who don’t realize student fees pay for much of the construction costs over time. However, even if student fees and revenues were not behind Union South, the simple truth is the battle to attract and keep students is raging, so a few conveniences are no longer a luxury.

Princeton University, Nassau Hall

Princeton University’s Nassau Hall has seen, as well, just of a wholly different kind. In fact, Nassau’s presence on this list raises a key question: Can a building that’s been at the heart of the American Revolution and Continental Congress (however briefly), and the spot where Gen. George Washington resigned as head of the Continental Army, really be considered amazing?

Well, when it was completed in 1756, its extravagance centered on its sheer size---it was alternately known as the largest building in New Jersey, the largest academic building in the American colonies, and the largest stone structure in North America. However, after surviving for 260 years, through wars and fires, it is now known for a lot more than its size. Nassau is the stalwart, resolute, enduring symbol of one of the country’s top-ranked universities (and sometimes it even exemplifies America’s own spirit).

Duke University, Duke University Chapel

Equally impressive in size, but far more ornate in detail and the decorative materials used, the Duke University Chapel screams extravagance from every corner. From its 210-foot bell tower---which makes it still one of the tallest buildings in Durham County, N.C.---to its ornate and decorative Collegiate Gothic architecture, three massive pipe organs, and 77 stained glass windows (which utilize over one million pieces of glass), its a wonder of design, faith, and craftsmanship.

Designed by well-known African-American architect Julian Francis Abele, and completed during the height of the Depression, the Chapel was the crowning glory for Duke’s then new West Campus and reflected this private, non-profit research university’s deep ties to the Methodist Church and Duke family. Amazing, yes, but it’s hard to not be at least a little impressed by this magnificent structure, and to feel a little swell of pride if you are a Blue Devil alumnus.

Stanford University, Hoover Tower

When it comes to towers, size certainly matters. On the West Coast, one of the most amazing college towers you’ll find is Hoover Tower at Stanford University. At 285 feet tall, this impressive structure literally towers over everything else around it, providing orientation for those walking through the campus and a magnificent view for anyone standing on its observation deck. However, this minimalist Art Deco building is much more than just an impressive and iconic structure.

Designed to celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary (although some reports say various university officials initially opposed it), the tower’s main purpose was to provide the space needed to house the extensive War, Revolution, and Peace library of President Herbert Hoover (a Stanford alumnus). Appropriately, in the 1970s, activist and Nobel-Prize-winning writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn secretly lived on the 11th floor during his exile from the Soviet Union.

Oklahoma State University, Student Union

While not as historically significant as the Duke Chapel, Nassau Hall, or Hoover Tower, the Student Union at Oklahoma State University (OSU) may top them all when it comes to amazing size. Coming in at 611,000 square feet, it is the largest and most comprehensive student union in the world. It has almost everything a student could need or want, including: a 550-seat movie theatre, wine bar, hotel, food courts (which provide tens of thousands of free late-night pancakes during finals), tons of Wi-Fi hotspots, student lounges, study areas, a bank, post office and copying center, and the University Store. Plus, its 2012 renovation brought it up LEED Silver status, the first building on campus to achieve this.

Lest anyone think this extravagance came at taxpayer expense, rest assured it did not. Throughout its history, student fees and revenue from operations have provided all or most of the funding for the Student Union’s construction, renovations, and ongoing costs. So, in that way, maybe it does have a lot of historical importance.

Vassar College, Thompson Memorial Library

Of course, there is historical importance and then there is historical importance. As one would expect for a building at the elite Vassar College, the Thompson Memorial Library is extravagance and history personified. Its impressive and important architecture features all kinds of grand details and decorations---including an incredible stained-glass window depicting Lady Elena Lucretia Cornaro-Piscopia becoming the first woman to receive a doctorate.

However, it is not the architecture that earns Thompson its spot on this list of amazing college buildings. It is the rarity and importance of its countless books and documents. For instance, the library houses various exclusive collections of papers and correspondence from such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony, John Burroughs, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), and Albert Einstein. It also has microtext collections of the FBI’s files on Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson’s Security Files on the Vietnam War. Among its rare books are more than three-dozen printed before 1500 (incunabula) and several leaves of the Gutenberg Bible.