Baylor buildings’ charm lies in tradition

By Thomas Moran | Staff Writer

Universities in the 21st century seem to be constantly walking a thin line between maintaining tradition and being academic pioneers. Tradition offers schools a credibility and history that newer universities can only develop with time; however, universities also face the challenge of being ahead of the scholastic and social curves. On Baylor’s campus, this tension seems to have taken physical form through the school’s architecture.

I love giving tours to friends and family that visit Baylor. In the thick of a challenging semester, I become less receptive to the beauty of campus; but when I see and hear visitors’ powerful reactions to Baylor’s buildings and landscape, I am reminded of the way I saw campus when I was a freshman.

Some buildings are perceived with awe and excitement while others are given a quick glance and an apathetic comment.

Old Main, a personal favorite of mine, never fails to impress visitors. When viewed from Burleson Quadrangle, Old Main seems formidable and ornate.

During the “golden hour,” Baylor’s most iconic building, Pat Neff Hall, is unparalleled in grandeur. My friends and family have stood awestruck in front of the building when the bell tolls every 15 minutes.

It’s hard not to notice the difference between those reactions, and the reactions visitors have to other notable features on campus.

When I show visitors Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, they take a quick look around, comment on the futuristic “floating rooms” and exit the building on the other side, looking for another Pat Neff Hall-like building to view.

Although the top floor of Cashion Academic Center is one my favorite views of campus, visitors never fail to comment on the plastic modern furniture on the first floor.

What quality is it that differentiates buildings like Old Main and Patt Neff Hall from Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation and Cashion Academic Center?

Old Main opened in 1887 and Pat Neff Hall in the 1930s. Each of these old buildings has a quality that visitors seem to admire, and originally I though it was based in age; however, there is an exception to that rule.

People who visit me at school are always excited to get up close to the colossal building they saw while driving in— the Baylor Sciences Building. If the size of the building doesn’t impress, the ornate pillars, monumental towers and cascading water feature normally do the trick. The architecture feels inspired and cohesive with the oldest buildings on campus, despite having been built in the past 15 years.

The BSB is the perfect balance between tradition and progress. It has ageless architecture, as well as trailblazing researchers and cutting-edge science labs.

The quality I admire in these buildings is not in their age, but rather their timelessness. The red brick and traditional classroom layouts do not reflect gimmicky 21st century trends. They won’t fall out of style in 20 years.

In my view, Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation and Cashion Academic Center represent historical moments when Baylor lost its balance between tradition and progressiveness, and leaned too far into the latter.

As an art form, the beauty of architecture is in the eye of the beholder, and though I am by no means an expert in the field, I don’t know many people who look back on architecture from the 1970s and ‘80s with fondness. Architecture from those eras was edgy, forward thinking and modern for a small blip of time. Now I view buildings from those decades as abstract concrete behemoths that deface otherwise beautiful campuses.

Even after its expensive remodeling in 2016, Cashion Academic Center’s architecture is out of trend and unsightly. While Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation’s avant-garde furniture and floating classrooms feel progressive and cutting-edge today, I fear that I will look back at the building the same way I look at ‘70s and ‘80s architecture today— regretfully.

As a research institution, the academic engagement and scholastic contributions of students and faculty are what make Baylor cutting-edge, not the design of a building.

Baylor has the history and traditions that newer institutions will not achieve for decades. I believe that our architecture should reflect that history and our work should reflect our prestige.

Thomas Moran is junior journalism major from Greenwood Village, Colo.