New book details history of IU campus architecture


The Indiana University Bloomington campus is one of America’s most beautiful. The harmony of the limestone buildings and the generous and strategic use of green space make it a destination not just for students and scholars but also for students of architecture and tourists looking for an interesting stop.

The beauty and history of the campus’ architecture are captured in a massive coffee-table book from Indiana University Press. “Indiana University Bloomington: America’s Legacy Campus” is the first of several books the publisher has planned between now and the university’s bicentennial in 2020.

Lead author J. Terry Clapacs, IU vice president emeritus, served the university for 43 years. His primary focus for much of that time was campus planning, building construction, maintenance and beautification. He was involved in more than 600 major building projects throughout the IU system.

The book is lavishly illustrated, with generous use of archival images complemented with contemporary photographs. Detail photographs show the numerous small touches that make many of the buildings special.

But it’s the text that really set this work apart. Short, highly readable articles give the history of each building and explore how each fits — or, in the case of Ballantine Hall, doesn’t fit — the overall architectural harmony of the campus. Several maps not only orient readers but also show the interrelationships of the buildings. The authors show how one principle has driven campus planners over the years: Buildings should fit the landscape, rather than the other way round.

Sections of the book are devoted to themes on campus. First is “the Old Crescent,” the collection of buildings that made up the campus after it was moved from downtown Bloomington. Of interest locally in this section is the architect for the first two buildings, George W. Bunting of Indianapolis. He also designed several county courthouses, including the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin. A third IU building Bunting designed, Maxwell Hall, echoes some of the design features of the Johnson County Courthouse, in particular an interior staircase that looks down onto a patterned tile floor.

The decision to use limestone as the primary building material dates to 1885 and was driven not just by a local abundance of the stone but also by major fires such as the Chicago fire of 1871. All the buildings use limestone (or material resembling limestone in some newer buildings), giving the campus a unified image architecturally.

Other sections of the book cover buildings devoted to arts and humanities, professions, sciences, student housing, and common facilities, such as the Wylie House Museum, the auditorium and the new student recreational sports center. A final section is devoted to green spaces and public art.

These sections also show how the campus master plan has distributed activities into zones, such as academics and intercollegiate sports.

Most coffee-table books are meant to be looked at, with readers often lingering over particularly striking photographs. That is clearly true of much of this book as well, but interested readers will want to read many of the articles, too, as they show how the campus came to look the way it does. And along the way, readers will be rewarded with interesting bits of trivia, such a tradition that allows each year’s editor of the campus newspaper to work at a desk once used by war correspondent Ernie Pyle when he was editor of the Indiana Daily Student. There also are interesting bits of history, such as the story of Frances Morgan Swain, who lobbied and helped to fund the first all-female student residence center.

In all, this is a lavishly illustrated and well written book. It should entertain not only IU graduates but also anyone interested in architecture and campus planning.