The Heroic Decades

Originally published in , 2006, The Texas Book, by Richard Holland, University of Texas Press

From 1910 to 1942 the University of Texas at Austin built an extraordinary ensemble of buildings which demonstrated palpably to its public the ambitions of an emerging institution. In a relatively short period of time, the image of the University was transformed from a sleepy, small-town college housed in a hodgepodge of mismatched buildings into a powerful, sophisticated institution whose campus exuded confidence and a memorable identity. During this period, a core of 33 buildings were constructed by three different architects of significant distinction (Cass Gilbert, 1910-1922; Herbert M. Greene, 1922-1930; Paul Cret, 1930-1942). It is remarkable both that all work done through this era was directed by architects with very strong credentials and that the architects used were firmly committed to building a real campus and not just a collection of individual buildings. In planning, massing, character, material selection, and detail this core campus and its components offer an instructive model for how to create a rich, lively, yet coherent urban place.

When this era began, the University’s 27-year-old campus consisted of a motley collection of makeshift structures on the crest of a hill just north of the city’s center. In the late 1880s the State of Texas had replaced the origi¬nal Greek Revival Capitol Building with an impressive new granite edifice designed by Detroit architect Elijah Myers. The mammoth structure with its vertical cast-iron dome (taller than the nation’s capitol in Washington) sat atop a hill at the termination of Congress Avenue-the main street of Austin, the modest city below. The city’s grid, which had been laid out in 1839, provided the basis for a coherent urban ensemble with the Colorado River forming a southern boundary, prominent bluffs creating east and west edges, and the Capitol on its hilltop crowning ¬the City to the north. With the new Capitol reinforcing the symmetry and grandeur of the original plan, the fledgling capital city had a memorable pres¬ence and a striking skyline.

The University’s image in 1910 was significantly less impressive. Its first structure, a portion of Old Main Building, was located thoughtfully by architect the Frederick E. Ruffini in 1882 on the highest point ¬the forty-acre campus, near its center. It faced the Capitol Building to the southeast, establishing an axis between the two hills which was slightly skewed to the city’s grid. But the initial structure remained an odd fragment for years until the building was fi¬nally completed in 1899 after three construction ¬phases directed by three different architects. By ¬the time it was finished, its collegiate Gothic style was dated and old-fashioned. Even so, in 1900, the ¬only other building on the campus, a simple brick ¬men’s dormitory (Brackenridge Hall), just to the east of Old Main, was remodeled to add a series of highly decorated towers in a somewhat futile effort to make the adjacent structures complement each other.

The buildings that followed in the first decade of the twentieth century discarded the spiky towers and elaborate ornamentation of their predecessors but failed to establish any new order of their own. ¬Although San Antonio architects Atlee B. Ayers and Charles A. Coughlin were hired to do a formal development plan for the campus in 1903, little regard ¬was given to the very ordinary plan, even in the place¬ment of the three buildings constructed over the next few years. The Women’s Building of 1903 by Coughlin and Ayers was a Neo-Romanesque structure which if enlarged, could have complied with the master plan. The neoclassical Engineering Building by the same architects in 1904 and the Neo-Palladian Law Build¬ing by Atlee B. Ayers of 190B, however, were located clearly at odds with the master plan.

Rejecting the disappointing results they were get¬ting from their local consultants, President David Houston and Regent George Brackenridge began in early 1907 to search for a nationally respected archi¬tect to create a new campus master plan and to es¬tablish a greater cohesion for the growing university. They selected Frederick M. Mann, head of the Depart¬ment of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, to prepare a new development plan in 1909.

Mann had established a strong reputation as an advocate for quality campus design largely through his involvement with the implementation of Cope and Stewardson’s competition-winning 1899 master plan for his home campus.

Mann’s plan essentially recommended starting over from scratch. It advocated demolition of all but the two most recent buildings on a campus, barely a quarter-century old. The massive but stylistically regressive Old Main Building was to be replaced by a smaller building of similar T-shaped footprint capped by a polygonal lantern. A broad green lawn with a double row of trees down its center would link the new building to the Capitol Building, creating a grand, open gesture to the south. The rest of the campus buildings were tightly clustered in a U-shaped ensemble wrapping the west, north, and east sides of the forty acres. Consistent rows of fairly uniform buildings lined Guadalupe Street, 24th Street, and Lampasas Street (later Speedway), Walling the campus off on three sides.

Even before Mann’s plan was complete, University of Texas regents and administrators had contacted New York architect Cass Gilbert for advice. They were disappointed, as they had been earlier, with Frederick Mann’s failure to create a compelling vision for the University’s future. Cass Gilbert was just the architect to project a more powerful and ambitious direction. Schooled at M.IT. and later in France, Gilbert had worked for McKim, Mead and White, the most prominent American architectural firm of the era. He had won prestigious competitions for the design of the Minnesota State Capitol and the U.S. Customs House in New York. At the time, he was working on a comprehensive development plan for the University of Minnesota. At fifty years old, he had reached a peak of maturity in his career with recent projects in Ohio Minnesota, Michigan, and Missouri as well as on the East Coast. Beginning in 1908 he had served a term as president of the American Institute of Architects. The University of Texas had finally found a nationally known architect with ambitious vision capable of creating an enduring image for the campus and the institution.

Cass Gilbert, from his very early sketches, imag¬ined a campus for the University of Texas that was grand and monumental. Even before actually receiv¬ing the commission, he produced sketches of the UT campus with a powerful scale and clarity well beyond the work of Coughlin and Ayers or Frederick Mann. In these images, buildings conspired together to frame dominant vistas and to create memorable exte¬rior spaces. Gilbert imagined an urban campus with well-defined malls, courts, and plazas. The rural-feel¬ing green lawns of previous schemes were replaced by rigorously ordered outdoor spaces defined by ar¬cades and formal planting as well as the buildings themselves.

Four powerful features set Gilbert’s plan apart from its predecessors. First, it replaced Old Main with a much larger and grander classical building called Uni¬versity Hall at the very center of the campus. Three distinctly different architectural approaches were en¬visioned for University Hall over Gilbert’s 10-year tenure as University architect. It was a grand domed node in sketches as early as February 1909, and as late as October 1920. It was a large pedimented temple with a dominant gable-front facing the State Capitol Building to the south in sketches as early as January 1910, and much later as well. In a sketch from 1920 University Hall was comprised of a single very tall tower rising from a low, flat base. (By the 1920S Cass Gilbert had become famous for designing towers – his Woolworth Building in New York of 1913 being the tallest building in the world at the time.) Gilbert was the seminal voice that established the idea of a very large building, prominent on the Austin skyline, that would serve as an iconic symbol for the emerging university.

A second powerful feature that distinguished Gil¬bert’s plan involved the creation of four axes which led down the hill from University Hall in roughly cardinal directions. The South Mall was the most prominent of the four, linking the front of University Hall forcefully to the Capitol Building at the other end of the axis. A broad main plaza flanked by sym¬metrical buildings introduced the South Mall, which was articulated by double rows of trees flanked by continuous arcades. This grand urban ensemble of University Hall, Main Plaza, South Mall, and State Capitol stretched the realm of the campus beyond the forty acres to make it a dominant player in the larger context of the city. It established a parallel be¬tween the University and state government and allowed the campus to borrow some of the grandeur of the State Capitol. As it eventually came to fruition twenty years later, it established a signature presence of the University of Texas as a strong, confident insti¬tution commanding a powerful physical presence in the city.

The other three axes, though less grand, estab¬lished important connections and contributed sig¬nificantly to a sense of clarity and coherence for the campus. The East Mall and West Mall focused on the short ends of University Hall and were terminated by a well-defined gateway on Guadalupe and Lampasas streets respectively. The somewhat shorter North Mall was about as broad as it was long, giving it a less-directional character. But its axial walkway with flanking pavilions at the northern terminus focused it clearly back to University Hall. Contrary to the schemes of earlier architects, Gilbert’s axes indicated multiple connections to the city around and provided ready options for expansion beyond the forty acres. At the same time the axes exuded an aura of strength and confidence, of order and stability. They set a tone for the public image of the campus that made a lasting mark on the character of the University.

A third feature of Gilbert’s plan, which would have lasting significance, focused on the creation of a more intimate, personal scale for the campus. Within the four quadrants created by the cardinal axes, Gilbert envisioned well-defined quadrangles. Each of the four spaces had its own distinct character, but all of them were loosely contained by an assemblage of carefully aligned, mostly linear buildings. It was in these less¬formal courts that the everyday academic life of fac¬ulty and students could thrive. They, along with the four malls, acknowledged the dual role of the Univer¬sity as both a powerful institution and a nurturing place of learning.

The fourth feature of Gilbert’s plan which gave it appeal to University leaders over previous efforts had to do with its attitude toward consistency versus inclusiveness in the architectural character of build¬ings on the campus. Whereas Frederick Mann had proposed demolishing all but two of the extant build¬ings in order to create strong cohesion, Gilbert pro¬jected retaining all of the existing structures except Old Main. He very cleverly integrated Brackenridge Hall, the Women’s Building, the Engineering Build¬ing, and the Law Building, all with very diverse archi¬tectural expressions, into his grand scheme. Even in the two buildings he completed for the campus, the Library (now Battle Hall) and the Education Building (now Sutton Hall), he worked with two very different architectural vocabularies. In the schemes he project¬ed for other projects-sketches for University Hall, a gymnasium, and an outdoor theatre – the range of architectural character he imagined for the campus was quite broad. Gilbert’s vision embraced existing campus buildings of diverse styles as well as a range of new architectural expressions designed to fit vari¬ous functions and sites. This approach is consistent with his contemporaneous campus work at Oberlin College, where the five structures he built represent a striking architectural range. Gilbert clearly imag¬ined a university campus, not as a military-style as¬semblage of uniform buildings, but as a community of diverse structures. He believed buildings should be carefully coordinated with each other, but not re¬stricted by an imposed stylistic code.

Battle Hall, which Gilbert began conceiving in 1909, was to be the westernmost of the two symmet¬rical buildings flanking the Main Plaza in the Master Plan. Its design was based loosely on the form of a Renaissance palazzo with office and administrative functions located on the ground floor behind heavy walls with plain, spare openings. The gracious reading room was raised to the upper piano nobile and graced with high ceilings, arched windows, and a monu¬mental facade treatment. This approach owed much to late-nineteenth-century library precedents such as Henri Labrouste’s Bibliotheque Ste.-Genevieve in Paris and McKim, Mead and White’s Boston Public Library as well as to Gilbert’s own St. Louis Public Library, the commission for which he had won in a competition in 1907.

But the library for University of Texas had its own distinct character apart from its precedents. It was much smaller and simpler than the very urban librar¬ies in Paris, Boston, and St. Louis. Its campus location gave it a softer, gentler context and allowed it to be more an object building than urban in-fill. Its hipped tile roof with deep, shadowy overhangs differentiated its massing and placed it firmly as a southern build¬ing distinct from its more-northern counterparts. Battle Hall also had a more festive, lively character, built as it was from the cream-colored Central Texas limestone rather than a more dour granite and dec¬orated with exuberant, brightly colored terra cotta ornamentation.

Design of Gilbert’s second building, Sutton Hall, began in 1915 with construction completed in 1918. It was a general purpose academic building conceived by Gilbert to be the first step in creating the purest of the four quadrangles in the Master Plan at the south¬east corner of the campus. Although planning docu¬ments had indicated flanking projections on the north face of the building at each end, the structure as com¬pleted became a long, simple rectangle in plan with a double-loaded center corridor and an entry hall facing south at its midpoint. Ironically, even though Sutton Hall was immediately adjacent to Battle Hall, there was very little relationship between the two either formally or functionally. Battle Hall created the west face of what was to be the new Main Plaza. Sutton Hall delineated the northern face of what was to be a new southeast quadrangle. They each seeded develop¬ment for the future, but, because of the twelve-foot topographical change between the two, they were ini¬tially rather isolated from each other.

In terms of architectural character, Sutton Hall was also strongly differentiated from Battle Hall. Though each building relied on the Renaissance palazzo as a precedent, their material usage, scale, color, and ornament were substantially different. Sutton Hall was much darker and less monumentally scaled than Battle Hall. Predominantly faced in a rough textured brick in browns, tans, oranges, and ochers, Sutton Hall had a ruddier, less refined building character. Even the stone used for its base was a grayer color than the creamy hues of Battle Hall. Paint colors were much darker and even the roof tiles were a deeper red and more variegated in color than the Library.

Though Gilbert did not complete as many build¬ings as might have been anticipated during the twelve years he served as University Architect, he left an indelible mark on the campus’ future. Both through his Master Plan and through the diverse architectural vocabularies of his two completed buildings he estab¬lished an inspiring vision for what the University of Texas might become. Gilbert helped the University administration and regents make the leap from seeing their institution as a small-town college to envision¬ing it as a sophisticated institution “of the first class.” Though his successors would create more buildings, Cass Gilbert was the seminal and visionary force in the development of the core UT campus as it exists today.

In 1922 the regents decided not to renew Gilbert’s contract. For the next eight years the role of Universi¬ty Architect was filled by Dallas architect Herbert M. Greene, whose firm later became Greene, La Roche and Dahl. Greene was born in Pennsylvania, received his education in architecture at University of Illinois, and moved to Dallas in 1897 at the age of twenty-six. By the early 1920s his successful practice had spread beyond Dallas and included the Scottish Rite Dormi¬tory just north of the UT campus as well as work for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. At about the same time as he received the appoint¬ment as University Architect, he became the first Texas architect to be named a Fellow in the Ameri¬can Institute of Architects. He was a very talented and capable architect who was a good friend of Sam Cochran, then chair of the UT Board of Regents.

In the early years of his tenure as University Ar¬chitect, Greene worked closely with James M. White of the University of Illinois, who did two new devel¬opment plans for the campus, neither of which had much lasting significance. The first, done in 1923, envisioned the demolitions of all existing buildings except the two most recent ones by Cass Gilbert. Though not influential as a whole, this scheme over the next few years did locate several buildings-most notably, a new stadium and a new gymnasium-off the original forty acres. White revised his plan in 1926, responding, in particular, to criticism by William Bat¬tle, the head of the Faculty Building Advisory Com¬mittee. The new scheme for the forty acres retained more buildings than the earlier one and had a stronger sense of formal order. Even the buildings completed by Greene in the core campus over the next few years, however, did not follow White’s development plan.

Herbert Greene’s first project built after his ap¬pointment was the Biology Building (later called the Biological Laboratory) of 1926. Though not entirely in compliance with Cass Gilbert’s Master Plan of 1914, it came close. It created a long, hard boundary on the northern side of the forty acres as well as a western edge for a tightened axis projecting north from the Main Building. The architectural character of the Bio¬logical Laboratory also owed much to Gilbert-espe¬cially to the vocabulary he established in Sutton Hall. Though the budget was clearly much lower than for the Gilbert precedent, the general conformation of the Biological Laboratory was the same. The long, thin rectangular volume had a stone base made of Leud¬ers limestone, two brick-faced floors above pierced by regular windows, and a red tile roof. Because of the significant slope of the site, the building’s basement was exposed on the east end and faced with a rusti¬cated version of the stone used on the first level. Win¬dows for an attic floor also pierced the frieze under the eave, so that the building actually had five floors with natural light, although it generally looked like a three-story building.

Concerns for maximum economy, which may have driven this extraordinary utilization of the building volume, did not have such a positive effect on exterior finishes. The use of terra cotta ornament was far more parsimonious than in Sutton Hall, restricted as it was to a band under the eaves, turned columns flanking a few special windows, and occasional decorative pan¬els. Themes depicted in the ornament included both classical motifs and local botanical elements such as bluebonnets and oak branches. The building’s duller, less variegated brown brick and flat tile panels did not have nearly the same richness and liveliness as Sutton Hall.

But Greene’s second building, Garrison Hall, of 1926, demonstrated his capability to produce the same kind of strong character and texture that Gilbert had accomplished. Sited in a very prominent location on the east side of the Main Plaza opposite Battle Hall, the new building, which would house the History De¬partment, was, again, generally located in compliance with Gilbert’s 1914 plan. Its L-shaped massing, with the shorter leg facing the plaza and the longer leg run¬ning down the hill to the east, enabled Greene to get four usable floors with generous basement windows in a building that looked to be three floors (and about the same height as Battle Hall) on the plaza side. The Leuder’s limestone base-rusticated at the basement level, smooth above-is pierced by arched windows on the first floor, like Sutton Hall. The brown/tan/orange/ochre brick colors and quantity of terra cotta ornament are also much more like Sutton than like the Biological Laboratory.

But the theme of the ornament was, distinct from Gilbert, tied very strongly to the building’s use and locale. The ornament evokes scenarios of Texas his¬tory in the form of longhorn skulls, Lone Stars, blue¬bonnets, and cactus and by means of the names of state heroes like Austin, Travis, and Lamar embla¬zoned above focal windows. Rondels feature brands of famous Texas ranches over more than a century. In Garrison Hall Greene successfully transformed Cass Gilbert’s general building vocabulary into an expres¬sion quite uniquely his own and strikingly Texan.

Greene designed two other academic buildings employing Gilbert’s Renaissance palazzo format and generally in compliance with the 1914 Master Plan – ¬Waggener Hall and the Chemistry Building, both completed in 1931. Waggener Hall was distinguished by its greater height-five full floors-as well as by the creation of a very deep limestone frieze under the eave which makes its top floor seem more a part of the cap than of the midsection of the building. Again, Greene manages to increase the density of build¬ing on campus without losing the basic motif of the stone base, brick midsection, and prominent cap. As in the Biological Laboratory and Garrison Hall, the ornament of Waggener Hall, which housed classes in Business, was themed to its use and locale. Emblems around the frieze under the building’s bracketed con¬crete eave depict the industries of Texas. The domi¬nance of agriculture (corn, cotton, citrus fruit, pecans, peaches, onions, cabbage, etc.) is striking, though live¬stock (cattle, sheep, goats) is well represented, as are oil and construction.

The design of the Chemistry Building differed from the others of this genre by its extraordinary length¬ – almost twice as long as Sutton Hall or the Biological Laboratory. With its three short wings projecting on the south side, it had a much larger building foot¬print than these precedents. The Chemistry Building anchored the northeast corner of the forty acres and, with Waggener Hall and the Biological Laboratory, be¬gan to create a strong edge to the academic part of the campus along 24th Street and what is now Speed¬way. A very elaborate stone portal in the center of the north face divided the building’s most dominant fa¬cade into two segments of more pleasing proportion. Outside of the limestone portal, which contained em¬blems depicting beakers and other equipment related to chemistry, Greene employed far less color and or¬nament on the building than he had on Garrison and Waggener. Again, Greene demonstrates ingenuity and finesse in adapting the original Sutton Hall model to very different programmatic needs, site situations, and budgets.

Greene’s greatest contribution may well have been in the series of buildings he did just off the forty acres, extending the campus domain to the north and east and broadening campus functions to include athletic facilities and a women’s residence hall. His Littlefield Dormitory of 1927 staked out a residential precinct to the north of the forty acres and became seminal in the subsequent development of an entire women’s quad¬rangle a decade later. Located about halfway between the Biological Laboratory and the Scottish Rite Dormi¬tory for girls that Greene had completed in 1921, the Littlefield Dormitory generally had a U-shaped plan with a forecourt facing south like the Scottish Rite facility. However, whereas his earlier dormitory had been a red brick Georgian building with three-story limestone columns and a slate roof, the newer Uni¬versity-sponsored dorm had a strong stylistic connec¬tion to other campus buildings. Above its split-face ashlar stone base, it was a primarily brick building of roughly the same coloration as Sutton Hall. There was no terra cotta ornament, but windows on the ground floor were lined with vaguely Moorish carved stone ornament. Turned columns and heavy wood fram¬ing on a small loggia gave a feeling of southern Spain without placing the building within any doctrinaire architecture style.

In terms of athletic facilities, Greene completed a new stadium in 1926 (now much expanded to become Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium), a baseball field in 1927 (later Clark Field), a men’s gymnasium in 1930 (later Gregory Gym), and a women’s gymnasium in 1931 (later Anna Hiss Gym). Through these athlet¬ics buildings Greene stretched both the architectural and the materials vocabulary for the campus, enrich¬ing its range of color, texture, and scale. In the sta¬dium he created a grand curved concrete arcade with massive, very plain arches providing generous light to the spaces below the raked seats. In the women’s gym he produced a diminutive ensemble of single-story volumes around an intimately scaled courtyard. But it was in the men’s gym that Greene made the stron¬gest departure from the vocabulary employed in the academic buildings on the forty acres and established the important precedent for sympathetic but very dis¬tinctive special-function buildings at the outer ranges of the campus.

Gregory Gym was sited generally in the same lo¬cation as had been indicated in James M. White’s de¬velopment plan of 1923-just east of the street that became Speedway at the southeast corner of the campus. (Gilbert’s 1914 plan made no provision for build¬ing off the forty acres.) Its tall, flat front faced the aca¬demic campus to the west. This monumental facade with its great central flight of steps and nested gables presented a very strong contrast to the horizontal, hipped-roof volumes of the newer academic buildings on the forty acres. The gymnasium sat on a rather raw concrete base and had concrete spandrels articulated by bold geometric designs traversing grand arches on its north, west, and south facades. The shiny, colorful terra cotta ornament of other campus buildings was strikingly absent. The gymnasium was robust and muscular compared to its more delicate neighbors.

Stylistically, Gregory Gym eschewed the Renais¬sance precedent set by Battle Hall and Sutton Hall in favor of the more ancient Romanesque. This dramatic shift may have been provoked in part by an extended trip which Greene took to Europe in 1928, just prior to designing the gym. The building adopted a vaguely Lombard flavor, particularly in its distinctive relieving arches and corbel tables. Dominantly brick, the gym utilized limestone only sparingly in a few deco¬rative balconies. It was the brick, similar in color and texture to that used in Sutton and Garrison halls, that tied Gregory Gym back to the rest of the cam¬pus. Even here, however, Greene employed more ex¬otic configurations than had been used previously – ¬abstracted dentils, herringbone and diaper patterns.

Inside, the lower floor of the building contained a maze of handball courts, dressing rooms, and exercise spaces. Above was a single grand room with a basket¬ball court surrounded on three sides by bleachers el¬evated a full level above the gym floor. Interior walls were faced in the local Austin Common brick, which was lighter and softer than that on the exterior. Dra¬matic steel trusses in a tapered gable configuration spanned the space, which had a stage with fly-loft on the east, allowing the gym to double as a performance venue.

Perhaps because of its distinctiveness and its de¬parture from the dominant surrounding vocabulary, Gregory Gym soon became a favorite building on the campus. It demonstrated the importance of both Gilbert’s and Greene’s notion that there should be a variety of styles and materials in campus buildings, especially as utilized to create landmarks and to par¬ticularize exceptional functions. The building also demonstrates Greene’s capabilities as an outstanding architect who could generate appropriate expressions independent of precedents set by Cass Gilbert before him.

Greene designed a total of twelve buildings on the UT campus during his tenure as University Ar¬chitect and left an indelible mark on its character. His respect for the planning and architectural acu¬men of his predecessor as well as his own creative capabilities made him an excellent architect for this era of the University’s growth. His knowledge of the state and his commitment to it generated referenc¬es to regional characteristics in the ruggedness and toughness of structures like Gregory Gym and in the erudite detail of buildings like Garrison Hall. By early 1930, with the design of most of his UT build¬ings complete, Greene’s health began to fail. Al¬though his contract as University Architect was not due to expire until 1933, his direct role in the work became greatly curtailed. Greene died in February 1932, leaving his firm to complete the last year of the UT contract.

THE PAUL CRET ERA, 1930 -1942
In March of 1930 the Board of Regents signed a contact with Paul Phillippe Cret to become consulting archi¬tect for the university and to create a new vision for the next era of campus building. Initially engaged to conceive only a development plan, Cret was awarded a second contract by the Board of Regents in June 1931 to design ten new buildings. This extraordinary flurry of construction activity was provoked by the creation of the Permanent University Fund by the Texas Legis¬lature in April 1931. This mechanism authorized the University to pledge its income from oil production on lands in West Texas to secure long-term loans. The regents, fearful that the legislature might rescind the loan authorization when it met again in 1932, took the architect they had at hand and moved forward quickly.

In these initial ten buildings Cret designed for UT he established four distinctive architectural vocabu¬laries which he would extend to all 19 buildings he eventually designed for the campus. Like Gilbert and Greene before him, Cret knew a campus the size that the University would eventually need required diver¬sity. In a report written to the regents in I933, Cret advocated buildings “related, to be sure, but indepen¬dent, and requiring a certain variety of treatment, to avoid the monotony and the ‘institutional’ character inherent to the repetition of similar units.”

The first of the vocabularies Cret employed was a clear outgrowth from the palazzo-based work of Gilbert and Greene in academic buildings like Sut¬ton Hall, the Biological Laboratory, Garrison Hall, Waggener Hall, and the Chemistry Building. Cret’s Physics Building of 1933 (now Painter Hall) had the same limestone base, brick midsection, and elaborate bracketed eaves with red tile roof that was, by then, well established on the campus. In this version, the four-story height was reduced in scale by treating the top floor as a broken frieze rendered in limestone, much like Greene had employed at Waggener Hall. Several elements in Painter Hall were new, however. A perpendicular tower at the western end of the build¬ing broke the otherwise simple massing of the long hipped roof, acknowledging the location of that end of the building on the north axis of the campus. In addi¬tion, a much lighter, yellower brick was used as well as smooth limestone edging at vertical corners. Both of these gestures created a somewhat cooler, cleaner, less rugged feeling to Painter Hall in comparison to its predecessors.

The Geology Building of 1933 (now Will C. Hogg Building) also extended the familiar vocabulary of other Forty Acres academic buildings. More elabo¬rately ornamented than Painter Hall, the Hogg Build¬ing gave Cret the opportunity to use the same sort of department-specific theme that Greene had em¬ployed earlier. A horizontal carved limestone band that wrapped the structure utilized seashells, starfish, dinosaurs, and other prehistoric creatures as symbols for geology. Thick concrete brackets under the eaves were comparable to those employed by Greene in Waggener Hall. But, here again, there were some new touches as well. Blank slate panels were inserted be¬tween vertically stacked windows, and brick pilasters with carved limestone ionic capitals rose between the window stacks to give a more classicized character to the building. Rusticated quoins were applied to corners the building. Rusticated quoins were applied to cor¬ners extending the direction begun at Painter of us¬ing brick as infill panels in a stone frame. Over the following decade, Cret utilized this first vocabulary with some significant variations on six other campus buildings, ranging from residence halls like Carothers Dormitory of 1937 to academic buildings for Chemi¬cal Engineering and Petroleum Engineering in 1942.

The second vocabulary Cret employed was more rugged and varied in massing like Gregory Gym, Anna Hiss Gym, and Littlefield Dormitory from the Greene era. Cret used it in the vicinity of Gregory Gym and for functions comparable to Littlefield Dormitory. The first building of this genre was Brackenridge Hall of 1932, a men’s dormitory located on 21st Street just southeast of the men’s gym. The building’s conforma¬tion was looser than the vocabulary generated from the rectangular palazzo format. Its long, thin vol¬umes were broken in plan and featured a prominent tower at the west end. A rusticated base was created by corbeling out every ninth course of the brick on the first floor, lending a very rugged character in striking contrast to the Physics Building or the Hogg Building. Clearly an economy-minded project, Brackenridge Hall had coffered plaster eaves rather than bracketed ones with a simple stucco frieze below. The sparse ornament in the frieze picked up regional themes similar to the sort Greene had used in Garrison Hall and Waggener Hall. Western and cowboy images were predominant – cacti, lone wolves, shotguns, broncos, pistols, and knives. Cret did two other buildings in this genre on the campus-Roberts Hall of 1936 and Prather Hall of 1937.

The third vocabulary utilized by Cret was also characterized by informal massing with buildings as¬sembled as collections of separate, sometimes juxta¬posed, volumes. These buildings, however, eschewed brick, which had become a dominant material in ev¬ery new campus building since Battle Hall, in favor of creating all-stone buildings. Three of Cret’s best works, the Home Economics Building (now Mary E. Gearing Hall), the Architecture Building (now Gold¬smith Hall), and the Student Union – all of 1933 – de¬fined this genre. They were all composed of one, two, three, and four-story elements sheathed in a combina¬tion of smooth limestone and random ashlar fossilif¬erous limestone. Together, they created a fresh new look for the campus, quite distinct from any previous projects.

Mary E. Gearing Hall was created as a combina¬tion of a four-story north-facing central block with a hipped roof, two flanking three-story wings with flat roofs, two dominant towers at the intersection of the central block and the wings, and a lovely one-story loggia surrounding a courtyard with a fountain on the south side. The building’s composition was symmetri¬cal, appropriate to its location on the north axis of the campus, but was, nonetheless, extremely varied and romantic. Window rhythms were syncopated and sel¬dom aligned floor to floor. Cret originally conceived the building to be clad in rubble stone, which would have made it even more rustic and distinctive in its context. He used heavy timber beams and purlins in the loggia and turned-wood handrails on balconies projecting from the building to contribute a far more informal, rural character than existed in the Gilbert and Greene buildings.

Goldsmith Hall similarly incorporated a tower, a loggia, and a courtyard, along with volumes of varied heights to create a loose composition reflective, like Mary E. Gearing Hall, of its varied internal functions. Two thin wings with long north/south faces housed well-lit design studios. A thicker, taller block with windows oriented east and west stacked a lecture hall on the first floor, a library on the second floor, and classrooms on the top to create the third side of a well-scaled courtyard. Unlike Gearing Hall, Gold¬smith was dominantly asymmetrical with the eccen¬tric four-story tower anchoring the northwest corner of the building and a flat-roof two-story volume trail¬ing off the southwest edge. Local symmetries, as in the entry portal or the west facade of the lecture hall/ library/classroom wing, contributed partial order but also served to differentiate the various parts from each other.

The Student Union was composed of two wings with a corner tower at their intersection that matched Goldsmith Hall’s tower across the West Mall. Togeth¬er the two towers created a prominent gateway to the campus from Guadalupe Street. The long wing of the Union on Guadalupe Street was two stories and ac¬commodated the most-public building functions, like the cafeteria and ballroom. The shorter wing along the West Mall housed less formal activities like meet¬ing rooms.

The Union and Goldsmith Hall formed a striking ensemble at the major pedestrian entry point to the campus. They were similar to each other in composi¬tional character and materials, but quite different in fenestration and detail. Together, they created a to¬tally new architectural character very different from Cass Gilbert’s seminal landmarks nearby. The simple stereometric volumes, palazzo compositional format, and materials treatments of Battle Hall and Sutton Hall were rejected in favor of a fresh but compatible new expression. These were looser, less formal, more dynamic buildings than their predecessors. They rein¬vented, twenty years later, a vocabulary for the cam¬pus which Cret imagined would eventually be gener¬ously represented on the forty acres.

The fourth vocabulary Cret employed was also a new invention for the campus. Reserved for the most monumental buildings and ensembles, Cret called this vocabulary “New Classicism,” dominated as it was by traditional architectural elements like columns, pilasters, architraves, keystones, quoins, cartouches, and so forth. The most prominent example of this vo¬cabulary was the Main Building, constructed in two phases in 1933 and 1937. Planned to house both the li¬brary and the University administration, Cret located the Main Building on the top of the hill at the center of the forty acres just as Cass Gilbert had envisioned. Even its composition of tower atop a broad base had been conceived by Gilbert more than a decade before its construction.

The role of the Main Building as the center of what was rapidly becoming a very large urban campus de¬manded a monumentality and scale much greater than any prior campus project. Cret rose to the occasion with building forms that were gigantic and impressive in their context. As in the Union and Goldsmith and Gearing halls, the previously ubiquitous UT brick was avoided in favor of lavish expanses of creamy limestone. But unlike these three gentler buildings, the stone in the Main Building was cut, carved, and refined to embody a feeling of power and dominance. Huge stones with highly articulated joints formed a monumental base. Giant columnar orders accentu¬ated by deeply recessed balconies inflated the scale of upper floors. The comparatively plain, but massive, shaft of the tower was capped by classically ornament¬ed clocks on four sides, with a grand temple housing nothing but bells at the very top. Both in massing and in architectural character the Main Building lorded over the campus and created a striking counterpoint to the dome of the Capitol Building on the Austin skyline.

Cret designed three other buildings in the “New Classicism” vocabulary, though in far less grandiose versions than the Main Building. Hogg Auditorium, completed in 1933, drew both its symmetrical com¬position and its ornamental articulation from classi¬cal sources. But the interpretation was more severe, blocky, and abstracted than in the Main Building. Texas Memorial Museum of 1937 was simpler and cleaner still. Modern and progressive in general feel¬ing, the museum emphasized the “New” in Cret’s “New Classicism.” Its flat roof, glass-block windows, and large unrelieved surfaces made it fresh and strik¬ing. But its symmetrical composition as well as its abstracted pilasters with “longhorn” capitols kept it comfortable within the larger campus context. The Music Building of 1942 (now Homer Rainey Hall) was among the last buildings done under Cret’s influence, his involvement at UT being significantly reduced after his surgery for cancer in 1939. Its “New Classicism” set the tone for a formal six-building ensemble which would line both sides of the South Mall.

In addition to the 19 buildings for which he was supervising architect from 1930 to 1942, Cret’s legacy includes the preparation of a comprehensive develop¬ment plan for the whole campus in 1933. Completed after ten of his buildings were already pretty much fin¬ished, the plan knit Cret’s own work to date together with the work of Cass Gilbert and Herbert Greene. The scheme was remarkably respectful of Gilbert’s master plan of 1914 with north, south, east, and west malls defining four varied quadrants of the campus, where long simple building forms defined pleasant outdoor rooms. Cret’s South Mall was about the same width as Gilbert’s with similar double rows of trees along each side and buildings connected by colon¬nades. But Cret’s buildings were arranged perpendicu¬lar to the mall, more like those Gilbert had planned for University of Minnesota (and had suggested in a 1909 sketch for UT) than like the arrangement in his 1914 master plan.

Cret’s development plan of 1933 also paid great homage to Greene’s work of the 1920s. Anna Hiss Gymnasium and Littlefield Dormitory became key de¬lineators of a Women’s Group to the north of the forty acres in Cret’s plan. The women’s gym became the fo¬cus of a grand symmetrical composition of buildings in the district. Gregory Gym and Greene’s buildings for engineering similarly became the centerpieces for formal open spaces masterfully woven around them by Cret.

The holistic development of the campus from 1910 to 1942 represents an exemplary balance between contextual considerations and fresh, new innovation. All three key architects-Cass Gilbert, Herbert W. Greene, and Paul Phillipe Cret – as well as their col¬laborators who often bridged the transitions between them (including Ayers and Ayers; Greene, La Roche and Dahl after Herbert Greene’s death; Robert Leon White; John Staub; and Page Brothers) demonstrated a remarkable commitment to creating a powerful, co¬herent, and dynamic place. The Board of Regents, the University administrations, and key faculty members like Dr. William Battle, who was chair of the Faculty Building Committee through much of this era, had the vision to select extraordinary designers and then to support them in the pursuit of both enlightened planning and architectural innovation.

The resulting physical environment has played a prominent role in shaping the best aspects of the Uni¬versity of Texas at Austin today. Winston Churchill’s often-quoted dictum, “We shape our buildings; there¬after our buildings shape us,” is certainly applicable in this instance. The power, prestige, and dignity em¬bodied in UT buildings when the institution was still fledgling predicted its future. The campus felt big and strong long before it actually was. The environment of the University set a benchmark that the institution grew to achieve over time. Generations of prospective students have looked up the South Mall toward the Main Building and have sensed an ambition and as¬piration that matched their own. Thousands of fresh¬men over seven decades have discovered the intimate courtyards and warm interiors of buildings like the Union or Goldsmith Hall and have felt welcome and “at home.” Faculty, staff, and students from all over the globe and with diverse and conflicting values have mingled and engaged in meaningful dialogue amidst the civility and graciousness of the West Mall. The campus has become the crucible in which the ethos of the University of Texas is best contained. For many people this physical environment is UT and is a place they return to over and over to connect to the institu¬tion and to its role in transforming their lives.

Thinking about Campus Architecture
Architect: , ,
Originally published in , 2006, The Texas Book, by Richard Holland, University of Texas Press