Expert discusses architecture in American higher education
CUNY School of Technology Dean Kevin Hom shared his thoughts on architecture in U.S. colleges and universities.
Over the course of history, architecture has been integral to signaling the historical and contemporary values of institutions in higher education, according to Kevin Hom, dean of the School of Technology at City University of New York. Hom shared his expertise on the effect of architecture on institutional culture as a part of the Richard Saivetz ’69 Annual Memorial Architectural Lecture Series. Throughout the presentation, he discussed the uniqueness of American universities’ architectures in terms of their historical presence, political and socioeconomic agenda and how they shaped the values of the institutions.
Hom started his presentation by discussing how the history of the United States shaped architecture in higher education. He credited Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the United States and the founder of the University of Virginia, for his exemplary work to incorporate architectural design that describes UVA’s “political aspirations” that underly the founding values in American universities. Inspired by Andrea Palladino’s design from Western Europe, Jefferson’s design of the campus reinforced the architectural significance in higher education by fostering an approach of multidisciplinary learning based on American founding principles. As the 19th century concluded, the architectural presence of the universities intensified the significance of higher education. Founded by a donation from the family of John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago signifies power, education and research and has sparkled the “explosion of intellectual thoughts.” In the meantime, its architectural design “embrace[s] a symbolic representation” of the university’s characters, Hom said.
Recounting the monumental technical development following the Industrial Revolution, Hom prompted the audience to contemplate the new expression of universities. To establish an innovative image of higher education, Hom explained the importance of accounting for the architectural engineering in shaping institutional development, urging students to learn from “predecessor, cultural value, [and] the symbol that valorizes the [institutional] culture” to their individual development despite the repercussion of historical issues. In addition, he highlighted that intelligent use of inventory design is crucial to intensify the presence of institutional images.
Flashing forward, Hom emphasized the importance of architects implementing new places on the campus at American universities that are both “welcoming” and able to “preserv[e] the traditions” of the institution, thereby fostering a community that not only conserves the institutional identity but also enshrines the memories of each individual’s experience during their times at the institution. He emphasized that the significance of the institution would “carry forward” even though the building itself are static. “If you come back to Brandeis in 20 years, you’ll have a sense of what the building means to you. That’s part of the symbolism of higher education,” Hom said.
Elaborating on the role of architectural symbolism in shaping institutional identity, Hom shared his experience designing a clocktower for State University of New York at Binghamton. When proposing the idea to the vice president and provost, Hom claimed that the clocktower was conducive to solidifying students’ memories on the campus, as it stirs a sense of students’ “possession of the campus.” In addition, he said, the clocktower enables students to “identify their passage” during their time in college and utilize “equal knowledge [and] equal access” to the higher education, excelling individually and professionally.
During a Q&A following the talk, students asked Hom an array of questions centered around symbolism in his architectural projects involving higher education, as well as around his interpretation of the institutional image of universities in America. One student was curious about Hom’s familiarity with architectural symbolism at Brandeis, as well as his understanding of its institutional image. He described Brandeis as a institution interested in “exploring and challenging itself” in shaping its image and commended Board of Trustees’ effort in probing its uniqueness. When asked about why he chose to work with higher education, Hom said that engaging with the community is “paramount” to contextualizing the symbolism behind the buildings. In particular, he values the “unique and accurate” perspectives from students to implement innovative architectural designs that invigorate their campus experience and cement their connection with the institution.
Hom closed the talk by encouraging universities to “preserve the history that represents certain traditions,” but also to invest in the architectural uniqueness of their institutions.