10 College Campuses With Architecture You Have to See to Believe

A lot of factors go into the unique “look and feel” of a legendary university, especially the sense of place delivered by building design and the landscaping of the campus grounds. Attending one of these famous schools for architecture can add a certain intangible value to your college experience, whether or not you ever take an art or architecture class. Here are 10 colleges with campuses that you have to see to believe:

  • Arcadia University was founded in as a liberal arts institution in 1853 and acquired its current site on the outskirts of Philadelphia, PA, in 1928. The university boasts a National Historic Landmark, the iconic Grey Towers Castle, which was inspired by a medieval English castle and completed by architect Horace Trumbauer in 1898. Grey Towers contains a ballroom, a conference room (formerly the billiards room), a dining room and a freshman residence hall. Events include the annual Haunted Castle fund-raiser.
  • Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, is home to a modern design marvel, the first American project completed by Norwegian firm Snøhetta. The Wolfe Center for the Arts slopes out of the Ohio prairie, drawing the eye upward into the vast Midwestern sky. The elegant metallic slab offers a place for creative collaboration in theater, dance, music, film and digital arts. Also notable are a 400-seat playhouse, skylit corridors and an extra-tall tower to house scenery. The structure earned a Silver rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council for environmentally friendly features such as its giant turfgrass roof.
  • Columbia University is one of the many storied colleges in New York City, and students there walk among architectural monuments. Low Memorial Library, the former main library and current administrative center at Columbia, stands out in particular. A testament to pure architectural classicism, the grand structure boasts a columned entrance and a massive domed roof that recalls the Pantheon in Rome. The plaza, inspired by the design of amphitheaters in ancient Greece, offers an “urban beach” and gathering place.
  • The Illinois Institute of Technology commissioned Bauhaus modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to design S. R. Crown Hall, the headquarters of the College of Architecture, completed in 1956. One of the most striking features of Crown Hall is the expanse of its interior area, measuring 120 by 220 feet on the ground and stretching to an 18-foot ceiling height. This open space is designed for flexible uses. Mies’ body of work extends throughout the state of Illinois; he is also the architect of several major buildings in the Chicago skyline.
  • Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, has several historical structures on its grounds, but architect Steven Holl’s very modern connection between two of the stately old buildings draw a lot of attention. A fire in Pratt’s Higgins Hall in 1996 prompted the commission of Holl’s translucent pedestrian thruway, which features corridors at multiple levels and double skylights letting in both northern and southern light. Architectural critics praise the coexistence of the old and the new in Holl’s structure and the adjacent buildings.
  • Rhodes College, founded in 1848 in Memphis, Tenn., takes pride in the collegiate-gothic style of buildings on its 100-acre, wooded campus. The Paul Barrett, Jr. Library, a modern example of classical form, came to be through a collaboration of two firms — Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company of Norfolk and Boston’s Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbot. The structure offers everything from elegant chandeliers to high-tech communications access, and it received a design award in 2007.
  • The University of Nottingham has won awards for sustainable design, including the reclamation of an industrial brown-field site as the Jubilee Campus. A series of lakes was constructed to provide geothermal energy as well as wildlife habitat. Various structures employ solar energy collection systems, passive ventilation engineering and environmentally integrated heating and cooling systems. The campus also sports several visual treats, including a pyramid in shades of red and the quirky conical spiral of the Djanogly Learning Resource Center, designed by Jubilee Campus project lead Sir Michael Hopkins.
  • The University of Oxford has been around so long that there’s no clear date of founding, but evidence of teaching at the site goes back as far as the 11th century. Among the many architectural majesties and curiosities of this ancient campus are the courtyard at Christ Church College and the famous Divinity School in the Bodleian Library, built in the 15th century and home to an ornate English Gothic vaulted ceiling.
  • The University of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania showcases a healthy portfolio of neoclassical buildings, but no structure stands out more than the towering Cathedral of Learning. Designed by architect Charles Z. Klauder, the 535-foot, 42-story Gothic monolith is the second tallest piece of university architecture in the world. The Cathedral is also an early example of crowdsourced funding, as it relied on gifts of materials from local industries and funding from thousands of small donations by men, women and children.
  • Trinity College at the University of Dublin was founded in 1592 when Queen Elizabeth (the First!) approved a university in Ireland. The magnificent lending and copyright library dates back to the college’s origins. One of the university’s main architectural draws is known as the Old Library, where the 9th-century Book of Kells is kept. The main chamber of the Old Library, built between 1712 and 1732, is almost 65 meters long and has been enhanced and expanded upon throughout the centuries.

These aren’t the only famous college campuses known for their buildings and landscaping. Plenty of universities worldwide have been around for a hundred years and more, and others take special care to give their campus a distinct and distinguished sense of place. Track down some schools near you with a reputation for architecture, and you can plan a road trip complete with college campus visits.

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