DePauwtre Dame?! No Golden Dome here


In 2002, the University of Notre Dame consulted with Ayers/Saint/Gross for a new campus plan. University Architect Doug Marsh worked with the firm in setting up a list of goals for the university to pursue.

President Brian Casey worked with that same firm while developing his DePauw 2020 campus plan in recent years. But while Notre Dame’s campus of 1,250 acres dwarfs DePauw’s 695-acre campus, including the 520-acre Nature Park, many goals of Casey’s plan mirror the institution in South Bend, Ind.

A focus of both plans is a distinctive main entrance to the campus. At Notre Dame, the main entrance follows one road leading to the heart of campus with a view of the Golden Dome on the horizon. Previously, the entrance of Notre Dame’s campus was a mound of dirt with ‘ND’ outlined in flowers. Marsh said that the university put up gates signaling the entrance, similar to the sketch seen in Casey’s plan.

“It’s taken some people time to get used to it, but very clear that you know where you’ve arrived,” Marsh said. “You know that that’s the opening door.”

For DePauw, the building on the horizon of the entrance would be East College.

“DePauw and Notre Dame share an important feature in that they celebrate a central building,” Casey said.

From his researching during the making of his campus plan, Casey said he found a strong tradition in Midwestern schools built in the mid-1800s to have prominent central buildings. For DePauw, East College is the equivalent of Notre Dame’s Golden Dome.

“It’s the building that leaps to your mind whenever you think of the institution,” Casey said. “The iconic structure.”

Notre Dame also owns large dining halls where the majority of students eat. Because undergraduate enrollments sit around 8,500 each year, the campus has a dining hall on the north and south end of campus.

DePauw professor Peter Graham, a 1984 graduate of Notre Dame, said the large dining halls at Notre Dame helped bring students together in one place.

“I did sort of like that,” Graham said. He said he liked everyone being together in one place, creating a kind of “hubbub of thoughts and ideas and discussion.”

The green spaces and quadrangles link the campus plans of both institutions. The majority of parking at Notre Dame was pushed to the outer edges of campus, another thing Casey has mentioned in his plans.

After viewing the observations slideshow Ayers/Saint/Gross provided DePauw, Marsh said he noticed they pointed out a lot of pathways that don’t reflect desire line, something they dealt with at Notre Dame.

“I think as good planners we need to be able to accurately predict where people are going to go, put the minimum amount of pavement there to accommodate that, but not overdo it,” Marsh said. “Greens and open space is so precious and should be maximized.”

Religiosity versus greek life

Besides the size differential between campuses, the presence of greek life on DePauw’s campus and the Notre Dame’s strong religious affiliation are two distinct differences between the campuses.

However, the community formed by residence halls at Notre Dame can be compared to the community formed in fraternity and sorority houses.

Nearly 80 percent of the undergraduate students at Notre Dame live in residence halls, Marsh said.

“The residence hall is the place where you spend three to four years,” he said. “It’s a stay-in-hall system so there’s not a lot of moving around year to year. That’s the basis of community building here.”

Casey, a 1985 graduate of Notre Dame, said he sees greek houses at DePauw serving a similar function to the residence halls at his alma mater. He said students become very attached to their hall over the course of their four years, even though they’re randomly assigned. This connection, Casey said, mirrors those of greek houses in that they host events, form distinct communities on campus, and create a strong sense of tradition and emotional attachment.

The difference in spirituality on the two campuses stands as the biggest separation. Graham, who was a third-generation student at Notre Dame, said the religious factor worked in two ways when he was there. Personally, he was “falling away” from Catholicism while at Notre Dame.

“On the one hand you’ve got 85 percent Catholics there, so you’ve got this natural, built-in community that’s all the same sort of ilk even if they all don’t look the same,” Graham said. “And on the other hand that can be really suffocating. … If you don’t accept that, it’s not as conducive to intellectual growth. Or maybe it is. You get so much evidence of what you don’t like that you sort of go the other way.”

As a campus planner, Marsh said the religious connection of Notre Dame helps. By spreading spiritual sites throughout campus, people may traverse to different parts of campus that aren’t a part of their everyday routine.

“If they want to come and enjoy a religious sculpture, for instance, or some gardens or just a special reflective space in the shade on a summer day, then they’ve got that in their mind and it’s a place that draws them to that,” Marsh said.

Searching for ‘nodal points’

At DePauw, Casey doesn’t have the foundation of religious tradition to bring students to different parts of campus. To counter this, Casey sees two “nodal points” the campus needs to develop. The first is a central quad, ideally Bowman Park, where everyone on campus could gather and interact.

Secondly, Casey said the campus needs a faculty club of sorts where the faculty could eat, share ideas, and relax. He said faculty come to schools looking for an academic community and this would help foster such an environment.

Notre Dame’s most recent campus plan has been developed long after Casey graduated from the institution, but by using Ayers/Saint/Gross, he was provided with a number of campus plan and architectural examples from around the country.

Marsh said one of the advantages of using an outside firm to assist Notre Dame was to see the spectrum of examples.

“Ayers/Saint/Gross certainly works in a multitude of places and has during their existence so they have a wealth of these examples,” Marsh said. “It doesn’t always require you to go there because they’ve done such a good job of cataloging them, understanding them, and photographing them, so that they can bring those lessons to you.”

Campus planners need to have a wide base of knowledge of architecture at different campuses and be able to learn from them, Marsh said.

“I don’t know if anybody can use one school or another as a model, but certainly every campus has got new, fresh ideas, unique ways of approaching open space, organized space, informal space, building placement,” Marsh said.

Casey said his obstacle was studying what the best campuses are doing and adopting that to our institutional condition

“We have to be the best DePauw we can be, and DePauw has its own strengths,” Casey said. “You measure against benchmarks, but you don’t try to be another institution.” 

Find out what all of this means in So, what does this mean for campus?