“If you ask freshmen why they chose their colleges, they usually say one of two things,” says Baltimore architect Adam Gross, who’s worked on projects at the University of Virginia and Swarthmore. “Either they got a good financial aid package or they thought the campus was beautiful.”
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America’s most beautiful college campuses have the power not only to sway indecisive high school students, of course, but also to attract tourists. Their appeal comes through varying combinations of awe-inspiring architecture, landscaping, and surroundings. To choose among more than 2,600 four-year American colleges, we considered these three key factors as well as architects’ expert opinions.
“The most important thing to realise is that how landscaping and buildings interconnect is as important as the buildings themselves,” explains Boston-based architect Mark deShong. At Princeton University, for example, “It’s really about landscape,” he says. The campus connects its ivy-covered grey stone buildings with footpaths, idyllic small greens, and courtyards that create an intimate village-like scale.
Architectural coherence also plays a role in making a campus beautiful. Take the University of San Diego, which sticks to one architectural style: the Spanish Renaissance, with its elaborate façades, delicate ironwork, and carved wood. Ocean views and palm-tree-lined courtyards are extra selling points.
Yale can’t compete when it comes to location, but it has embraced one architectural movement after another. As Robert A. M. Stern, dean of Yale’s School of Architecture, puts it: “Our campus is a living history of the architecture and urbanism of its three centuries in New Haven.” Whatever your taste, you’ll find a structure to your liking on a campus stroll, perhaps dorms designed by 1960s starchitect Eero Saarinen or James Gamble Rogers’s imposing Gothic bell tower.
But no assessment of America’s campuses would be complete without the University of Virginia. “You might think it looks like all these other campuses, but it’s the first to look like that,” says deShong. He cites founder and architect Thomas Jefferson’s then-novel concept of flanking a lawn with pavilions linked by colonnades and a grand library at its head. New York-based architect Alexander Cooper concurs: “UVA remains the masterpiece of American campus planning.”
So plan your own trip to check out these campus masterpieces. Think we missed a beautiful campus? Tell us why it should make the grade by posting a comment below. —Ratha Tep
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Frank Gehry's Fisher centre--an undulating work of glass and brushed stainless steel--showcases Bard's thriving arts scene throughout the year (current college president Leon Botstein himself is an accomplished conductor). The centre is on the contemporary side of the rural campus's architectural spectrum, which goes back to the 19th-century Blithewood Mansion and its manicured Italian garden. Pathways make for easy exploring, with the Catskill Mountains visible in the distance. --Kate Appleton
The entryway to Stanford's 8,180-acre campus is arguably the grandest of any college campus: a mile-long, tree-lined Palm Drive, which leads up to the expansive green Oval, red-clay-roof-tiled Main Quad, and the campus's crown architectural jewel, Memorial Church, with its striking mosaic façade.
Photo-op: The view of campus--and all the way to San Francisco on a clear day--from the Hoover Tower observation platform.
To-Do List: The Cantor Arts centre's collection of 170 bronzes by Auguste Rodin, among the largest outside Paris, includes the Gates of Hell and Burghers of Calais. --Ratha Tep
It's hard to miss the glistening golden dome of the university's Main Building, not to mention the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Sacred Heart that defines this 150-year-old Catholic school. Besides gorgeous architecture, the campus is chock-full of lush quads, where students congregate to kick back when they're not in class--or at the football stadium. --Joshua Pramis
What do Ellis Island and Florida Southern College have in common? They're among the 32 U.S. spots that have recently been put under watch by the World Monument Fund as endangered cultural sites. You might also be surprised to learn that Florida Southern--on a hillside overlooking Lake Hollingsworth--has the world's largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, including the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel with its coloured pieces of glass and wrought-iron tower. --Ratha Tep
Some campuses are an amalgam of styles; the University of San Diego sticks to just one, and what a glorious one it has chosen--the Spanish Renaissance, with its elaborate façades, delicate ironwork, and carved woodwork. Ocean views and palm-tree-lined courtyards only add to the paradise-on-campus appeal.
Photo-op: The Immaculata Chapel, with its piercingly blue dome, visible from much of the city.
To-Do List: A walk around the Garden of the Sea, behind the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, and its serene reflecting pool and gardens overlooking Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. --Ratha Tep
This rural college holds a lofty record: it's the world's largest contiguous college campus in the world, with more than 26,000 acres of fields, lakes, forests, and mountains. Berry makes prime use of its setting too, with numerous reflecting pools and fountains situated nearby its beautiful English Gothic--inspired buildings like the Ford Dining Hall, Ford Auditorium, and Mary Hall, made possible by the school's largest benefactor--Henry Ford. --Ratha Tep
Six miles from downtown lies this 137-acre park like campus of verdant forests, sweeping pathways, and stone walls. A tree walk with native species encountered by the two explorers for whom the college was named on their epic journey west surrounds the Frank Manor House--originally built as a 35-room private mansion.
Photo-op: The serene Reflecting Pool, bordered by a wall of wisteria, for a stellar view of Mount Hood.
To-Do List: A day hike through surrounding Tryon Creek State Park. Begin with coffee brewed with beans from Stumptown Coffee Roasters at the Lewis & Clark bookstore. --Ratha Tep
Don't be fooled by Rice's urban address. A double row of majestic oak trees encloses its perimeter--a harbinger of the lush 285-acre campus to come, divided into quadrangles and planted with 4,000-plus elms, hickories, maples, and other trees (a ratio of more than one for each undergrad). The oldest buildings, like the standout Lovett Hall, borrow elements of medieval southern European architecture, including grand, arched passageways and rose-hued brick. --Ratha Tep
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