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If Buildings Could Talk...


Come December, 24 students will begin winter break with nearly 200 year’s worth of knowledge about several prominent buildings on campus.

Brigit Ferguson, visiting assistant professor of art history, has designed a semester-long architecture project for students in Modern Architecture: 1750 to the Present. At the beginning of the semester, Ferguson divided students into eight groups and assigned each a building on campus.

The buildings included Kirkland Cottage and the Chapel to the Wellin Museum, Molly Root House, and dark-side residence halls Keehn, McIntosh, Major, and Minor. While some buildings date back to Samuel Kirkland’s auspicious acquisition of 4,000 acres, others belong to the late ’60s Kirkland College or are as new as 2014.

“When planning the Modern Architecture course, I wanted to teach buildings on campus, but discovered that little information about the buildings was readily available,” Ferguson said. “The project also appealed to me because it gets students to engage in research methods— like archival research and interviews—that are essential for professional art historians but rarely practiced in college coursework.”

"I study math and art so I thought architecture was a cool overlap,” said class member Kevin Strong  ’19. "I've learned a lot about basic trends in modern architecture and a lot about architecture on campus and different styles of its buildings."

The campus project is quite interactive, challenging students to learn more about the design and composition of their architecturally-diverse campus. College Archivist Katherine Collett and members of Facilities Management have been especially instrumental in helping students discover and share the history of the College’s composition.

For example, Bill Huggins, director of Building Systems Management, has a plethora of original blueprints dating back to 1925. It is not uncommon for facilities management and the archivist to work closely on restorations, renovations, and new projects.

“We get information that we come across that’s valuable, that’s very detailed, that we’ll share with Katherine and sometimes vice versa,” Huggins said. “We ask architects and engineers that are working on campus to work directly with Katherine to gather up additional information for their projects.”

With the assistance of Educational Technologist Deborah Reichler, students will present their findings on the interactive platform Story Map Journal. Students will then share visual and textual presentations on the user-friendly program in December. In addition, they will explore how their on-campus narrative intersects with regional, national, and international movements in architecture.

“My hope is that students will become more aware of the buildings they interact with as historical objects, created at specific moments and engaging with the needs of those moments, but also changing over time as needs change. I hope they achieve a greater appreciation of art historical methods so that the origins of scholarship they read in this and other courses become less opaque,” Ferguson said.

The architecture project is a true blend of interaction; between curious students and essential campus resources, the present and the past, and historical archives and modern technology. But, in the end, it is an opportunity for students to learn more in depth about the Hill they call home.

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