If the twenty-first century Kenyon campus can be seen as a canvas, then Graham Gund is the artist.
From the muscular elegance of the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) to the disarming charm of the new north campus townhouses, a medley of buildings designed by the Gund Partnership has transformed the campus profile while bridging past to future.
Gund '63 H'81 is the president of the firm he founded in 1971, nestled smartly in the renovated nineteenth-century Cambridge, Massachusetts, courthouse he helped save from demolition. That the Cleveland, Ohio, native is part of a family of considerable prominence is widely known. That he forged his own identity and established himself as an acclaimed architect with a focus on education is essential to understanding man and mission.
"I like working within the campus environment," Gund said, "because it combines both architecture and planning. One building can have a significant effect on a campus. I try to restore the fabric of a campus, which often involves going back to the original vision. It's particularly gratifying when they're like Kenyon, which has such a strong idea behind the campus that gives it a strong structure. All the old buildings have quite a proud kind of feel to them. They were forward-looking when they were built.
"There are a lot of campuses where the vision was at a smaller scale," he continued. "The University of Virginia, Jefferson's campus, is beautiful, but it's only a small part of the school now. The vision for Kenyon was far-reaching and dramatic, with Middle Path running almost a mile between buildings. It's one of the few campuses that has continued to maintain the original planning concept as the campus has grown."
That central idea has sprouted branches with the Gund touch: Storer Hall (2000); the science and mathematics complex (2001); Eaton Center (2004); KAC (2006); the Peirce Hall renovation with an atrium that marries the hallowed Great Hall to the soaring Thomas dining hall (2008); and the unfolding north campus housing complex (2012) and Horvitz Art Building (2012). Conspicuous in the mix and along Middle Path is the Graham Gund Gallery, which welcomed students in August with 31,000 square feet for exhibitions, classrooms, the art history faculty, and an auditorium.
The man who finds philanthropy "intrinsic" and whose generosity is discreet and refined, committed $11.5 million toward construction of the gallery, which reflects his passion for art. He is a formidable collector and is a former trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
As a child, Gund was taken by his mother to Saturday art classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and he looks back on those times as very formative. "The arts have always been particularly important to me, and I've always seen an interest in art as being key," he said. "Somewhat like architecture, the arts are looking at new ideas in a spatial and visual way." Gund is enthused about the gallery's potential. "I believe it will have a significant impact and raise the level of understanding and appreciation of the arts both within the school and in the surrounding community. I'm very pleased with the way it's come to life."
Gund's team of architects is well aware of his alma mater and what work on Kenyon buildings means to him. "I tend to get more into them."
und's memories of Kenyon are fond. About 500 were enrolled in the early 1960s, and they were close-knit. "It was a great experience. All of the faculty lived within a few minutes of campus. I knew everyone in my class and most everyone in the school. All students lived on the historic part of campus after freshman year."
Gund was a psychology major, a subject he believes relates well to architecture. "It deals with how groups work, human perception, and visual perception." He was interested in the visual arts, but classes were scarce, with only one painting class. Assistant Professor of Art Kathryn "Kitty" Rice, "a very nice teacher," taught the course in the Peirce Hall tower, with three or four students on each of three levels. The arts expanded rapidly in ensuing years, Gund said, but the College has "always struggled with the physical plant" for the visual arts.
Architecture was never far from his mind, and he sometimes pondered how the campus might grow and change.
That Gund had a sharp eye for a finely turned building was quickly evident to James Morgan '57, an architect who returned to Gambier in 1963 and was allowed to move into Weaver Cottage for six months with his young family. During a six-year stay in Knox County, Morgan designed what are now called the Morgan Apartments and a number of local homes. He has taught in the urban design and architecture studies program of New York University's art history department for thirty years.
Morgan met Gund on the first weekend of Morgan's return to Gambier. Hearing some noise on the Weaver Cottage terrace, Morgan found Gund and another student with their dates. "Graham was gesturing up at the roof," Morgan said. "He was
telling them that the roof on the house was made of porcelain enamel shingles."
The young architect and the student became friends. The campus then, in Morgan's view, was barren of art and opportunities for artistic expression were rare. "Graham would come to see me and we would have long, long talks," Morgan said. "He had artistic interests. He really wanted to be an architect. It seemed to me that Graham had an opportunity to develop his aesthetic interests, and I started talking to him about how he could become an architect."
Morgan was a "very positive influence," Gund said. "He hung out a shingle near the Village Inn and began a practice. He seemed to do very well. I got a chance to talk to him a lot about it."
A Favorite Place
und went on to the Rhode Island School of Art and Design and Harvard University, where he earned a master's degree in architecture and a master's in architecture in urban design. He made an impact in the Boston area. Gund developed and designed the landmark Hyatt Regency Cambridge and renovated a police station into the Institute of Contemporary Art. His work can be seen around the planet, ranging from private residences to the renovation of the massive Ohio State University Thompson Library. He has done work for EuroDisney in Paris, Brandeis University, Denison University, Davidson College, Mount Holyoke College, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and the National Association of Realtors in Washington, D.C., among many others. The Washington Post described his "brave new buildings" as exuberant and eclectic. The Boston Globe called his work "playful, bright, evocative, and fun." His awards have been many.
In the introduction to a book that captures Gund's projects from 1994 to 2007, the New Yorker architecture critic and Kenyon trustee Paul Goldberger noted Gund's interest in urban design and his skill in creating a building in the context of those around it. "Gund's best work is characterized by a sense of countervailing forces: looking back and looking ahead; connecting both literally and symbolically to the existing context; and offering a symbol of the new," Goldberger wrote. "Even more than it is practical, Gund's work is joyful."
And what's joyful should last 100 years. Gund expects his buildings to stand that long, and that's something that he thinks Kenyon lost sight of for a generation. "There was a period when they did things too inexpensively and without adequate planning." Philip Mather Hall, Dempsey Hall, and the Ernst Center-all razed-were buildings that, in Gund's view, suffered variously from poor placement, poor design, and poor construction. His mission has been to change all that, to remove some of the clutter, build what endures, and follow a vision for buildings unique in place and form.
"Graham does not build marginal buildings," Morgan said. "He builds buildings of excellent quality." The Peirce Hall renovation was "really an incredible piece of work" and its atrium was "a brilliant idea." The KAC, in Morgan's view, is stunning. "It's separated from the rest of the campus so it doesn't matter that it's all glass. It becomes another world."
"There have been a lot of improvements," Gund said. "It's very satisfying to have been part of the changes that have enhanced the campus. When you look at the buildings, each one is very different." Yet they share the same architectural DNA. The "scale and the detail" tend to bind them, along with the shared embrace of natural light. They display the fondness for a courtyard that creates a transition from inside to outside.
And they carry an artistic fingerprint, "something in each of them that make them very special." Images of doves etched in windows in Peirce Hall, dichroic glass tiles in Tomsich Hall, the curve in the lobby stairway of Storer Hall over which hangs Gilded Silver and Aquamarine Chandelier, the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture that Gund has loaned to the College. Gund has loaned other sculptures to Kenyon, and he feels they enhance and add layers of meaning to the campus environment.
A favorite place for Gund on campus is Peirce Hall, built in 1929. The addition of Dempsey, in 1964, to the east wall of the Great Hall robbed it of some natural light.The atrium in the renovated Peirce lets the Great Hall breathe and makes a striking transition to the new Thomas Hall dining room.
Thomas recaptures the scale of the Great Hall and is far more embracing of the surrounding view. "Given its location, we wanted to have very large windows," Gund said. "With some of the walls of the dining hall there is more window than wall. So, it's actually quite light with wonderful views." The predominance of round tables and chairs with armrests are among the details that distinguish the room from its neighbor. The doves in the atrium and in Thomas are a twenty-first century response to the Great Hall's stained glass.
Becoming the Sky
n architect may consider his buildings as he considers his offspring. How smart are they? How comely is their appearance? How well do they work with others?
For Gund, "Each building draws from and reinforces the surrounding context of the campus and the town."
The Eaton Center is designed to match the clapboard buildings in its neighborhood and includes three connected buildings with the central meeting place in its heart. Light and transparent details, with framed views, contribute to a collaborative working environment in scale with its residential neighbors.
The KAC has a barn-like quality with a smooth skin and exposed internal structure. The roof line is shaped by the path of a ball in flight. And despite its size, it remains "approachable," Gund said. "I think it was a really great thing to have an opportunity to build a building that pulls all of the athletics together."
The space at the top of the main stairway suggests a town square, a place to gather. A sense of openness, thanks in part to glass around the pool and basketball arena, helps share "all the vitality" and leaves space between the internal sports venues. "You can see from one end of the building to the other," Gund said. The internal structure is exposed and sunlight "kind of sprinkles through and lights up the trusses."
"The idea of having such a large roof sort of reminded me of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul-that if the roof becomes so large, it becomes the sky."
Work on the Kenyon campus remains to be done. Reconfiguring the Olin Library addition to Chalmers Library, Gund believes, is critical to the architectural flow of the campus. Replacing the front addition to Chalmers with a more historically sensitive structure will keep it in line with Rosse Hall and the new gallery. That change "might be more like the addition to Peirce, so that it would conform to all the buildings on the campus."
Gund can see a growing enrollment and more residence halls "down in the historic core." The master plan for the campus completed by the Gund Partnership in 2004 emphasized reinforcing the
"core of the campus." And the village center of Gambier could "be energized through more student-centered uses, like many of the great college towns around the country."
When it comes to the making of an architect, Gund mentioned understanding spatial relationships, a grasp of concepts, and an artist's mentality. And perseverance ranked high-the knack for nurturing a project and the savvy to see it through.
"I'm glad to see progress," he said. "I think what we've done is going to last a long time, perhaps centuries."