The Hendrix campus is home to many gorgeous and delightful displays of architectural style: Mills’ graceful mid-century geometry, Trieschmann’s symmetrical glass faces, Hardin’s understated poise, Martin’s pointed neo-Gothic arches. We love these buildings. We spend our days in them and between them, we live in them, learn in them, and—if Hendrix is the great institution that it claims to be—our whole persons are imprinted upon within them. They are our home, as they have been for decades of students before us, and as they will be for decades of students to follow us. But collegiate architecture has a responsibility beyond housing classrooms or offices or students—it advertises. If properly designed, it conveys tradition, prestige and a rich history of intellectualism. It can be an homage to the past or a nod toward the future. It attracts prospective students, impresses them with its beauty, its grandeur. Collegiate architecture is the physical embodiment of the power of education. Our buildings advertise Hendrix, and they are Hendrix.
And we are fortunate to attend a school that is financially capable of making more buildings, of constructing the Welcome Center and in the future, the Creative Quad. Hopefully, these buildings will make life nicer and more fulfilling for the students that use them. But really, honestly, God, why do they have to look like that? “That” meaning “completely dull”, not pretty but not especially ugly, remarkable only in their lack of imagination. I’m annoyed by the Welcome Center. Every time I drive through the roundabout and glance at the signs displaying its future exterior, I resist the urge to roll my eyes. This isn’t because I have a weird grudge against Hendrix’s physical expansion, but because the building looks so unbearably redundant. It shares the same general style with the SLTC and the WAC, as well as MC Reynolds, DW Reynolds, and the Murphy House—all designed by Kirchner Architecture, except with a special cherry on top: a horrible green roof straight out of 1980s suburbia.
But alas, it’s much too late for the Welcome Center’s design to be altered. It’s not too late for the Creative Quad, though, which is not yet fully funded. The website for the Be Hendrix campaign includes a large digital rendering of the Quad, which is, of course, incredibly boring. Not ugly, necessarily, not an eyesore, but boring. Tedious. Repetitive. I understand Hendrix’s desire to create a cohesive architectural aesthetic. I understand its attempt to design buildings that complement each other. I do not understand a refusal to be creative. On a small campus where everything is either a tree or a red brick, architectural variety couldn’t hurt. Buildings don’t have to look the same to go together. Mills is not the same style as Staples, which is not the same style as Trieschmann, which is not the same style as Ellis Hall. Those buildings still go together, though. They are refreshing and beautiful, and they make our campus unique.
Hendrix only has one building that I would call an obvious architectural blunder (cough, Couch, cough), but it has many buildings that I consider to be missed opportunities. For instance, the SLTC and the WAC are essentially the same exterior made into two different buildings. Since the WAC is separate from the main portion of campus, Hendrix could have used it as an opportunity to build something more modern, to make Hendrix look like a forward-thinking school, without disturbing the already-established aesthetic of campus. It could’ve used, gasp, glass! (see: Kenyon College’s similarly named KAC). But it didn’t. It followed its architectural recipe, which is a big brick building with some white stone trim and a few arches thrown in to make it Hendrix-y. The same goes with the art buildings, which to me, seem like a great opportunity to be artistic. See Kenyon’s Horvitz Hall if you want to see things done right (and yes, I go here because I was waitlisted at Kenyon).
This may seem like a dumb, and maybe even bratty, thing to complain about. After all, we are getting three nice new buildings, which will cost millions of dollars. But these buildings will be here for decades, maybe longer. They will be here for our children and our grandchildren. They will become a part of Hendrix, and their design matters. It matters that Hendrix stands out, that it puts artistic effort into its physical body, that it values ingenuity. It matters if, fifty years from now, every building is a slight variation of the same standard. And it seems as if Hendrix used to care more about its architecture than it does now. In the 1960s, it hired the famous architect Philip Johnson to design the original Bailey Library (RIP). This was probably a very expensive investment, but it paid off. Johnson also designed the pecan court—one of the things that most defines the Hendrix campus—and the minimalist landscaping boxes between Hulen and Martin. A lot of great thought went into those features, which is why they’re still beautiful and interesting today, a whole fifty years later. The (ironically named) Creative Quad does not exemplify such careful thought. It isn’t bad in what it is, but in what it fails to be—an artistic pursuit, a show of individuality, an expression of greatness.