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University of Richmond

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1910–1914, Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson; Warren Manning Associates, landscape architects, original campus plan and initial buildings. Many later additions. Towana Rd.
  • (Pierre Courtois)
  • (Pierre Courtois)
  • (Pierre Courtois)

In 1910 Baptist-affiliated Richmond College moved its campus from downtown Richmond to a 200-acre tract in the western suburban area known as Westhampton. The college engaged the Boston firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson to develop a campus plan. Ralph Adams Cram, a fervent high Episcopalian and internationally known as a fierce advocate of the Gothic style, especially for religious and academic buildings, took charge. He was the architect of New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine and many of the buildings at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Princeton University. For Richmond, Cram conceived a design that placed male students on the north side of a large existing lake and the female students on the other. He envisioned two respective tight-knit cloisters of buildings at the knolls of existing ridges that would interweave aspects of the Tudor, Gothic, and classical styles in their design.

The first buildings to be completed were Ryland Hall ( RI339.1), which initially served as an administration building and library; the Refectory ( RI339.2); North Court ( RI339.3), a multipurpose building; a stadium; a power plant ( RI339.4); and Thomas Hall ( RI339.5) and Jetter Hall ( RI339.6), both men's dormitories. Following World War I Cram designed the Milhiser Gymnasium ( RI339.7) (c. 1920). Cram's idiom for all of these buildings was an adaptation of Tudor and Jacobean forms as found at Cambridge and Oxford. Red brick is the primary building material, and carved limestone details are generously used. Perhaps the most impressive is North Court, with its patterned brickwork and carved heads on the keystones, including one of Cram himself. Beginning in the 1920s the financially strapped university relied on Richmond architects for additional buildings. Many of Cram's successors respected his version of Collegiate Gothic by continuing the red brick trimmed in granite or precast stone. These architects included Charles M. Robinson, Merrill G. Lee, and the firm of Carneal and Johnston, the last of whom designed the landmark Boatwright Library ( RI339.8) (1954), distinguished by its large Gothic tower. A major difference was that instead of designing attached structures that would have continued Cram's desired monastic, cloistered feeling, these later architects built freestanding buildings that began to dot the campus. Perhaps this change reflected the influence of Charles Gillette, whose firm, Warren Manning Associates, had been engaged to oversee the landscaping. Gillette, who would stay in Richmond and continue to design major landscape projects for another half century, appears to have preferred a more picturesque placement of buildings in the wooded setting.

Following a period during the 1960s and 1970s when the campus acquired a number of Brutalist buildings, the university returned to a style closely approximating the Cram idiom. Recent buildings include the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business addition ( RI339.9) (1982–1988, Marcellus Wright, Cox and Smith) and the George M. Modlin Center for the Arts ( RI339.10) (1994–1997, Marcellus Wright, Cox and Smith). These are postmodern in that the details are frequently “funky,” as described by lead designer Edward Smith, and the interiors “a surprise,” with large atriums.

The Jepson Alumni Center (Wise-Hunton House) ( RI339.11) (1915, William Lawrence Bottomley; 1997, Marcellus Wright, Cox and Smith; College Avenue) was originally not part of the campus, but stood nearby. It was the first commission of the New York–based architect Bottomley and began an architectural relationship with Richmond that set a standard for traditionalism and excellence in domestic design that still holds power today. This five-part Colonial Revival house for Jennings C. Wise originally stood across River Road. Unlike many of Bottomley's later designs in brick, the Wise House was finished in stucco and employed a wood frame. In 1997, after it was moved across River Road to its present site, the building was sensitively altered and enlarged with a one-story U-shaped addition to accommodate an alumni affairs office and conference center for the university. The house continues to present a domestic front on the street and provides a transition to the campus. A columned arcade faces the campus.

Writing Credits

Richard Guy Wilson et al.

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