American collegiate gothic architecture has typically been considered an antimodern reaction to the rapid changes of the early twentieth century. In this paper I challenge this interpretation by analysing the collegiate gothic architecture and planning of the University of Chicago up to 1916, with a focus on the neglected work of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. In these decades, the campus changed considerably from its original quadrangle plan as university leaders consciously opened the campus to its surroundings and realigned to the Midway Plaisance, the famed public greenway designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. In doing so they pioneered a new campus typology, the academic avenue, which initiated a meaningful engagement with Chicago’s progressive civic culture. I will speak about three key buildings, the Tower Group (1903), Harper Memorial Library (1912), and Ida Noyes Hall (1916). Each set new precedents for the adaptive possibilities of collegiate gothic and changed how the campus related to its urban context. Through these projects, the University of Chicago engaged directly with the modern city and the urban progressivism of the early twentieth century.
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