A legacy of visionary planning

March 01, 2001 |

One hallmark of a great institution is the quality of its physical plant. This became evident to me during a recent visit to my alma mater, the University of Missouri-Columbia.

It's not that I wasn't impressed by the campus buildings as a student. But 40 years after graduation, I have a deeper appreciation of the character they impart to the campus environment.

The university's first building, Academic Hall, was destroyed by fire in 1892. This loss was followed during the period 1892-95, under the administration of President Richard Henry Jesse, by the construction of the six buildings that form the university's quadrangle. Largely in recognition of this accomplishment, the building that replaced Academic Hall was named in Jesse's honor.

The open quadrangle plan with separate buildings for individual departments represents an American tradition that was inspired by Thomas Jefferson's design for the University of Virginia. The kinship with Jefferson is further acknowledged by the presence on campus of his original gravestone. It was presented to the university nearly 60 years after Jefferson's death to recognize it as the first state university founded in the Louisiana Purchase territory, which was acquired under Jefferson's presidency.

James P. Jamieson was the key figure in the design of university buildings during the first half of the 20th century. The east campus buildings were built of native limestone, with Jamieson's designs evoking the buildings of Oxford and Cambridge. He proved equally adept in designing the red brick buildings of the west campus. The original university library, completed in 1914, begins to integrate these campuses by combining the white color of the east with the architectural tradition of the west.

As I walked across the 1,350-acre campus, I felt privileged to be enjoying the fruits of planning decisions extending back more than a century. And the university is acting to maintain the integrity of its older buildings. A planned building renovation would replace turrets destroyed by a 1931 tornado.

My final impression of the campus resulted from the need to replenish my supply of cough drops. I saw a drugstore on an elevated site that I remember as vacant during my student days. As I exited the store, I was greeted by an unexpected panorama of city lights, framed by the 180-ft.-high dome of Jesse Hall to the south and the domed Boone County Courthouse to the north-a concluding reminder of the enduring value of visionary planning.

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