"The university consists of all who come into and go forth from her halls, who are touched by her influence, and who carry on her spirit. Wherever you go, the university goes with you. . . . Wherever you are at work, there is the university at work."
—George Norlin, CU President, 1917–39
The University of Colorado at Boulder has grown from one building in 1876 into a teaching and research institution of national reputation. The setting and uniform architectural style of Main Campus contributes greatly to its reputation. The Main Campus has been ranked the fourth most beautiful in the country (according to Thomas Gaines, The Campus as a Work of Art, 1991). The campus reflects a history of attention to planning and design that continues to this day.
After Boulder was selected as the site of the State University in 1872, Boulder citizens rallied to raise $15,000 in matching funds to construct CU's first building, now known as Old Main, on land donated by three prominent citizens. The result was a fine three-story red-brick building with two towers rising from the treeless plateau above Boulder Creek. Completed in 1876, it contained the living quarters for the president and his family, classrooms, library, laboratories, and rooms for the building custodian and his family.
Eight years later, smaller buildings were added nearby, housing men, women, and the university president. The construction of Woodbury Men's Residence Hall in 1890 and Hale Science in 1892 set the stage for an expanded formal campus. In the next 30 years, the university grew around a large cruciform-shaped open space that became Norlin Quadrangle, now listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Significant buildings added during this time include Buckingham Library (now the University Theatre), Guggenheim Law (now Guggenheim Geography), Macky Auditorium, additions to Hale Science, and a Power House for steam generation.
The university's physical growth included more than the construction of buildings. Mary Sewall, wife of the university's first president, was responsible for much of the early landscaping. She beautified the barren surroundings with large green lawns and many trees. In these early years, students requested that sidewalks be laid from Boulder up the steep hill to campus to solve the problem of muddy footpaths. In 1888 faculty members and students started the tradition of planting trees on campus every Arbor Day, an annual tradition that continues to this day. In spite of these efforts, the campus lacked coherence in its architecture and landscaping, leading George Norlin, then a classics professor, to observe in 1916 that the campus looked like "a third rate farm."
Campus buildings constructed prior to 1917 represent a variety of Gothic, Classical, and Victorian architectural styles. In 1917, the Colorado General Assembly supported increasing CU-Boulder enrollment from 1,200 to 3,000 students. As a result, the Board of Regents directed President Livingston Farrand to hire an architectural firm to conduct development planning in order to improve the campus appearance.
The Philadelphia firm of Day and Klauder was commissioned to do the work under the direction of George W. Norlin, who had become the interim university president. Day and Klauder had earned a strong reputation by designing buildings for Princeton University and Wellesley College in the collegiate gothic style. Architect Charles Z. Klauder's first sketches for Boulder campus buildings were in this style represented by the existing Macky Auditorium, but he ultimately rejected them for a variety of reasons. He wanted to create a unique style that would use the locally quarried sandstone to produce architecture that would blend more harmoniously with Boulder's magnificent mountain backdrop. As it turned out, Norlin (then fully-appointed university president) and the Board of Regents agreed.
The Board of Regents approved the resultant 1919 Campus Development Plan and accompanying scale model. The model, now on display at the Heritage Center in Old Main, depicts demolition of many of the previous buildings, new symmetrically designed buildings, refinement of a quadrangle plan, axial alignments between major buildings, and additional buildings in monastic-like clusters. Most buildings shown are narrow to accommodate natural light and airflow, often with wings radiating from a central core.
Hillside villages and rural farmhouses that he had observed as an architect touring the Tuscany area in Italy, and similar styles in Spain, influenced the architectural style that Klauder had in mind. His reinvention of a Mediterranean style for the Boulder campus includes charming building elevations, often with towers and chimneys near the ends that add a picturesque quality to the cascading roofs. Sprawling wings form intimate courts that can be used as outdoor rooms for classes or retreats. The Italian influence is echoed as well by stone details, such as limestone arches framing entrances and windows, carved limestone cartouches, benches, column capitals, and fountains. Many consider Sewall Hall, completed in 1934, to be the best of Klauder's CU work.
When viewed in aggregate, the campus is reminiscent of hill towns around Florence and Siena.
Architectural historians categorize the style as Tuscan vernacular. Klauder simply referred to it as "University of Colorado Style." It is characterized by multi-hued sandstone walls and tile roofs, off-white limestone trim, and black metal accents. Exterior walls built of locally quarried sandstone vary in color from light buff to reddish purple. These split rectangular stones were laid flat face down with the fractured face jutting out from the mortar wall line, creating an ever-changing shadow pattern on the wall. The limestone-trimmed windows, doorways, and ornamentation contrast with the sandstone walls to create an overall red and white look. Roofs have various heights, pitches, and forms, complementing the stone walls and nestling well below the view of the Flatirons mountain backdrop. Roofing material is clay barrel tiles of various hues, combining to create a red or terra cotta appearance.
Dr. Norlin characterized Klauder's buildings as a physical body complementing the academic soul and spirit of the university. Remarkably, the central ideas of the 1919 Campus Development Plan, notably its distinctive architecture and variety of open spaces, have endured.
World War II and the postwar period altered demands on university facilities. It was an era when quantity rather than quality was in demand. Klauder died in 1938 after designing his last CU building, the University Club. Following his death, facilities continued to be designed according to his style, but without the same creativity that Klauder had brought to his work. During and after the war, the successor firm to Day and Klauder, Trautwein and Howard, built austere, stripped-down buildings in the Tuscan vernacular style without the fine detail or careful configuration seen in the prewar buildings. Examples of buildings from this period include Cheyenne Arapaho Hall, Wardenburg Health Center, and the High Altitude Observatory building (now housing Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences).
CU grew rapidly after World War II. In addition to the flood of students funded by the GI Bill came families and older students. Although Klauder's original plan called for additional buildings along Broadway, growth instead occurred by repeated extensions of the university's southern and eastern boundaries. Campus growth was facilitated by the elimination in 1932 of a rail line (passing through where Ramaley Biology is now located) that had inhibited eastward expansion. At the same time, the town of Boulder continued to grow and eventually encircle the Main Campus.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the university embarked on a more expansive land acquisition program. It purchased 220 acres of farmland, now known as the East Campus and the University Research Park. It also accepted, with fiscal obligations, the Williams Village property as a location for housing students. The University of Colorado at Boulder became three campus areas - the Main Campus, the East Campus, and Williams Village - within the city of Boulder. During this period and into the 1960s, peripheral buildings were built that were not in the Tuscan vernacular style. In-house design staff designed several East Campus buildings, including Litman Research Laboratory, and Research Laboratories 2 and 3 (RL-2 and RL-3). It was increasingly obvious that a change was needed to revitalize building design for the campus.
In the early 1960s, President Quigg Newton, campus administration, and the Colorado architectural community acted to change the way campus building design occurs. A new campus development plan was created by Sasaki, Walker and Associates, headed by Hideo Sasaki, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture in the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and consulting architect Pietro Belluschi, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Their plan sustained Klauder's design principles, materials, and humanistic spirit but allowed flexibility to incorporate new concepts and forms. For example, concrete became used for exterior walls, and often replaced the use of limestone for trim. Indigenous sandstone walls and clay barrel tile roofs still predominated, but in more flexible ways, continuing to visually link Klauder and post-Klauder building. The institution also severed the tie to a single architectural firm. Instead, depending on who is best suited to the task at hand, a variety of architects are commissioned to design campus facilities, with continuity ensured by campus staff and the university Design Review Board.
CU grew rapidly during the 1960s, campus building space doubled from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. New academic and administrative buildings soon surrounded the main student residential area, which had been on the eastern periphery of campus. New student housing, the Kittredge Complex, was built on the southeastern edge of Main Campus in 1963 and 1964. The first major academic building to not slavishly follow the Klauder style, yet inspired by that style, was the Engineering Center in 1965, which, with its extensive use of concrete and introduction of shed roof forms, remains controversial. Stearns and Darley towers, a brick high-rise residence hall complex, were built in 1966 and 1969 on the newly acquired Williams Village.
The Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite in the late 1950s presaged a new era of campus construction in the late 1960s and 1970s, with the federal government funding science buildings in a race to catch up. The Duane Physical Laboratories complex and the Life Sciences Laboratories complex (Muenzinger Psychology and Porter Biosciences) were among buildings of this period. Scientific research at CU accelerated. Adherence to Klauder's architectural style during this era meant that CU-Boulder avoided the "modernist" style, often poorly interpreted on college campuses.
In 1971 the State Legislature established an enrollment limit of 20,000 FTE (full-time equivalent) students for the Boulder campus. The capping of enrollment signaled the transition of the campus from rapid growth to maturity, although the enrollment limit was later removed. Campus maturation meant an emphasis on renovating existing facilities where possible and developing new space to support CU's growing role as a major research institution. The "postmodernist" era, which began in the 1970s, has revalidated creative use of historical styles, with their richness of material and form, and fit neatly with Boulder's already well-established Tuscan vernacular style.
In the 1980s and 1990s, attention turned to older buildings needing rehabilitation, such as Old Main, Macky, Hale, the Power House, and the Women's Cottage, all of which have benefited from appropriate renovations, giving the oldest buildings new life while preserving their heritage.
Most recently, the challenge again is to accommodate an increase in enrollment, this time for the children of the postwar "baby boomers." At the same time, CU-Boulder remains committed to preserving its reputation as one of the most beautiful higher education campuses in the nation. In order to maintain a fine campus while accommodating dynamic programs and projected enrollment growth, development will increasingly occur on East Campus and Williams Village sites, and at CU-Boulder South. The CU living and learning environment is sustained by a campus that speaks, through its architecture and campus planning, about its history and concern for quality.