THE 1910 CAMPUS-PLAN OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM
Most Architects, today, would regard this plan as a fossil from a bygone age, of no possible value to them, either now or in the future. They should view it, if nothing else, with the eyes of Charles Darwin. For even if it is not as old, genetically as the organs they use to scan it, or the cortex that registers its congruence to their own vertebrate being, it is, culturally, of primordial genetic status. The Campus Plan of Rice is far 'older' than the Beaux Arts composiitonal system with which it is associated. The proof of this is not only its antiquity, traceable back to Egypt, at least, but its dispersion over all of the five centres of autonomous urban genesis.
I have given my own route to its 'decipherment' in "Duncanology" Part 2,: "Claude's Key", and "Duncanology" Part 3,: "Cram's Plan".
At the very least, one can say of this plan that its makers gave the Citizens of this little 'State' a place, indeed a whole 'Polis' of related places, in which to stand together and experience both the reality of their Institution, and the reality of themselves as constituting it. We have learnt, through the many, probably irrevocable, buildings laid down in the latter half of the 20C, that if a 'statelet', like a University, has no 'social space' from which, and in which, its being, as a whole, can be experienced, then the huge forces of individualism and mobility at large today will overwhelm it and dissolve it within the maelstrom of potential and virtual institutionalities that sprout, 'web-like' on every hand. This is not to condemn the freedom of cyberspace, far from it. But it is to state that an Institution which offers no opportunity for its successful alumni to return to beautify it with monumental buildings, is denying itself an indispensible means to its own survival. For what is it that the Web can not reproduce and replicate? It is the flesh and blood 'being' of a real place. It is the 'back inside your body experience', that Architecture provides, that makes it unique in 'cyberville'. It is standing before a great monument, made of solid materials (inside whose latterday 'Robotic Orders' all modern conveniences are to be had), under a real sky, sniffing real smells and feeling real wind and sun, that Architecture finds its incomparable role in Cyberville.
Plans like this century-old footprint in the 'gumbo' of tropical Texas are, if not the only way, then certainly the best way to obtain maximum architectural (in your body-politic) advantage in the struggle for Institutional survival.
Plan scanned-in From Stephen Fox's, Monograph No. 29, Rice School of Architecture 1980