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Notes on the Geography of Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Campus 1

These pictures are arranged to show the evolution of architectural form on the Norman campus. The narrative is not always very well-behaved.

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Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Campus 1 picture 1

The oldest building on campus is Old Science Hall, built in 1904 in a style that is vaguely Romanesque but perhaps closer to big-windowed department stores. The building was renovated so thoroughly in 2008 that the owners of the Pella Corporation bought an island in the Mediterranean.

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Facing Old Science is its near contemporary Carnegie Building, built as the university library but serving later as the university high school and, later still, as the home of Regional and City Planning. The building hints at Frank Lloyd Wright with its overtones of Prairie-style horizontality.

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Both of these older buildings predate the university's decision to build a Gothic campus. The recommendation to go Gothic came from Vernon Louis Parrington, then an English professor on campus. The result, finished in 1912, was Evans Hall, then and now the central administration building.

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The architects were Shepley, Rutan, and Cooledge, a firm that had a hand in many other campuses, including Stanford, SMU, and Nebraska. In this case, their job was simplified by the decision to copy the Tudor Gate entrance to Trinity College, Cambridge.

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The design was approved by the university president, Arthur Evans, who had been born in Madras, where ornate styles were endemic for institutional buildings of the late Victorian period.

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A light fixture framing the main entrance. The symbolism of winged dragons guarding the president's office is overlooked by the unwise.

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Chartres-style niches were built into the facade, much as they were into the Tudor Gate of Trinity College. They are occupied here by statues of OU's presidents, beginning with a sanctified President Boyd. His successor was similarly anointed, but the practice then ran aground of somebody's sense of propriety until 2001, when a panoply of new, cast-polymer statues was hoisted into place, bringing all the university's presidents swiftly and surely into the 16th if not the 12th century.

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The central bay of Evans Hall, seen from the south. The room behind the massive bay window belongs to the university budget office, not to a pining princess.

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The university occasionally experimented with other styles. The old Law School of 1912, for example, maintains the turrets and crenelations but drops brick in favor of limestone.

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A green owl in the gable might be appropriate as a symbol of the law, but the figure arouses strong emotions in many American Indian students on campus, for whom owls are a symbol of evil so powerful that some of those students will not enter the building.

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Their refusal is ironic, because the building houses the Western History Collection, a major reference tool for studies, among other things, of American Indians.

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With Jacobson Hall, which opened in 1920 as the new university library, the campus reverted to brick and the mystique of Oxbridge on the Plains. The building was reassigned to the Art school in 1930 and subsequently to other purposes.

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Whitehand Hall also opened in 1920. Just north of campus, it was built as a men's dormitory by the Masonic Lodge of McAlester.

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The Student Union opened in 1928, though the clocktower was added in 1936 with WPA funds.

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The Gothic Summit was reached in 1930 with yet another main library, named Bizzell after William Bizzell, the university president from 1926 to 1941.

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Behind the facade stands the Great Reading Room.

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A corner of the Great Reading Room. A set of such heads runs around the exterior of the room. Is the figure intended to represent Socrates? In any case the figures are too high to be noticed by anyone not on the prowl with a zoom lens.

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The interior of the Great Reading Room, more or less hushed and empty as usual. Often treated by tourists with quasi-reverence, the room is little used by students.

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Gothic prevailed until World War II. Here is one of its last gasps, Richards Hall, built as a biology building in 1935 with WPA funds. The designer was Joe Smay, head of the architecture school. He would later stand against the winds of modernism blowing across campus.

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Smay also designed Adams Hall, built in 1936 to house the College of Business. Smay wrote, "I am not in accord with a radical departure from Collegiate Gothic. I think that if Modern has something to justify it, I am strong for it. Merely to say 'Modern" for the sake of being different or being modern..., I don't quite see it." (Quoted in a way that makes Smay sound like a reactionary fool in "Oklahoma University Goes Modern," in Architectural Forum, September, 1946)

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Adams Hall detail: Dame Industry, with Roboman well-behaved at her elbow. She wears a nun's habit but has the belly-plating of an space-warrior. No doubt she's moving forward, but the future is no longer an agrarian one, or one wrapped in scholasticism; she's clumping forward like Arnold in his "Terminator" boots.

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Lady Commerce, who flanks Dame Industry, seems even more intimidating than her sister, but you have to admire the way she keeps her guy on his knees and well to the rear.


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