Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project



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Institution Name: Briar Cliff University
Original/Historic Place Name: Campus
Location on Campus: Rebecca St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1929initial construction Unknown
Type of Place: Landscape site
Type of landscape–
Distinct topography:
Campus configuration is of a serpentine shape; located atop an area of the Loess Hills in western Iowa and east of the Missouri River, adjacent to an area of the Loess Hills Conservatory.
Small-scale features:
Large-scale features:
Buildings and playing fields follow and are compatible with the serpentine configuration.
Other characteristics:
Materials: soil is clay-like base from the glacial dust which formed the Loess Hills of mid-America; other known configuration is in China
1929-present (2007)master plan (campus)

Significance: architecture
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The campus site is part of the Loess Hills of this mid-west region. The original site was virgin prairie covered with briars, hence the name "Briar Cliff." A flat area was created to establish the original buildings while conserving the hilltop configuration. The view from the campus provides a panorama of Sioux City and has an elevation equal to other sites and hills in the region. This site was originally on the edge of the city, and still seems so, when the Diocese of Sioux City deeded the land to the Sisters of Saint Francis of Dubuque to build a college for women.

Originally, dirt roads and wooden steps provided access to the top of the "cliff"; today winding roads and terraced steps provide the pathway to the top. The placement of campus on an elevated site allows the atmosphere to remain private while preserving its border with the natural prairie preserve. The positioning of buildings and fields has conformed to the campus' irregular configuration, giving it a very similar feel to Italian hilltop structures. This site has challenged many architects as they planned new structures over the years. The use of the land today admits an intimate campus space and demonstrates, through past wisdom, the need to build with the site rather than ignore its integrity.

The beauty of the campus represents one of the aspects of Franciscan tradition, which invites reverence and care for nature and one another.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Architectural and landscape master plan collection. Archives, Bishop Mueller Library, Briar Cliff University, Sioux City, IA.

II. Location of other data:
University: Special Collections

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Last update: November 2006