Vol. 19, No. 26

April 6, 2000

College planners gather to learn from UD model

Any prospective college student who has spent time on a campus tour knows that appearances count.

And few institutions in the country have been so successful at putting on their best face as the University of Delaware, particularly in preserving and reusing its historic architecture, according to members of the Society of College and University Planning (SCUP), who attended a daylong workshop March 26 at the University.

The workshop, which kicked off the association’s three-day mid-Atlantic regional conference, used University projects to illustrate how postsecondary institutions can find unique solutions to both save and adapt historic properties.

“It’s a wonderful campus–with a unified view,” Hal L. Dean, project manager and architect with West Chester University in West Chester, Pa., said. “The [UD’s facilities] planning department is one of the best in the country. In terms of consensus building, it’s really unique.”

Indeed, retaining the historic integrity of a university campus is no minor detail in higher education today, David L. Ames, director of the UD’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design, said. He organized the workshop along with David Hollowell, UD executive vice president and a past president of SCUP. Graduating students in exit interviews cited the University’s beauty as one reason they enrolled. Once they were here, the pleasing environment added to their overall University experience, the students said.

“The University of Delaware looks like what they think a college should look like,” Ames said.

The architecture at the University serves as a bricks and mortar document of the institution’s long cultural history. From its early days in 1832 as New Ark College to 1914, when the board retained the architectural firm of Day & Klauder to create a master plan to guide the campus into the future, UD buildings speak of time, place and people.

Day & Klauder of Philadelphia, one of the foremost college architects in the United States in the first part of the 20th century, adopted a Georgian Revival style to pick up on Delaware’s Colonial heritage. The layout–along a central axis–reflected the “University Beautiful Movement” of the late 19th century. That trend grew out of the “City Beautiful Movement” launched by the Chicago World ‘s Fair of 1893, and the renewed interest in Thomas Jefferson’s plan for the University of Virginia.

“The plan was designed to be truly long range–The idea was the campus would be developed over time,” Ames said.

When Gore Hall, a classroom building, was built in the late 1990s, it picked up on the existing Georgian Revival architecture and occupies a site reserved in the 1915 plan. The building, which marries a classic design with the latest in educational technology, is the result of a $17.5 million gift from Mrs. W. L. Gore, trustee Robert W. Gore ‘59, and Sally Gore ‘76M.

Continuity is impressive to facilities managers from other universities. Douglas N. Rose, director of space management at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said his institution didn’t do a master plan until the mid-1990s.

“It’s amazing that the new buildings and renovation work [at UD] are tied back to a plan created in 1915,” Rose said. “It gives the campus history and cohesiveness.”

What’s more, the University’s physical history serves as a three-dimensional teaching tool in the areas of art conservation, art history and historic architecture and design. Bernard Herman, professor of art history, told workshop participants that Bayard Sharp Hall, at the corner of Elkton Road and Delaware Avenue, is an excellent vehicle for instructing students on the challenges encountered during renovation projects. Built as St. Thomas Episcopal Church in 1843, it was underwent a $1.7 million renovation in 1997, initiated after receipt of a gift of $500,000 from Bayard Sharp. The building will soon be fitted with a tracher organ and will have dual use as a music recital hall and as a meeting space.

“It’s a major landmark,” Herman said of Bayard Sharp Hall. “The building will pay enormous dividends because it shows a commitment to place.”

Bayard Sharp Hall, along with other historic structures that preserve the streetscape, also serve to integrate the campus into the community, Herman said. Consider Elliott Hall on East Main Street, which is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newark, constructed before the American Revolution.

The building, which maintains its residential feel to travelers along Main Street, now houses the offices of the dean of the College of Arts and Science. When adapting the building, the University cleverly relocated the entrance to an addition behind the original house, Ames said.

“The University of Delaware recognizes that it is the primary cultural institution in Newark and accepts a responsibility to the community. It consistently sets examples in preservation of the town’s historic character,” Herman said.

The need for universities to reflect the physical uniqueness of their campuses and communities is only going to deepen as the world becomes increasingly virtual, both Ames and Herman said. In this high-tech age, students, faculty members and visitors are more sensitive to place.

“Place is important to avoid a kind of dislocation as the world becomes more and more anonymous,” Herman said.

But living institutions cannot be frozen in another age. The trick is to balance historic preservation issues with modern requirements–not an easy task. The University has accomplished this by using good design and having a commitment to the historic elements of the building, Ames said.

“Collegiate buildings must be constantly renovated and upgraded to meet new demands of teaching, research and public service if an institution is to be competitive for the best faculty and students. Therein lies the major tension in preserving collegiate buildings,” Ames said.

“It’s a tension between maintaining the historic architectural integrity of a building while upgrading it to incorporate not only the ordinary, like new mechanical systems) but the exotic (like the latest computer and scientific technologies).

“In other words, to create what today we call ‘smart buildings.’ In short, the tension is how to make an historic building ‘smart’ without losing its integrity,” Ames said.

Some successful examples of this balance include renovation of Memorial Hall on The Mall (originally built as a library), Hartshorn Hall on East Park Place (originally built as the gymnasium for the Women’s College) and Taylor Hall on North College Avenue (originally built as the men’s gymnasium).

When it comes to adaptive reuse, Munroe Hall off West Delaware Avenue is a wonderfully successful project, creating one building out of three, Herman said.

“The University of Delaware is distinguished not by the fact that we speak about historic preservation, but by the fact that we have a record of having done numerous historic preservation projects. We view these projects in the context of our decade-long war against deferred maintenance. We are near to winning that war, and the historic preservation projects have proved to be some of our most successful battles,” University President David P. Roselle said.

–Maureen Milford