ACU’s newest plan to construct several buildings, including a science building and a football stadium, have brought the issue of building expenses to the forefront. The university also wants to continue to create harmony between the new and old structures on campus.
Decades ago, ACU’s buildings were constructed differently for several reasons, and even went through a period of relative frugality. However, the Hunter Welcome Center, Williams Performing Arts Center and the Money Student Recreation and Wellness Center represent the intricate and expensive buildings people have become accustomed to seeing around campus. But ACU’s buildings are changing because of a shift in the type of students ACU is recruiting, the universities ACU is primarily competing with for students and a changing landscape in architectural style.
In ACU’s infancy, several buildings with the “classic” look were considered elegant for the time period. For example, the Hardin Administration Building’s steps, coupled with the large vertical columns, reflect the architectural style of the day. Other buildings constructed in the late 1920s reflect the same trends.
“My guess is that if you talked to someone in the ’40s or the ’50s, they would say, ‘Wow, these buildings are gorgeous,'” said Chief Planning and Information Officer Kevin Roberts. “Certainly, with buildings like the Administration building and some of those iconic buildings we have on campus, there is no way you could ever say these weren’t beautiful buildings.”
As time went on, there was a subtle shift in the university’s focus when it came to constructing buildings, say campus historians. Attempts to make ACU more affordable drove the university’s leadership to be more focused on efficiency and less focused on making the buildings look sophisticated.
“In each generation and each decade, the board has done the best that they could do with the resources they had,” said Dr. Charles Marler, professor emeritus of journalism and mass communication. “The big change came in Dr. Stevens’ administration. They were trying to hold the line on tuition. A major way to do that was with the buildings that were built then. With Sikes, Morris dorm and the Sherrod apartments, you could say there was a step back in the quality and the ambiance. But, it was driven by the administrative philosophy. That was a change of direction that did not continue with other administrations.”
However, when taking a step back and viewing ACU’s history as a whole, the university has frequently made aesthetic beauty an important criterion when constructing buildings. In fact, the construction of Sikes, Morris and the Sherrod apartments do not reflect ACU’s traditional attitude when adding to the campus.
In more recent history, ACU’s push for a more well-rounded campus has lead them to recruit different types of students. Instead of students choosing primarily between other Church of Christ-affiliated schools, many prospective ACU students are picking between ACU and other Texas schools, such as Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech. The new competition could also effect the way ACU tries to construct buildings, hoping to compare favorably to those schools.
Changes in architectural style also lead to a difference in the way newer buildings look as opposed to older ones.
“I read once that architecture over the years winds up providing civilization with an open air museum,” said Dr. Gary McCaleb, vice president and the executive director for the Center for Building Community. “You can go to an art museum and see some of the great paintings of the 1800s, and nobody is going to take them down and throw them away because they increase in value every year. But they are also not the way anybody is going to paint today. There is a more contemporary way to do it. In a way, it is the same way with buildings on ACU’s campus.”
While balancing all of these different ideas, ACU has made an effort to balance the older buildings’ style with the newer ones and give the campus a sense of unity.
“The buildings started with a unified neo-classical style,” said Ronnie Rama, associate professor of architecture. “Then, over the years, there have been different attempts to stay with the times. I think in the past 20 years there have been some efforts at looking for unity and looking for elements that will unify. The architectural style may not be the same for the building, but they are looking for features and elements that would give the campus a sense of unity.”
Overall, the progression of ACU buildings over the last 100 years has been a product of many different time periods, but the university hopes to continue to construct modern buildings while also creating harmony between new and old buildings.
“The Hunter Welcome Center is a good example of a link building,” Rama said. “The building creates a link between the traditional architecture of the campus.”