Pride of Place
RECAPTURING THE PRIDE OF PLACE
Amid a Billion Dollar Building Boom,
The Struggle to Distill an Architectural Vision
By Michael Cannell
n May 14, 1887, Leland Stanford laid the cornerstone at his
Palo Alto estate for a university built in his sons memory. Pulleys lowered the
waist-high block into place, and an encircling throng of workers and dignitaries watched
him trowel the mortar that sealed it. His wife, Jane, stood nearby in a black Victorian
Stanford had devoted his life to building the Central Pacific Railroad. When his
15-year-old son died of typhoid fever during a European tour, he shifted his energies to
the design of Leland Stanford Junior University. In collaboration with the preeminent
landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, he built a lowslung compound of courtyards in
imitation of the rustic local missions.
It was the genesis of a distinct Stanford style characterized by terra cotta roofs,
carved sandstone arcades that shade scholars from the California sun and palm trees
hovering like verdant clouds over the courtyards - a composition Olmsted called
gloria in excelsis.
More than a century later, campus officials are trying to restore the spirit of the
original plan. Like other universities that suffered decades of unchecked development,
Stanford is searching its institutional soul for the appropriate way to graft new
architecture onto old. Provosts and deans everywhere face the same dilemma: Should they
freeze their architectural heritage under glass, like a campus version of Williamsburg,
Virginia? Or solicit the best current design ideas?