The Coolest College Architecture in the United States
Most of us can conjure in our minds some preconceived image of a standard college campus. In fact, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Dartmouth College in 1953, he remarked, “This is what a college campus should look like.”
We tend to think of grand brick halls, grass quads, and clock towers. And many campuses have just those features. Others, however, offer students and faculty something a bit more eye-catching, thanks to their next-level architecture.
The colleges and universities on this list feature buildings and structures that lead the way in their styles. Some are traditional; some are decidedly not. Some appear in urban settings, while others anchor their rural campuses. Take a virtual visit to 12 American colleges with the most impressive architecture.
University of Alabama
The University of Alabama’s campus features a little bit of everything. There’s a beautiful quad surrounded by classic red-brick academic buildings, a Greek Revival President’s Mansion that evokes grandeur as well as Southern charm, and a massive state-of-the-art football stadium. There’s even a spectacular Beaux-Arts hall that doubles as a museum of natural history. You get the idea.
Already picturesque thanks to Frank Gehry's Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College’s campus just keeps on getting prettier. In 2016, the college expanded by purchasing Montgomery Place, a nearby historic estate with a grand main house and several smaller buildings.
Could there be a better way to land a spot on this list than to establish your school inside an opulent castle? Perhaps the most unique school on this list, Flagler College operates out of the former Ponce de León Hotel, a Spanish Renaissance masterpiece built in 1888 that's listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The St. Augustine, Florida, school is named for Standard Oil co-founder Henry Flagler, who built the luxury hotel.
Florida Southern College
Who knew that a small private school in central Florida was also the world’s largest single-site collection of buildings designed by America’s most famous architect? In the 1940s and 1950s, Frank Lloyd Wright revitalized this campus with more than ten buildings and structures. The collection, called “Child of the Sun,” showcases Wright’s vision of harmony between man-made structures and the natural world. His philosophy has made the campus distinctly different from more traditional college designs.
Viewed from across the Potomac River, Georgetown looks like a sort of grey kingdom atop a hill. The imposing tower of Healy Hall stands most prominent, but a visit to the campus reveals ample green space, fountains, and more lustrous red-brick halls.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
To be clear, this is not necessarily the prettiest campus, but MIT’s extreme variety and forward-thinking architecture landed it squarely on our list. A study in juxtapositions, the Ancient Greek-ish Great Dome exists alongside the futuristic, Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center. There’s the eyesore that is the Green Building, but the college has managed to make the cogeneration-based utilities plant (which powers the campus on a third of the fuel it would otherwise need) almost subtle.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame is one of the few colleges in the country recognizable by just one feature of a single building. The Golden Dome that crowns the school’s Main Building is so iconic that students and alumni are often called “Golden Domers.” And don’t forget “Touchdown Jesus,” a mural visible from Notre Dame Stadium. The rest of the campus features plenty of green space and Gothic-style architecture, too.
University of Pennsylvania
The buildings of UPenn’s campus vary well beyond the common college styles. The massive line of structures (that actually form one building) surrounding the Upper Quad, for example, features Gothic influences as well as quirky, onion dome-esque tops. There’s also the terra cotta Furness Library, which is an attractive fortress-like design featuring stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and spiral staircases.
Princeton’s name is well-suited to the Collegiate Gothic campus, which features lots of gray stone facades and castle-like towers. But one architectural highlight, Nassau Hall, is an exception. This Renaissance-style building is the university’s oldest. When it was completed in 1756, it was the largest stone building in the colonies.
University of San Diego
Almost every building on San Diego’s campus seems to adhere to the Spanish Renaissance style. Magnificent off-white structures, such as the Immaculata Church and the Student Life Pavilion, pay homage to the city’s history. It also doesn’t hurt that the campus is bathed in sun practically year-round.
Smith’s architecture has quite a bit going for it: magnificent brick hallways, a lush quad, and an almost Parisian-looking conservatory. Throw in the unique quirk that all students live in mansion-esque houses (rather than traditional dorm buildings) and a sleek campus center that opened in 2003, and you get a truly impressive display.
University of Virginia
On UVA’s campus (or “The Grounds,” as students and faculty say) there are buildings so classically beautiful, yet entirely unique, they inspired an entirely new architectural term: Jeffersonian Architecture. Named after the school’s founder and original architect, Thomas Jefferson—yes, that one— the style incorporates Palladian design elements and utilizes red brick, white trim, pillars, and lots of symmetry. Many of the university’s buildings have an aura of Roman grandeur, specifically the iconic Rotunda.