America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses
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The entryway to Stanford’s 8,180-acre campus is arguably the grandest of any college campus: A mile-long, tree-lined Palm Drive leads up to the expansive green oval Main Quad, surrounded by red-roofed buildings and the campus’s crown architectural jewel, Memorial Church, with its striking mosaic façade. Beauty continues at the Cantor Arts Center's collection of 170 bronzes by Auguste Rodin, one of the largest beyond Paris. The view of campus—and all the way to San Francisco on a clear day—is best captured from the Hoover Tower observation platform.
This rural college in Mount Berry, Georgia holds a lofty record: it’s the world’s largest contiguous college campus in the world, with more than 27,000 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.
University of Notre Dame
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 173-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. A sculpture park of granite, steel, and bronze works appeared in 2014.
Florida Southern College
What do Ellis Island and Florida Southern College have in common? They’re among the 40 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 in Lakeland, Florida — 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. It was dubbed the "first uniquely American campus" by Wright himself. Other accolades? It was dubbed a National Historic Landmark in 2012.—Ratha Tep
University of San Diego
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. The Immaculata Chapel, with its piercingly blue dome and solid bronze front door is visible from much of the city, and is a photo-op worthy landmark on the campus. Walk around the Garden of the Sea, behind the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, and linger alongside the serene reflecting pool and gardens overlooking Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Frank Gehry’s Fisher Center—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 center 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.
Don’t be fooled by Rice’s urban Houston 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 4,300-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.
Ambitious campus planners wanted to create a main quad over dramatic Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes. “It’s the idea of putting education on a high platform,” says architect Mark deShong. That original plan evolved, and the beautiful setting now accommodates both historic structures (McGraw Tower) and contemporary ones like the I. M. Pei–designed Johnson Museum of Art—whose walls screen movies on summer evenings—and the new Milstein Hall by Rem Koolhaas. Prospective students (and their parents) are always impressed by Cascadilla Gorge, whose eight waterfalls drop more than 400 feet from Cornell’s campus to downtown Ithaca, the 25-acre botanical gardens, and Cornell Plantation’s 150-acre arboretum. Climb to the Newman Overlook for a sweeping panoramic view.
Sewanee, The University of the South
This 13,000-acre rural campus on the Cumberland Plateau overlooking the Tennessee Valley combines Gothic-inspired architecture with magnificent surroundings: forest, lakefront bluffs, and a garden ravine that follows a stream through campus. In spring, it blooms with daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. The univresity's All Saints’ Chapel draws inspiration from the University Church at Oxford and Notre Dame in Paris. Catch a performance at the on-site Tennessee Williams Center, named after the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright who left his estate to Sewanee.
University of Washington
The eye-catching Collegiate Gothic Suzzallo Library at UW’s Seattle campus has 35-foot-high stained-glass windows and elaborately gilded vaulted ceilings that soar 65 feet in the air. But come spring, the Quad’s 31 Yoshino cherry trees steal the spotlight with blooms of delicate pink petals set against red-brick buildings (peak cherry blossom season, mid-March to early April). The Drumheller Fountain is a great spot for views of snowcapped Mount Rainier, and musical acts are best seen at the newly renovated Neptune Theatre, which debuted in the University District in 1921.
Gray stone buildings like the University Chapel and Cleveland Tower are pure Collegiate Gothic splendor. But the 500-acre campus’s beauty extends beyond their doors. “Princeton has beautiful buildings, but the exquisite landscaping amplifies them even more,” explains Boston-based architect Mark deShong. Courtyards, idyllic small greens, and crisscrossing footpaths dot the campus. The handsome ivy-covered Nassau Hall is not only the oldest building on campus, but also a former home to the Continental Congress.
Kenyon’s hilltop setting in tiny Gambier makes for one of the country’s most idyllic campus walks: the 10-foot-wide Middle Path, which spans the length of the college and through town, shaded by massive trees that glow fiery orange in the fall. Veer off the path for Kenyon’s castle-like Victorian Gothic Ascension Hall and the Greek Revival Rosse Hall with its elegant columns. The college’s first permanent building, Old Kenyon, stands out with its multicolored spire.
Just southwest of Philadelphia, Swarthmore’s Scott Arboretum nurtures idyllic gardens of hydrangea, lilacs, and tree peonies and a courtyard devoted to fragrant trees and shrubs. The highlight is its outdoor amphitheater, a series of cascading lawn-covered stone tiers shaded by tulip trees and surrounded by Crum Woods and its holly and rhododendron collections.The Dean Bond Rose Garden has 200-plus varieties and views of stately Parrish Hall in the background.
University of Virginia
How’s this for honors? UVA is the only university in the U.S. to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and Thomas Jefferson chose its founding to be one of only three of his many accomplishments noted on his gravestone (being president wasn’t among them). Jefferson designed the campus’s since-copied layout and even hired its initial faculty and planned the curriculum. Highlights of this elegant campus include the Neoclassical domed Rotunda, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, and the Small Special Collections Library, which showcases the most comprehensive collection of letters, documents, and early printings of the Declaration of Independence.
While some campuses hold stubbornly onto their pasts, Yale embraces changing architectural movements. “Our campus is a living history of the architecture and urbanism of its three centuries in New Haven,” notes Robert A. M. Stern, dean of Yale’s School of Architecture. The collection spans from the Georgian-style red-brick Connecticut Hall (whose construction predates the Revolutionary War) to the Postmodernist (is it a turtle? a whale?) Ingalls Rink by Eero Saarinen and the School of Management's new Edward P. Evans Hall: a Norman Foster project completed in 2014. Duck inside the wondrous Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which houses volumes in a six-story glass-enclosed tower, set against translucent grained Vermont marble panels.
Much of this Collegiate Gothic wonderland, including soaring Duke Chapel, was designed by Julian Abele, one of the country’s first prominent African American architects. But Duke’s campus isn’t all Gothic-inspired marvel. Among its newest architectural gems are the glass-walled Karl and Mary Ellen von der Heyden Pavilion and the Rafael Viñoly–designed Nasher Museum of Art—five pavilions shaped in a loose radial pattern that house contemporary works by Andy Warhol and Kara Walker.
University of Colorado at Boulder
The flagship university of Colorado combines sweeping views of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains and Flatirons, a gorgeous natural setting that includes a serene lake and two creeks, and ruggedly beautiful buildings to match. Most, including the grand Norlin Library, feature a distinct Tuscan-meets-the-West architectural style of local sandstone walls, red tile roofs, and limestone trim.
University of Wisconsin – Madison
There are a number of campuses set on pretty lakes, but none commands its lakeshore setting quite like the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Its august Memorial Union and outdoor stone Terrace, dotted with bright green, orange, and yellow starburst chairs, practically hug the shores of Lake Mendota. Another building on campus occupying prime real estate: the white-columned hilltop Bascom Hall.
Only 12 miles west of Boston, Wellesley’s 500-acre campus is another world entirely, with pathways that meander through sprawling meadows, groves of conifers and hardwoods that surround tranquil Lake Waban, and 19th-century brick buildings tucked into the wooded hillsides. Sixteen greenhouses, lush with tropical, subtropical, and desert plantings, stay green straight through the long northeastern winters.
The College of William & Mary
Named for its royal English founders, William & Mary is the second-oldest college in the U.S. (Harvard came first) and is anchored by the brick Wren Building, whose weather vane bears the founding date of 1693. Students sprawl on the grassy Sunken Garden, which stretches from the Wren to Crim Dell Pond. Duke of Gloucester Street links the 1,200-acre campus to the town of Williamsburg.
University of Chicago
Located in the South Side Hyde Park neighborhood, this campus blends traditional English Gothic style with the modern designs of Eero Saarinen and Mies van der Rohe—across 215 acres that include an official botanical garden. Be sure to pay attention to details: many of the gargoyles on the ivy-covered buildings date back to the end of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, when the campus was constructed.
Bryn Mawr College
The first example of the Collegiate Gothic style created by architects Cope and Stewardson (who drew influences from Oxford and Cambridge universities) is found at this women’s liberal arts college. Campuses across the U.S., including Princeton and Washington University in St. Louis, went on to emulate the look of Bryn Mawr’s Pembroke Hall. But the buildings aren’t the only lookers; Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, helped with the layout of the campus’s 135 tree-covered acres. —Lyndsey Matthews
The serene landscape of this 750-acre wooded university in Greenville, South Carolina is focused around a lake and the landmark Bell Tower. From a Buddhist temple beside the school’s Asia Garden—full of irises, bamboo, and camellias—to a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s home, the setting on this campus is as diverse as its student body. Oh, and did we mention the 18-hole golf course and miles of walking trails?
Sure, it might be planted just outside of downtown Nashville, but you certainly wouldn’t know by looking around. The campus actually doubles as a sprawling arboretum. With some 170 species of trees scattered across 300-plus acres and sightings of hawks, owls, and cardinals, it’s easy to forget you’re actually in the middle of a city.