Now Reading
The Most Unique College Buildings In America

The Most Unique College Buildings In America

For the majority of college students, an interesting and distinctive campus matters. It speaks volumes about your school’s history, alma mater, current student populace, and governing body when the campus is aesthetically appealing and engaging. Whether it’s parks, gardens, statues, monuments, murals or the buildings themselves, campuses give schools their individuality. Even sticking just to North American, it was difficult to select just ten stunning examples of architecture in academia, but I’m positive these architecturally interesting buildings will inspire. Here are my picks for 10 of the most unique college buildings in America.

1. Ray And Maria Stata Center, MIT

Pritzker Prize winning architect Frank Gehry served as the head designer in charge of planning for the Stata Center – or Building 32 – when construction began in 2000. The 720,000 square foot academic structure is an example of deconstructivism architecture, which involves the distortion and manipulation of surface elements that give the building its unorthodox shape.

Building 32, nicknamed for its address at 32 Vassar St., has been subject to both praise and criticism, however it’s tough to ignore its appeal. Currently, the Stata Center is home to MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, among others.


2. Department Of Philosophy, NYU

According to the team at Steven Holl Architects tasked with redesigning the over 100 year old building at 5 Washington Place in New York, the focus of the renovation was centered on utilizing previously unused spaces around light, while highlighting “phenomenal properties of materials.” The result? A truly unique experience that seems to garner far more positive reviews than not.

The internal makeover was lauded for its use of open space and enhanced natural lighting to make the interior appear more spacious and comforting. The see-through walls generate patterns of light that create a more breathable environment to study, chat or eat. Prismatic film was also used on the south-facing stairwell windows that turn sunlight into a showing of rainbows throughout the staircase, which, from the photographs alone, look uplifting.

3. Los Angeles Center, Emerson College Los Angeles

Opened in January 2014, Emerson College’s Los Angeles Center is the focus of its Los Angeles program, housing classrooms, faculty offices, an auditorium, a residence hall, and underground parking. This Emerson branch is indeed affiliated with the original Emerson College in Boston, which has been expanding its liberal arts reach beyond the Boston city limits. Los Angeles-based design firm Morphosis Architects, including Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne, headed the project.


The building’s large, gaudy casing reminds me of a concert stage, however, the glow of metals and glass under sunlight will always look good to the naked eye. Emerson’s Los Angeles Center is a ten story residential, teaching, and administrative space accommodating 217 students – twice the number of students as Emerson’s previous California location in Burbank.

4. Graduate House, University Of Toronto

With University of Toronto’s Graduate House, Morphosis worked in conjunction with Toronto-based Teeple Architects, while again headed by lead designer Thom Mayne. Somehow, UT makes graduating look quite enticing with this creation. The spacious, sun-filled rooms, large courtyard, upscale common areas, and location in the city give this massive residential hall its attraction.

One can certainly see the similarities in this building and Emerson’s Los Angeles Center given the seemingly overuse of exterior metals translating to a potentially cold, corporate look; until you step inside and see the abundance of natural lighting and modern fixtures that give it a warm, residential feel. The Graduate House opened in 2000 and is home to 424 students.


5. Peter B. Lewis Building, Case Western Reserve University

Completed in 2002, Frank Gehry and Gehry Partners, LLC designed the Peter B. Lewis Building that houses the university’s business school, the Weatherhead School of Management. Since its inception, the building has received national acclaim for its originality and innovative approach.

Similar to some of my previous choices, massive structures of curved metal protrude from the building, engaging those who view it. With unusual shapes and edges at every turn, the interior seems to reflect the exterior’s theme. The tables, chairs, benches, railings, windows – you name it – all have its own personality. The result lends itself wonderfully to a free flowing, creative environment with something to see on every floor.

6. Sharp Centre For Design, Ontario College Of Art And Design

The English architecture firm of Alsop Architects came up with this masterfully designed, well, design school. This building was one of the highlighted expansions of the Ontario College of Art and Design throughout Toronto, and houses new art studios, lecture theatres, exhibit spaces and faculty offices.


Finished in 2004, the Sharp Centre is one of those iconic city buildings where you’ll always know where you are if you can spot it. What’s especially noteworthy is the large black and white checkered structure held up by six v-shaped colored columns with beautiful Grange Park located right beside it. It is the first North American building completed by English architect Will Alsop.

7. Simmons Hall, MIT

Completed in 2002, MIT’s Simmons Hall is a residential facility that was designed by the firm of Steven Holl Architects. The ten story, 350 bed dormitory features a theater, cafeteria and street level dining. Each residential room includes nine operable windows and “an 18″ wall depth shades out the summer sun while allowing the low angled winter sun to help heat the building,” which is particularly appreciated if you’ve ever lived in a college dorm. Initial brainstorming of the building looked to make every aspect engaging to occupying students. Although at first glance at it may resemble a sponge, as it’s sometimes labeled, the interior feels clean, organized, urban and very livable.

See Also
There are 10 signs that mean you are the college grandma of your friend group. Yes, you are a college grandma, but that's okay. Here's ten other signs YOU are the college grandma of your friend group:


8. Richard B. Fisher Center For The Performing Arts, Bard College

The Richard B. Fisher Center is a facility to marvel at. Joseph Giovannini of says this $62 million structure “invites what has long been the conservative Hudson Valley culture into the twenty-first century on the wings of this most luminous vision.” One aspect this small concert hall can guarantee is an intimate experience that isn’t promised at larger, more widespread venues. Resembling an apocalyptic hideout, this metallic laden building shines wonderfully under sunlight. With large metal pieces seemingly jutting out at every angle, Mr. Gehry certainly achieved his patented wow factor.

The 110,000 square foot performing arts center houses two theaters, four rehearsal studios and professional support facilities. Another cool tidbit is that the entire venue is powered by geothermal sources allowing it to be fossil fuel free during normal operations.

9. Cadet Chapel, United States Air Force Academy

The U.S. Air Force Academy’s famed Cadet Chapel is located just north of Colorado Springs, Colorado, stands 150 feet tall, and was completed in 1962. Designed by Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in Chicago, the idea of the structure was controversial at first, but is now being praised for its modernist tone and forward-thinking style architecture.


The building was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004 and utilizes Brutalist architecture, which is known for using raw materials such as concrete (and in this case steel) in new and emerging ways. The chapel comes with five worship rooms for specified religions and one “All-Faiths Room” to recognize smaller followings. Though, the facility is perhaps most known for the exterior row of seventeen spires all coming to points at the top, forming its roof.

10. Meinel Optical Sciences Building, University of Arizona

This 180,000+ square foot optics college on the University of Arizona campus holds more than 125 lab spaces, a 100 foot vertical test tower, offices, research spaces, conference rooms, and classrooms. The building was completed in three parts; the first was finished in 1969, the second in 1989, and the third and final installment in 2006.

Winning awards from the American Institute of Architects and the International Interior Design Association for the expansion, much of the credit goes to Phoenix-based firm Richärd and Bauer Architecture. Informally referred to as the West Wing, this portion features “an entry-level plaza landscaped with low-water-use flora, state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories, an exhibit-intensive lobby, six floors of faculty offices and a large conference center.”


Know any other unique college buildings? Comment below!

Featured image source: