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5 Reasons Modern Architecture Belongs on Campus

Great buildings come in many forms. Some are great for historical reasons like the Pantheon in Rome, some for technological reasons like the Pompidou Centre in Paris. But no great building has ever been great trying to be something it's not.

Rome Pantheon
Pompidou Centre; Paris

1) Universities are the wellspring of new ideas

The conception of institutions for higher learning has always been that it is a place for new ides and free expression. Except, of course, in the architecture. While the artificial intelligence scientists are working in their state-of-the-art lab, the architect is busy drawing Georgian

i-don't-know-what for the newest technology building. The buildings don't reflect what is happening inside: new ways of thinking, or building, or solving problems. They don't reflect the world as it is, and they don't reflect the diverse student body.

2) Sameness is boring and dull

In the same way a diverse student population adds to the character of a campus, so should the architecture. Who wants to live in a world where everything looks the same? Where everyone agrees on the same thing? Unfortunately, our campuses nationwide have become a sea of banality. There are a few exceptions, and as usual the west has figured it out first. My personal favorite is the new Health and Education building by COA which pays homage to the cool and cavernous places in the Arizona landscape amidst the brutal desert sun.

3) Don't listen to the students

Chancellors, Provosts, and Deans will incessantly tell you that their year end student surveys show that "students are pleased or more than pleased with the design of the campus." You wouldn't base the books you decide to carry in the library on the opinions of a first year English major. They're there to learn. Let's teach them about great architecture up close and personal.

4) It does a disservice to the old buildings.

All the buildings on campus can't be new, and not just for purely economic reasons. I don't think anyone would want them to be. But the brick veneer, metal stud, and steel framed buildings are simply no match for a real old building. For one thing the windows just aren't sunk deep enough into the building like a true masonry building. Check out the Monadnock building in Chicago below. The walls are 12' thick at the base.

Spoiler alert, once you see it, you can't un-see it.

Monadnock Building

5) Lastly, they're "modern" cloaked in an old sock

The ironic thing about these "new" university buildings is everything on the inside is "modern." New modern finishes, stainless steel, modern furniture, light fixtures, solar panel systems and occupancy sensors. And you wrapped it in brick and put on precast cornices. You wouldn't build a modern home and furnish it like a cigar room, would you?

What to Do?

Instead embrace the new technologies that the building industry has to offer. Match the power of the building with the power of the research happening inside. And remember that blending in is not the same as copying. Above all, don't ask the students inside what they think. Ask their parents, I bet their wallets will agree with me.

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