Panorama of the American Campus over the Centuries

Paul Turner, Stanford University

Tuesday, July 10, 2012Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
View of Harvard College buildings, 1767.  Engraving by Paul Revere.

View of Harvard College buildings, 1767. Engraving by Paul Revere.

The University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson, ca 1814-19.  Photograph by Paul V. Turner.

The University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson, ca 1814-19. Photograph by Paul V. Turner.

The American college, or university, campus follows a distinctively American form of planning and design. Although the colleges founded in the English colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries were based on Oxford and Cambridge, their physical planning was innovative and distinctively American. While the English institutions consisted of inward-turning quadrangles, the early American schools had separate, freestanding structures that faced outward to their communities and to nature. This extroverted character has typified American college planning ever since, along with other innovations that appeared on the early American campuses.

Innovation itself became a characteristic of American college campuses as architecture, as well as educational and social principles, evolved. For example, in the early 19th century when Greek Revival architecture was popular, the neoclassical style was co-opted to justify the traditional classical curriculum based on the study of Greek and Latin. Contemporary, but competing, agricultural and mechanical colleges providing a more diverse, and democratic, education. Those colleges adopted a very different form of campus planning, one advocated by the park planner Frederick Law Olmstead.

In the later 19th and early 20th centuries, changing needs and attitudes in higher education found expression in other types of physical planning, such as the Beaux Arts system of design and the revival of Gothic forms. “Collegiate Gothic” was thought to be well-suited to universities, as well as libraries (necessary for a collegiate education) and churches (when many colleges retained religious affiliations). Colleges and universities later adopted various kinds of “modern” architecture to meet new needs and educational ideals. Throughout American history, campus planning has been a unique expression of evolving educational and social aspirations.

Paul Turner graduated from Union College, and then earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard. His training as both an architect and an art historian is reflected in his scholarship concerning diverse research topics. Dr. Turner’s research topics include 18th through 20th century French architecture, and American architecture and urban planning - with a special focus on Stanford University, for which he is the Wattis Professor of Art, Emeritus.

Dr. Turner’s dissertation, The Education of Le Corbusier, was published in English (1977), French (1987) and Italian (2001). His publications include The Founders & the Architects: The Design of Stanford University (1976), Campus: An American Planning Tradition (1984), Joseph Ramee, International Architect of the Revolutionary Era (1996), Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Hanna House Restored (1999) and Mrs. Hoover’s Pueblo Walls: The Primitive and the Modern in the Lou Henry Hoover House (2004).

7:15pm mini-exhibit

College memorabilia (plural) abound! Share your college spirit—and school colors—with pennants, megaphones, photographs, posters and ceramics (perhaps a drinking mug). Wear your alma mater’s letter sweater or beanie, or a sweatshirt, tee shirt or cap from a later class reunion.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.