Academic Building, 1914
The Academic building was built in 1914 to replace Old Main, the central building on campus. Old Main was an interesting building, so we will take a minute at the beginning of this blog to discuss it before moving on to the current day Academic Building.
Courtesy of Cushing Memorial Library
As you can see, Old Main had a very striking façade, but we will discuss only one of the details before moving onto the Academic Building.
Old Main’s most important feature was its straight Mansard style roof. The Mansard roof was first created in Paris in the 16th century, but was famous in France and the United States in the late 19th century.
In the 19th century, the taxation laws in Paris would make you pay for each floor of your home, but it was less money to pay for an attic, so the Mansard style, or Second Empire Style put shingles around the uppermost story of the house to have it classified as an attic (Smith).
This style became popular in America in the 1870s and remained popular throughout the Beaux Arts period.
When Texas A&M University was established in 1876, Old Main was built as the focal point of the campus, and, today, the Academic Building stands on the old grounds of Old Main, and is still the focal point of main campus. Since the Academic Building was built later in the Classical Beaux Arts era, it has a different vibe than the Mansard style of early Beaux Arts.
The Academic building has so many interesting details to it, and while we don’t have enough time to go into all of them in depth, we will touch on a few of them. Here’s a list of the main details:
- Ionic columns
- Interior Doric columns
- Round arches
- Augmented capstone
- Copper dome on a drum
- Projecting cornices
- Triangular pediments
- Tripartite design
- Rusticated masonry
I have a personal connection to the Academic Building. Not only is my department located within its walls, but I have walked its halls at least once a week since entering the college and I was even there for its 100 year birthday in November 2014. All that to say, I will try to keep it brief, but this post may end up a bit longer than the previous posts have been.
Let’s get started with one of the staples of Beaux arts style: rusticated masonry. You may have noticed this detail listed out on other buildings we have covered as it is highly common in Beaux Arts buildings, especially those on campuses and government buildings.
Rusticated masonry is very common in classical buildings. Basically rusticated masonry is where the lowest floor is made of bricks that are rougher or larger than those that make up the upper floors in order to give texture to the building.
Psychologically, rustication is used in order to push the ideas of strength and security, so it is often found in banks or buildings containing important information (“Looking at Buildings”).
The Academic Building served as a library and files safe before Cushing library was built in 1930, so the architect included the rusticated masonry to add a psychological advantage to the safety measures of the building.
Next let’s talk about the most memorable detail of the Academic Building: the oxidized copper dome There isn’t that much to say about the dome that isn’t self-explanatory, but it is a major detail of the building, so we will discuss it very quickly before moving on to the rounded arch.
The dome that caps the Academic Building is made entirely of copper and has oxidized over the years giving it a green look. It is on top of a grand three-story rotunda in the center of the building and makes the building visible across the campus.
Here we will talk about rounded arches. Rounded arches are very common in the Beaux Arts era. They were the first type of arch designed in the Roman era and became very widespread throughout the classical era and the classical revivalist eras. The most important part of a round arch is the keystone, or the stone that is at the very apex of the arch (“Roman Arch”).
In Classical architecture, the keystone is the same size as the rest of the arch, but in revivalist Beaux Arts style, the keystone is augmented because it is no longer as structural as it is aesthetic.
In the picture above, you can clearly see the aesthetic augmented keystone in the rounded arches that are obviously not needed for the structural integrity of the arch.
A quick aside before we finish. The Neoclassical Revivalist style Beaux Arts is marked by the shift from functionalism to aestheticism. There has historically been a pendulum between eras of function to eras of aesthetics in terms of architectural design (Smith). Beaux Arts focuses on aesthetics, and, as we will see in later posts, the next modernist style shifts to form and function. Then the latest post-modernist style swings back to an aesthetically focused style.
Well there you have it. The Academic Building has so many details, so we weren’t able to get to all of them, but we were able to cover the most interesting parts. While rusticated masonry and rounded arches are commonly found in most of the Beaux Arts style buildings on campus, the copper dome is, as far as I know, only found in the Academic Building.
Next week we will be discussing my second favorite building on campus, the Administration building, so get ready.
- Old Main – 18. 2006. Cushing Memorial Library, College Station, Texas. Unknown. By Unknown. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
- “Looking at Buildings.” Rustication. Pevsner Architectural Guides, 26 Jan. 2009. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
- Smith, Jonathan. “Popular Styles.” Cultural Geography. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. 12 Oct. 2016. Lecture.
- “Roman Arch.” Arches. Texas Tech University, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.