College campuses are unique places in the US–almost entirely planned around pedestrian use. Campus planning has a long and fascinating history, and it has certainly changed over time how we create places specifically designed for learning. Stanford’s campus near Palo Alto, California is a beautiful place, with monumental, contextual architecture, and is a direct outgrowth of the cultural and environmental “place” in which it is located. The Spanish style architecture and native plant species that are used throughout the campus are intricately detailed, and beautifully maintained. The university originated from an endowment by Leland Stanford, in memorium of his son, who had died as a teenager. He and his wife Jane named the university for their son, declaring that “the children of California shall be our children.”In the summer of 1886, when the campus was first being planned, Stanford brought the president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Francis Amasa Walker, and prominent Boston landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted westward for consultations. Olmsted worked out the general concept for the campus and its buildings, rejecting a hillside site in favor of the more practical flatlands. Charles Allerton Coolidge then developed this concept in the style of his late mentor, Henry Hobson Richardson, in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, characterized by rectangular stone buildings linked by arcades of half-circle arches. The original campus was also designed in the Spanish-colonial style common to California known as Mission Revival. The red tile roofs and solid sandstone masonry are distinctly Californian in appearance and famously complementary to the bright blue skies common to the region, and most of the subsequently erected buildings have maintained consistent exteriors.
Much of this first construction was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but the university retains the Quad, the old Chemistry Building (which is not in use and has been boarded up since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake), and Encina Hall (the residence of Herbert Hoover, John Steinbeck, and Anthony Kennedy during their times at Stanford). After the 1989 earthquake inflicted further damage, the university implemented a billion-dollar capital improvement plan to retrofit and renovate older buildings for new, up-to-date uses.