Originally built to replace the Old Mess Hall which burned in the campus fire of 1911, Bernard Sbisa Hall, or as the students call it, Sbisa, is in my opinion, one of the more beautiful of the buildings on campus. After the fire, the builders were rightfully afraid of another mass destruction of campus, so they built Sbisa mostly out of concrete to make it “absolutely fireproof”, but still in the Beaux Arts style of the time period (Chapman).
Sbisa’s façade is most notable for its central triangular pediment and many Doric columns and pediments which we will talk about more in depth in a bit. Here is a list of the main details of the façade.
- Triangular pediments
- Doric columns
- Rounded Arches
- Doric pilasters
- Projecting cornice
- Tripartite design
In this blog, we will discuss the first three details on the list.
Let’s start with what I believe to be the most noticeable detail of Beaux Arts design: the triangular pediment. A pediment is the triangular shaped roofline projected out over an entrance or window (“Pediment”). Basically if you see an entrance in the Beaux Arts style, it will likely have a triangular pediment over it.
In the case of Sbisa, there are three entrances and three triangular pediments. The central entrance is a bit larger and supported on double Doric columns instead of single columns on each of the side entrances. The picture below is one of the side entrances of Sbisa which shows a good close up of the columns and triangular pediments.
So the pediment is the roofline that surrounds a flat triangular section of wall which is known as the tympanum (“Tympanum”). The tympanum is in most cases embellished with decorative reliefs, and as you can see in the case of the side doors, the decoration is generally purely sculptural scrollwork. However, looking closely at the picture below of the central pediment, you can see that it also includes the year 1912, when the building was begun.
As you can see, the central entrance is slightly grander and more decorated than the side entrance we saw before.
In the picture below, you can see a close-up of the pediment and tympanum we discussed earlier, and looking further down the picture, there is the entablature held up by Doric columns on either side.
Doric columns are the most simple of the five main orders. Just in case you don’t remember, the five main orders of classical design are Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite. We spoke last week in depth about the Ionic Columns on the façade of Nagle Hall, and, when compared to Ionic columns, the Doric order is much less decorative, focusing more on functionality than aesthetic details.
The Doric order generally has very little decoration and simply widens at the top to support the entablature. In the case of Sbisa’s columns, there are a few bands across the top and some sculptural details that would otherwise normally not be included in a Doric column, but create a more interesting look than the plain Doric capitals.
Now let’s take an aside to discuss why so many government or educational buildings are built in the Beaux Arts style. Neoclassical design focused on creating a sturdy, long-lasting edifice and was used to convey a sense of permanence and confidence (“Doric Columns”).
Structurally, classical design is focused on a few things stability, usefulness, and aesthetic design. Decorations are heavily appreciated in Beaux Arts design, but what is often underappreciated is the stability of buildings in the classical style (Olycayto 21 26 28). Because the buildings were made to last, governments and universities often created buildings in the Beaux Arts design to both have both the reliability of a well-built edifice, as well as portray the symbolic idea that, like the building, the university or government were there to stay for a long time.
So there you have it. Sbisa is a building with a striking façade and although we didn’t get to discuss all the details on the list, next week we will cover even more of what goes into Beaux Arts design.
- Chapman, David L. “Banquets, Balls and Fast Food: Bernard Sbisa Hall.” Editorial. Texas Aggied.: n. pag. Reprints from the Texas Aggie. Cushing Library, 1999. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
- “Pediment.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
- “Tympanum.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
- “Doric Columns & the Doric Order of Classical Architecture.” Doric Columns & the Doric Order. Pagliacco Milling and Turning, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.
- Olycayto, Rory. “The Measurers.” The Architect’s Journal16 (2010): 21-31. Academic Search Complete [EBSCO]. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.