Although President Thomas Jefferson’s neo-classical design for the University of Virginia (completed in 1826) is often credited as the hallmark of American campus design, much of what we admire architecturally on the campuses of American universities dates back to only the turn of the 20th century. Between the 1890s and World War I, government initiatives and favorable economic conditions allowed for a flourishing of creative and innovative developments.
Building 10 at MIT designed by William BosworthPrinceton’s 19th century Gothic Revival and Stanford’s California Mission style (with local sandstone and red-tile roofs) were among the many standouts of this era.1 But as architectural historian Mark Jarzombek asserts, the design of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at that time was especially distinctive. Unlike other, more traditionally self-contained campuses, MIT became an integral part of the city it was located in.
It was “not only resolutely urban, but also an important element in Boston’s emerging neoclassical silhouette.”2 When MIT’s new Cambridge campus,3 or what was then known as “the New Tech,” designed by William Welles Bosworth, was opened in June 13, 1916, Bostonians and Cantabrigians admired its unique synthesis of classical motifs. The prevalence of the Greek Ionic colonnades and a central dome that resembled the grand Pantheon in Rome evoked Jefferson’s ideas, the European Enlightenment, and the ideals of classical architecture.