(Editor's note: This article was excerpted from the winter 2009 edition of Bucknell Magazine. || Read complete article.)
LEWISBURG, Pa. – Imagine a new academic quad behind Bertrand Library, reflecting the best of the original quad – its open spaces, classic architecture, charming walkways, magnificent views. Imagine residence halls above the southeast hillside, where students stand on their balconies and watch the Susquehanna River drift by below. || Related story: Campus Master Plan enters conceptual phase
Instead of a cornfield, imagine a fraternity row and wide open spaces where students congregate, have fun and even enjoy a new dining facility and arts complex set nearby. Imagine all of it designed to keep this lovely property green.
To Dennis Hawley ’72, Bucknell's associate vice president for facilities, the promise could not be more exciting or more in keeping with Bucknell’s history.
Jens Frederick Larson
He thinks of the land behind him, to the west, in front of the library. On that canvas, the University’s first campus master planner, Jens Frederick Larson, painted a masterpiece, a stunningly visionary and prescient campus master plan, whose grace and usability are as powerful today as they were 75 years ago. Mountains stand serenely in the background; green hills roll throughout the foreground. Stately red brick buildings front elegant quadrangles that mix lush grass, crisscrossing walkways and venerable trees. The scene is almost impossibly picturesque.
Hawley is in awe of Larson’s achievement. As he and his colleagues shepherd the implementation of the University’s new master plan, which the Board of Trustees approved in April, he feels as Larson must have in 1932, when the legendary architect began transforming scores of acres of Pennsylvania farmland into the quintessential Northeastern campus.
“The University has a long history of long-term planning,” he says. “It has done it in bits and pieces, but everything has built on previous plans. If I showed you the 1932 plan, you’d squint your eyes and think the campus looks pretty much like that. Some buildings have moved around a little bit, but overall the structure is there.”
Recognizing the value and meaning of Larson’s vision, the new master plan embraces and extends it. The result will leverage Bucknell’s physical space to help create as comprehensive an academic and co-curricular experience as possible by creating learning centers, not just classroom buildings. Elements Larson dreamed of — stronger connections to downtown Lewisburg and the Susquehanna River, for example — will finally come to pass.
Environmental stewardship will be emphasized. And the emerging pedagogical models of the 21st century will be realized.
Says University Provost Mick Smyer, “Close collaboration between faculty and students requires attention to the ecology of learning and living.The Campus Master Plan uses the careful juxtaposition of classrooms, offices, laboratories and open spaces to build into campus life, literally, opportunities for the types of thoughtful and personal engagement that are so important to Bucknell.”
In August 1932, a large portion of Old Main was destroyed by fire.Two months later, Bucknell’s Board of Trustees retained Larson, the renowned architect who had done work at Dartmouth and Colby. While across the years some have speculated that the board used the damage to Old Main to justify developing Bucknell’s first master plan, no evidence in the historical record suggests that.
Perhaps the University hired Larson because it had recently purchased 170 acres of farmland; as Larson sat at his drawing board, only the first wing of the Engineering Building had been raised.
“He really had carte blanche in terms of how he could develop the campus,” says campus historian Russell Dennis, assistant professor of education.
Ideal collegiate experience
Duly inspired, Larson designed graceful quads, with buildings at right angles.He ringed central academic buildings with student life structures — residence halls, dining facilities, a chapel, playing fields and frat houses. He specified where individual buildings should go to facilitate the ideal collegiate experience.
Much of what he put on paper was realized, sometimes as he had seen it, sometimes with slight changes, a reflection of the enormous influence he had on Bucknell’s development.
“After he created that plan, it’s been pretty well followed, and that has driven everything,” Dennis says.
As he planned, Larson did not limit himself to Bucknell’s immediate boundaries. He thought about what would happen should the University come in possession of contiguous property at some point in the future.
75 years later
“These are things that we’re actively talking about 75 years later,” says James Hostetler, the University’s director of construction and design. “It’s extraordinary to me that we’re even still developing along those lines.”
Higher education evolved dramatically in the decades after Larson, but because of the flexibility embedded in his plan, Bucknell was able to keep pace with the changes. Today, the paradigm shift fostered by technology, globalization and diversity demands a new vision, one that prepares the University for the next 75 years while seamlessly recalling its legacy.
As administrators and faculty researched what the next master plan should look like, certain facts became clear.
“Students require more space just in their living environment,” Hawley says.
Adds campus planner Laurie Lundquist, “The one thing we have affirmed is that it’s not just classroom learning now; it’s that learning takes place in all aspects of student life.”
Challenges of the 21st century
Doug Allen, associate professor and associate dean of the School of Management, suggests that the architecture of a building can influence the architecture of the mind — and that the challenges of the 21st century demand it.
“What does a classroom look like in an international, globalized world?” he asks. “It has to have certain capabilities of connectivity, not only across campus but also to bring in people from other parts of the world, or other classes, in parallel fashion, who are studying together. At the same time, there’s a real emphasis on not forgetting what is most important to Bucknell, the student-faculty relationship.”
Allen believes that the academy is moving more toward a study of practices rather than rigidly defined majors.
Spanning traditional disciplines
For instance, he says, public policy issues span a number of traditional disciplines, as do media studies, popular culture, environmental studies and sustainability.
Abe Feuerstein, associate professor of education and associate dean of social sciences, agrees.
“We are hoping to create opportunities for interaction and interdisciplinary work,” he says. “When programs are adjacent to one another — like international relations and geography or geography and environmental studies — it facilitates that interdisciplinary approach.”
Additionally, today’s Campus Master Plan must be as far reaching now as Larson’s was.
“What you see today and what you might see 50 years from now I think will be different in degree but not in kind,” President Brian C. Mitchell observes.
Remain among the best
“There will be new technologies and different ways of communicating, but my hope is that the residential liberal arts university will continue to be an important institution in our society. Bucknell will remain among the best of those types of institutions,” he says.
Feuerstein agrees, “Creating spaces that build on the idea of community and strengthening relationships among people by providing great places for people to meet face-to-face is going to be key.”
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