Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York
Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, Poughkeepsie brewer and businessman, Vassar College was the first endowed college to provide a full and rigorous liberal arts curriculum for women. Vassar chose the prominent New York architect James Renwick Jr. to design the first campus building, a huge Second Empire-style building patterned after the Tuilleries Palace. Over the next 150 years, the College continued to commission important examples of Medieval Revival, Second Empire, Colonial Revival, Beaux-Arts, Modern, and Postmodern architecture, all set in a spacious and verdant campus landscape. With grant funds, Vassar will survey 52 buildings on the campus, with special attention to the preservation issues presented by buildings constructed since 1950, and produce a historic preservation design manual.
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Vassar College received a Getty grant in 2005 for $175,000 to support campus heritage planning.
Purpose: The purpose of the grant was to examine several dozen historically and architecturally significant buildings on campus and develop a comprehensive preservation design manual for them. Those that were examined and evaluated were to be positioned in relation to Modernism: before, during, and after the movement that shaped many aspects of the 20th century built domain.
Historic Designation(s): Main Building, Vassar College (National Register of Historic Places; National Historic Landmark); Vassar College Observatory (National Register of Historic Places; National Historic Landmark).
Planning Process: Vassar College assembled a team composed of architects and planners, historians, administration, staff, and a representative from the student body. College professionals represented the areas of grants administration; corporate, foundation, and government relations; and facilities management. The manual was intended to help the process of historic preservation by focusing not so much on the specific physical conditions that need attention as on the architectural meaning that should guide their care.
Outcomes—Products: The project resulted in the production of the “Vassar College Historic Preservation Design Manual” (2007), which offers a general survey of the physical conditions of Vassar’s inventory of architecture, with a focus on the meaning of its principal exemplars, to help understand why and how they should be preserved. There is special emphasis of the works of Modern architecture on campus, and particularly three exceptional works: Dexter M. Ferry Cooperative House, Emma Hartman Noyes House, and Chicago Hall.
The report developed a matrix of significance and existing conditions for each building, including notations about specific issues, dates of service life and anticipated longevity for certain components of the building, goals for said components, treatment options, priorities for intervention, and recommendations overall.
Outcomes—Strategies and Goals for the Future: It is hoped that the design manual will provide a template for future preservation work on the Vassar College campus. The information contained therein is both prescriptive in its level of identification and detail while also being abstract in the sense that it encourages participation in the experiment of creatively seeking better ways to find preservation solutions, particularly with regard to the goals of the Modernist project.