Heritage Travel, Historic Preservation, Random DJB Thoughts
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Architecture Old and New

Too often college campuses can be poorly designed landscapes for a hodgepodge of mediocre buildings.  So when you come across good – or great – buildings in the academic setting it is a real treat.

On this year’s vacation/college tour, we’ve seen some of both, but I’m pleased to say we’ve been fortunate in visiting colleges that through the years have been thoughtful about their buildings and their settings.

We’ve now become old pros at the campus tour.  Andrew and Claire head off with one tour guide so they aren’t intimidated (if they ever are) by having the folks in the same group.  Candice and I then follow a second guide.  Candice pays attention to what the guide is saying, while keeping her eye trained on the design and maintenance of the buildings.  I take pictures of the architecture and any landscape feature that strikes my fancy.  We all come together at the end and share what we’ve seen and heard.

Hey, it works for us!

At the end of week one, we’ve seen some great buildings and several beautifully conceived and landscaped campuses.  While you would expect that I’d have my eye on the historic buildings, there have also been some modernist structures that caught our attention.

The photo at the top of the post is of Frank Gehry’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.  It was raining the day we saw this building and the photo doesn’t do it justice.  But this is a very good piece of architecture that works well in its setting – something that’s important for Gehry’s sculptured designs.  I think Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell got it right in describing this as a performance piece that works once in this setting.  The brushed stainless steel covering is beautiful – even in the rain.

When visiting the Yale campus, we certainly saw what some critics call “one of the nation’s richest sites for modernist architecture.” While driving, we turned a corner in New Haven and came upon the David S. Ingalls Hockey Rink, one of the best known buildings of Eero Saarinen.   Much has been written about this 1958 building, but at first look it doesn’t disappoint.  Saarinen’s swooping roof certainly captures the motion of ice skating in a unique and unforgettable way.

I’ve shown it in an earlier post this week, but Gordon Bunshaft’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale is worth a second look.  Andrew and I toured around the building and inside as well, and were both surprised and taken with the translucent marble that allows beautiful, low-level light into the library.

Yesterday was my first visit to the Vassar campus, which is a treasure trove of good design, both old and new.  The Main Building – a National Historic Landmark which once held every element of the school – was designed by Smithsonian architect James Renwick, Jr.

The Cesar Pelli-designed renovation in 2003 of the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film (shown below), which preserved the original 1860s facade of Avery Hall but was an entirely new structure, may not be every preservationist’s delight.  But along with the Ferry Building, designed by Marcel Breuer, and Pelli’s Lehman Loeb Art Center, the campus has certainly made a name for itself with modernist architecture.

But, I must admit I’m a sucker for great libraries and the Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar didn’t disappoint.  The outside is fine early 20th century Gothic, but the inside is terrific.  I could study here all day!  As a friend of mine said in response to an earlier post, these really are cathedrals for learning.

The first week of vacation has been an architectural treat.  From this point on, it may be more about the landscapes…which isn’t a bad thing to look forward to from my perspective.  Just keep an eye open for more over the next few days.

More to come…


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