Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project



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Institution Name: Calvin College
Original/Historic Place Name: Campus
Location on Campus: 3201 Burton SE
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1957original construction Fyfe, William Beye
Type of Place: Building group
Style(s) of majority of buildings: Other: Late Modern
Style(s) of minority of buildings: Contemporary
Building group type: Irregular; Quadrangle; Modern; Other: the campus and buildings together are significant because they emphasize the horizontal prairie landscape with wide overhanging eaves, and reflect (Frank Lloyd Wright’s) Prairie School" style of architecture. They are loosely arranged around a central rolling green area and fit into the landscape in an "organic" way. All campus buildings use the same "Calvin/common" brick, and individual building appearance is less important than the sum of all. Although each building has its own personality, all blend together to form a cohesive whole. The sloping topography allows each building to have entries on multiple levels. Meticulous lawn areas are complemented by mature natural tree groupings. Calvin is known as a beautifully landscaped and maintained campus.
Relationship to landscape:
none specified
Ideas associated with building group:
none specified
1957-present (2007)master plan (campus)

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

The campus architecture is significant because not many "Prairie School" campus designs exist today. Also, all campus building were designed by only two architects, providing a consistency in design atypical of most campuses.

As one of the greatest American Architects, Frank Lloyd Wright was known for breaking with traditional, neoclassical design and creating original architecture at a time when America was struggling for its own individuality. He coined the term "Prairie Style" because it reflected the horizontal lines of the American prairie. He spoke of an "organic" architecture, at one with Nature that blended into the landscape.

Bill Fyfe studied under Wright and proposed these architectural values and style for Calvin's architecture, Although from Dutch heritage, Calvin administrators chose to make their architecture more American while still maintaining Dutch tradition of consistency and frugality. Fyfe used "common" (pink/red/orange colored) brick for aesthetic consistency and low cost in all campus academic buildings. Many buildings have sloped roofs with wide overhanging eaves, and they all emphasize horizontal elements in other details.

This simplicity of Calvin's architecture is enhanced by natural landscaping and gently rolling terrain. The result is a beautiful and peaceful harmony of the built environment with nature. Vehicles are kept to the perimeter, so that pedestrians have the center walks, plazas, and grass areas to themselves.

I. Bibliographic sources:

None specified.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office, Unknown
—details: Archives, Hekman Library, Calvin College.

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Last update: November 2006