Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Campus master plan

Click on image titles for larger views.
Institution Name: Denison University
Original/Historic Place Name: "Greater Denison" Campus Master Plan
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
ca. 1920original design Brunner, Arnold W. Olmsted Brothers
Type of Place: Building group
Style(s) of majority of buildings: Victorian, Colonial revival, Modern/post-WWII
Style(s) of minority of buildings: Other: Queen Anne revival
Building group type: Irregular; Quadrangle; Other: the campus features fairly symmetrical quadrangles spread over an irregular ridge that forms the spine of the campus.
Relationship to landscape:
The campus is built along natural ridges, and walkways and roads fit into natural slopes of hills. There are a number of plazas and sitting areas around campus, and lovely views abound. The spire of Swasey Chapel can be seen from the surrounding community. Several gateways mark entrances to campus from the community. From parts of the main campus on the hill you can view the playing fields, which are on a lower portion of campus. Numerous trees and bushes dot the landscape, making the campus look like a park (and we have lots of deer, birds, and other wildlife who visit regularly). There is a great deal of "green space" on campus.
Ideas associated with building group:
The campus plan integrates living areas (dorms) as separate but connected to academic areas (the academic quad, for example). Athletic/playing fields are in yet another area of campus, below the main "college on the hill." Denison is a small liberal arts college that values and integrates all aspects of college undergraduate life, and the campus plan integrates function with beauty. All buildings are within fairly easy walking distance of each other, to reinforce the sense of a college community. The entire campus is beautifully landscaped in keeping with the Olmsted Brothers original campus plan.
1916-present (2007)master plan (campus)

Significance: architecture, education, history, religion
Landmark designation:
National RegisterGranville Historic District (1980)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The firms of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., and architect Arnold W. Brunner created a campus master plan for Denison University that became known as "Greater Denison." The designers envisioned an arrangement of quadrangles on the horseshoe shaped ridge that comprises the upper campus. Quadrangles featuring buildings with similar functions were used to foster a sense of community among campus groups. The plan made the most of an irregular landscape and the mature trees on the site, creating a picturesque effect. The architect chose Georgian style architecture to be used throughout campus, with red brick for a look of dignity and warmth. The Depression halted the Greater Denison plan with only Swasey Chapel, two women's dormitories, and the main entrance gateway to campus built. However, the original plan still serves as an integral part of the Denison campus plan, and new buildings continue to be sited according to the Greater Denison plan.

The Olmsted and Brunner firms created a campus master plan that was both aesthetically pleasing and functional for the hilly ridge. The plan was approved by the Board of Trustees in 1921, and was a vital step in creating a cohesive campus environment for a planned enrollment of 1000 students. The Olmsted and Brunner proposal incorporated each individual building into a total plan that preserved the natural topography, but allowed for logical and symmetrical arrangements of buildings within each quad. Below the planned quads, expansive playing fields and a pond were built into the curve of the horseshoe shaped ridge.

The campus is the dominant feature in Granville, with Swasey Chapel being visible from any direction. The Greater Denison plan remains an essential part of the beauty of Denison University. Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects were nationally influential designers, while Arnold Brunner was noted for a number of building designs, including Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Ackerman, Frederick. "The Planning of Colleges and Universities," in "University Buildings Reference Number." Architectural Forum, 54 (June 1931): 691-696.

Chessman, G. Wallace. Denison: The Story of an Ohio College. Granville, OH: Denison University, 1957.

Graham Gund Architects. Comprehensive Master Plan [Denison University]. [Cambridge, MA: Graham Gund Architects], November 1999.

Klauder, Charles Z., and Herbert C. Wise. College Architecture in America and Its Part in the Development of the Campus. New York; London: C. Scribner's Sons, 1929.

Price, Matlack. "Denison University." Architectural Record 54, no. 4 (1923): 299-320.

Recchie, Nancy. Granville Historic District [Denison University]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1980.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office
Government Offices

Contact us / About Site / About CIC
© 2006
Council of Independent Colleges
One Dupont Circle, Ste. 320
Washington, DC
All rights reserved
Last update: November 2006