“Style” is not a word we use often at this magazine. But it’s a word that pops up a bit more frequently when we are putting together our annual roundup of college and university buildings. After all, college campuses are often home to an array of architectural styles.
When I studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis in the late 1990s, there was only a handful of contemporary buildings on campus. Top on the list was Fumihiko Maki’s cantilevered concrete Steinberg Hall (1960). It was a bold choice of architect at the time, giving the future Pritzker Prize winner his very first commission. The rest of the campus was covered with buildings in the Collegiate Gothic style, the go-to choice among so many educational institutions in the U.S. wanting to express august historic ties to academe. That traditional style, unlike Modernism, endured on WashU’s campus, from the first buildings erected over a century ago to those built while I was a student there. In fact, my classmates and I witnessed the construction of several Collegiate Gothic parking garages, which we all found very amusing.
After I graduated, WashU began to catch up with other colleges and universities around the country that have, for a long time now, seen contemporary architecture as a more forward-looking choice for expressing the innovative thinking that takes place on campus. Almost half a century after his first building there, Maki completed another for the university in 2006. And other contemporary buildings followed, including an overhaul of a major portion of the campus by KieranTimberlake.
The university projects we feature in this issue innovate in a number of ways, pushing aesthetic, material, and technological limits. At ETH Zurich, glass block reigns supreme. A new building there by Roger Boltshauser takes inspiration from Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre in Paris, as well as an older building on the ETH campus (recently renovated and also in this issue), though the new structure incorporates the modular material into a ventilated double facade. In Italy, a swerving pile by Mario Cucinella reflects its Alpine location—and it too puts its sinuous skin to work. Mass timber makes a statement in Singapore with a giant new building by Toyo Ito. Stateside, John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects finds a bespoke solution to a pavilion-like structure for bicycles at UC Santa Barbara. In Providence, a mysterious metal facade looms over Brown University’s campus.
All of these buildings are thoroughly “of their time,” but in many cases allude to earlier architecture. The distinctive fluting on Brown’s new performing arts building by REX, featured on the cover, could be seen as a Classical reference. In this issue’s Forum article, Kyle Dugdale, an architect and historian who teaches the history of architecture at Yale University (where, incidentally, Collegiate Gothic finds its way in buildings old and new) challenges us to rethink what we know about Classical architecture—a “style” that’s gone in and out of fashion for centuries.