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Thread: Gothic Colleges

  1. #1

    Default Gothic Colleges

    Princeton tops U.S. News rankings, again

    By JUSTIN POPE, AP Education Writer

    Princeton holds the top spot in the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the eighth straight year the private, New Jersey school has either tied or held the top slot outright.

    Just like last year, Princeton was followed by Harvard at No. 2 and Yale at No. 3 in the controversial rankings. As usual, a few schools moved up or down a slot, but there were no major changes. Stanford was No. 4, followed by Cal Tech and the University of Pennsylvania tied for fifth.

    Williams and Amherst were the highest-ranked liberal arts colleges.
    New this year: The magazine has included the service academies. The U.S. Naval Academy is ranked No. 20 in the liberal arts college category, and the U.S. Military Academy is No. 22. The U.S. Air Force Academy leads the list of "Best Baccalaureate Colleges" in the western region.

    The formula for the rankings includes variables such as graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, and the percentage of alumni donating money to their alma mater. The biggest single variable — and the most controversial — is a reputation assessment by peer institutions.

    The top 10 national universities were:

    1. Princeton University

    2. Harvard University

    3. Yale University

    4. Stanford University

    5. California Institute of Technology

    University of Pennsylvania (tie)

    7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    8. Duke University

    9. Columbia University

    University of Chicago (tie)

    * * *


    Setting aside entirely any question about the above list’s validity, it’s striking that five out of ten of the top campuses are characterized by Gothic architecture.

    Are even one percent of American colleges in general built in the Gothic style?

  2. #2


    Food for thought: public buildings in the neo-classical style, universities in the gothic style. Why? What is the message that these styles convey?

  3. #3


    Quote Originally Posted by Fabrizio View Post
    Food for thought: public buildings in the neo-classical style, universities in the gothic style. Why? What is the message that these styles convey?
    Not too hard to answer that question –and the fact that you ask the question shows you know the answer.

    So do we all.

    When a movie director wants to show the star entering an important public building, he has him climb the long flight of steps up to an august Beaux-Arts pile like the Supreme Court or New York’s Custom House –or a lesser Beaux-Arts building.

    Our conditioning to see such buildings as important is almost Pavlovian. And why not? Their creators certainly thought of them as important; they designed the portentousness right in.

    American Collegiate Gothic is a mostly 20th Century phenomenon, but it has almost as much grip on our minds. Three of the colleges on the above list –Princeton, Yale and Penn-- were founded in the Eighteenth Century and should by rights be Colonial in style. Each preserves a remnant from that era and Gothicized itself in the early years of the last Century –about the time the other two on the list were getting started: Duke and Chicago.

    If you had asked either Duke’s president or his architect, Ralph Adams Cram, if they were consciously projecting an aura of ivory-tower scholarly quality with the design of their buildings, they would have responded with a resounding “Yes!” Oxford and Cambridge were the paradigm; and everybody knew these were the two best in the world. It was a veritable orgy of Anglophilia.

    They imported not just the architectural style, but also the programs that gave rise to the style: the notion of decentralized academic units (“colleges”), which mixed dormitory functions with the academic and even the athletic. Each such unit featured its own dining hall, library, seminar rooms, faculty, endowments, heraldry, traditions, athletic teams (and even some facilities like squash courts).

    They even cooked up coats of arms and heraldic devices to differentiate these colleges from each other, but the most brilliant touch was that all were built to enclose verdant gated courtyards walled off from the outside world to concretize the academic separation, the ivory tower, the sense of community, the monastic introspection…

    If I could give a struggling college just one piece of advice to improve its standing, its alumni giving and the perceived quality of its academic program, I would say: “start building in the Gothic style.”

    Worked for West Point and Wellesley.

  4. #4


    Quote Originally Posted by Rapunzel View Post
    Does it work the other way? If a campus becomes "less Gothic" -- adds buildings with modern architecture -- could the academic standing be perceived to be lowering?

    Case in point: Enrique Norton's cylindrical glass academic building for Rutger University's historic New Brunswick campus:
    Yale, Penn and Princeton built interesting Modernist buildings while that style raged. These were remarkably compatible with their Gothic predecessors from day one. They projected a certain subtle medievalism through masonry heft and top-drawer design and build (think Rudolph, Saarinen and Kahn). Princeton just completed its first overtly Gothic college in ages: a harbinger of things to come?

    As long as design is of such stellar quality, there's no damage to the aura of quality emittted by these campuses --even if the modern buildings come to be hated, as with Rudolph's Art and Architecture Building (a towering artwork however much it's scorned by philistines).

    If it's junk, however ... well, junk is junk.

    Don't know about Norten at Rutgers; insufficient info in the rendering and I don't really know the campus. At Duke, the modern stuff seems to degrade the swank.

  5. #5


    Princeton surveyed its students and found the vast majority wanted to live in a Gothic college.

    Gothic digs at Princeton.

    That was partly because Princeton had been building them modernist chefs-d’oeuvre to live in for decades. The modernist masterpieces now looked like this:

    Student accommodations by the highly original genius I.M. Pei.

    Consequently the Administration adopted a new building policy. Henceforth the center of the campus --which includes all the undergraduate housing-- will be a Gothic zone to match the buildings loved by everyone save Modernist architects:

    Simultaneously Princeton would adopt the undergraduate college system, each college to have a dining hall, a library, and other common facilities. The student survey showed that’s what undergrads want. In the campus fringes: anything goes.

    Construction has started on the first new Gothic college.

    Whitman College, Princeton.

    Much of the money for Whitman College was donated by Meg Whitman, Chair of eBay. It’s designed by somewhat-talented revivalist and Driehaus Prize winner, Demetri Porphyrios:

    A polemicist for neo-tradional building methods, Porphyrios’ practiced up at Oxbridge:


    The result was pretty good.

    Once known as forward-looking and eclectic-friendly, famed pluralist Frank Gehry growled that in this day and age an institution of higher learning should have no truck with traditional architecture; and Robert Venturi, noncomformist mastermind of quasi-revivalist buildings that had once rankled his peers, piped up unexpectedly to agree. Traditional architecture, it seems, provides fodder for architectural comedy routines and riffs, but can’t legitimately be practiced unalloyed.

    Porphyrios and Princeton are undeterred. Their building will easily last a thousand years. Only optimism about the future can explain such investment in the long term. Reassuring, that; don’t you think it speaks subliminally to all who can see? It certainly conveys quality; this limestone is solid, not veneered concrete:

    Whitman College: solid stone dining hall under construction, 2007. Complete with heraldry.

    Last edited by ablarc; August 19th, 2007 at 05:42 PM.

  6. #6


    Number-One-ranked Princeton has flown the Modernist coop; no longer thrilled by the likes of Pei and Gwathmey, its apostate turnabout might topple distant dominoes in Tulane and Stanford. Already Duke and others are tearing down or recladding Modernist buildings --some driven by aesthetics, others seeking longevity and lower maintenance. A well-built building:

    photos by John Massengale

    Declares Porphyrios’ fellow-traveler, the traditionalist architect John Massengale: “Architects now, while saying that they are promoting the new and the different, are actually fighting for things to remain the same.”

    New and different has become the same old thing; sometimes you have to go back to the future --particularly if you’re in a dead end.

    Continues Massengale: ‘Modernism was the cultural expression of a good deal of the second half of the 20th century, but we’re in the 21st century now, and for most Americans Modernism is just a style – not a lifestyle or an ideology. It’s normal today to work in a high-tech office and go home at night to a new Traditional Neighborhood...

    In a recent article ... the San Francisco Chronicle’s architecture critic talked about a new survey of the hipper-than-hip twenty-somethings in Silicon Valley. “They all want their own computer and a plasma television, but at the same time they also love the traditional look ... ‘We’re working in high-tech impersonal settings all day; we want to go home to Grandma’s house.’ That was the exact phrase one used.”’

  7. #7


    Porphyrios’ original schematic model:

    His original, more anbitious detailing before value engineering:

    Lauritzen family funds Whitman College dormitory

    by Eric Quinones

    The Lauritzen family of Omaha, Neb., has made a $5.5 million gift to fund the construction of an imposing new gothic dormitory within Whitman College, Princeton University's newest residence complex.

    The gift comes from Bruce R. Lauritzen, a member of the class of 1965, a prominent Nebraska philanthropist, chairman of First National Bank of Omaha.

    The new dormitory, to be named Lauritzen Hall, will overlook the large lower courtyard of Whitman College. Whitman is the first of Princeton's colleges to be built from the ground up rather than pieced together from existing structures.

    As part of a major reorganization of Princeton's residential college system, the college will include students from all four undergraduate classes as well as graduate students.

    "This splendid gift brings us closer to the day when we can welcome an expanded student body to a new residential college system that will strengthen the academic and social ties within our University community," said President Shirley M. Tilghman...

    "Princeton offers the finest undergraduate education in the country," said Bruce Lauritzen. "Our family's goal is to see that the University not only maintains that excellence but even strengthens it going forward."...

    Whitman College, designed in collegiate gothic style by noted architect Demetri Porphyrios, is under construction between Baker Rink and Dillon Gymnasium and scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2007. The new college will make possible an 11 percent increase in Princeton's undergraduate student body, from about 4,600 to 5,100.

  8. #8


    How it will look in about a thousand years:

    The best of all American Gothic campuses, because the most urban (not Princeton):

  9. #9


    Thank you for posting this. It is surprising. I had not heard of this.

    I am lucky to live in a late medieval structure. The real thing, not a revival. The building itself is like a museum and one of these days I will get around to posing more photos. The architecture does have its effect on how you live and I do believe it is conducive to study and reflection.

    This is the common area that leads to the apartments. See the family crest. And a shot of the entrance. My office is also in this building underground! It is where I am writing from.
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  10. #10


    ^ Transcendently beautiful.

  11. #11


    1. Ablarc: thanks for the images; as always, a cogent and trenchant anaylisys, too.

    2. Fabrizio: the reason you hadn't heard about this is that full-on classical/traditional architecture, while making inroads, is very inimical to and despised by the starchitectural establishment. You will never see an article about this sort of building in a mainstream architectural amgazine except eprhaps as a scathing critique.

    3. Ablarc again: I think your many posts here and elsewhere could populate a very, very good architecture blog/website. You owe it to the public!!

  12. #12


    NYC's Gothic University:

  13. #13


    Quote Originally Posted by Luca View Post
    You will never see an article about this sort of building in a mainstream architectural amgazine except eprhaps as a scathing critique.

    I don't know about those, but Whitman College was discussed 5 years ago in a Times piece in which William Mitchell, dean of the architecture school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, [is quoted as calling] Princeton's approach ''silly'' and ''stultifying.''
    Dean Mitchell described Princeton's choice as ''roughly the equivalent of requiring all e-mail to be written in Shakespearean English'' and said it signaled ''an astonishing lack of interest in architecture's capacity to respond innovatively and critically to the conditions of our own time and place.''
    Dorm Style: Gothic Castle vs. Futuristic Sponge, N.Y. Times, Nov. 20, 2002.

    Whitman College is a small part of a greater campus expansion at Princeton that is dominated by the likes of Geary and Piano, and its architecural neo-gothic "silliness" is probably due more to the whims of its largest donor than a wave of antediluvian sentiment flowing from Nassau Hall. An older WNY thread discusses much of this stuff:

  14. #14


    Quote Originally Posted by ManhattanKnight View Post
    William Mitchell, dean of the architecture school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, [is quoted as calling] Princeton's approach ''silly'' and ''stultifying.''[INDENT]Dean Mitchell described Princeton's choice as ''roughly the equivalent of requiring all e-mail to be written in Shakespearean English'' and said it signaled ''an astonishing lack of interest in architecture's capacity to respond innovatively and critically to the conditions of our own time and place.''
    This is silliness of another stripe; the uncritical acceptance of weighty, 19th Century Teutonic Zeitgeist dogma: historical determinism. You can recognize this for the nonsense it is by noting that in history's hindsight, anything that actually occurrred was inevitable --because you can (of course) explain it.

    This explains the "inevitability" of such well-known revivals as the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Gothic, Classical and Modernist Revivals. Here's the inevitability of Princeton's Gothic dorms: you get bored with and sick of anything after a while, and the students --having grown up with dull Modernist buildings-- are ready for a change.

    Mitchell is a shallow thinker; this is just the kind of received wisdom you'd expect him to spew. Not incidentally, he illustrates one of the reasons MIT has a second-tier architecture program.

  15. #15


    American University Architecture
    ( Originally Published 1914 )
    Likely by Ralph Adams Cram

    It was really Cope and Stewardson's work at Princeton that set the pace, however, and so beautiful was it, so convincing as to the possibilities of adapting this perfect style to all modern scholastic requirements, that the Princeton authorities, with a wisdom beyond their generation, passed a law that for the future every building erected there should follow the same general style. "Seventy-nine" Hall, Patton, McCosh, and the Gymnasium followed in quick succession ; then came the great Palmer Physical Laboratory, the Biological Laboratory -- Guyot Hall — Upper Pyne and Lower Pyne, and a little later, after I had become supervising architect, Campbell Hall, by my own firm, and the altogether wonderful quadrangles of Holder and Hamilton Halls, by Messrs. Day Brothers and Klauder, of Philadelphia. These latter buildings mark one of the very high points we have achieved in Collegiate Gothic in modern times. When the great quads are completed, we shall, I think, confront a masterpiece.

    The most recent Princeton work is the great Graduate College my own firm is now building on the crest of a low hill, half a mile from the college campus, and commanding a gently sloping lawn of about eighty acres. This new college is, of course, only for graduate students; it has an endowment of over half a million pounds; it is conceived and organized on the most liberal, cultural, and scholastic lines, far away, indeed, from the popular schemes of "vocational" training; and it should go far toward restoring the balance in favour of sound learning and noble scholarship. The plan shows only the work now in hand, the first quad, with the great hall and its kitchens, together with the Cleveland Tower, which is a national memorial to one of our greatest Presidents, who spent his years, after retiring from office, in Princeton, as a trustee of the university and a devoted friend of the new Graduate College on the lines that had been determined by its Dean, Dr. West. At present the placing of the great tower seems a little too like that of the Victoria Tower at Westminster to be wholly satisfactory, but in some distant future a second quadrangle will be constructed to the south and east, containing the Chapel, the Library, and quarters for Fellows, which will restore the tower itself to the centre of the composition. Some day, also, a third quad will be developed to the northeast, and then the group will be complete, for the Dean's lodgings, with their private gardens, to the southwest of the great hall, are already under construction.

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