Take a crash course in architecture at the country's most beautiful college campuses.
"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."
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 realize 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 gray 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
See All of America's Most Beautiful College Campuses
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. —Ratha Tep Photo: Tina Case of Case Rust Photography See All of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
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 Photo: Dennis MacDonald / Alamy See All of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
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 colored pieces of glass and wrought-iron tower. —Ratha Tep Photo: imac/ Alamy See All of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
A decades-long renewal topping $1 billion is paying dividends for Cincy, which has cultivated a strikingly modern look—and proven that “it doesn’t need ivy-covered brick walls” to be beautiful, as UC Magazine put it. Notable architects Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, Frank Gehry, and Peter Eisenman have each made their mark on the campus, whose Main Street leads to the prow-shaped Steger Student Life Center and the Tangeman University Center, which, in 2005, dramatically repositioned the original clock tower atop a skylight in a 90-foot atrium. —Kate Appleton Photo: Courtesy of University of Cincinnati See All of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
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.—Ratha Tep Photo: Courtesy of University of San Diego See All of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
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 Photo: Berry College See All of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
Six miles from downtown lies this 137-acre parklike 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. —Ratha Tep Photo: Courtesy of Lewis and Clark College See All of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
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