Ford and the Future of Trinity
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Feb. 28, 2012
Ford and the Future of Trinity
Symposium traces history of University's mid-century design and its role in learning
SAN ANTONIO - The design of a university - where and how the buildings are shaped and placed and how trees and shrubs are planted to complement the structures - is integral to the learning environment. That was just one conclusion drawn during a daylong campus symposium in February titled "O'Neil Ford and the Future of Trinity University."
Before looking to the future, conference speakers reflected upon the history of the campus, including its previous use as a rock quarry. The recommendation of William Wurster, dean of architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to "let the hills design the buildings" was a brilliant one, along with the suggestion to hire Ford, a budding young Texas architect. Ford brought in landscape architects Arthur and Marie Berger to round out the design team that presented its first university scheme in 1949.
Kathryn O'Rourke, assistant professor of art history at Trinity and conference organizer, said the site seemed unsuitable for a school, but the mid-century designers strived for a campus that would "underscore the role of students preparing to take their place in the world."
Julia Walker '01, now an architecture historian at Binghamton University, offered a sentimental look at the campus, having been introduced to Trinity as the daughter of an architect who knew Ford and later as a Trinity student. "As you ascend the stairs that are known as Cardiac Hill, you prepare yourself for academic life. At the end of the day, you descend the steps to eat and relax. Trinity dissolves the boundaries," she said.
Other speakers included:
-- Shanon Peterson from the city of San Antonio's Office of Historic Preservation, who highlighted the resurgence of interest in mid-century buildings, particularly neighborhoods featuring homes built in the 1950s.
-- Kate Holliday from the University of Texas at Arlington, who showed Ford's designs for the sprawling Texas Instruments plant in Richardson, Texas, that was built without windows to reduce interior pollution but included deeply shaded courtyards and pathways to encourage human interaction.
-- Stephen Fox, a lecturer at Rice University, who said Ford's most ambitious project on the Trinity campus was the Murchison Tower, built in 1964 with a winding stairwell that functioned as a vertical truss. He also spoke of other Ford projects in Texas in the 1950s, including the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a synagogue in Dallas in collaboration with the Bergers.
-- New York architect Joel Sanders discussed how mid-century architecture might influence the future but cautioned not to replicate the same designs. He urged an analysis of strengths and deficiencies on campus before introducing compatible designs that can be differentiated from existing buildings.
O'Rourke said she hoped the symposium would serve as a "first step" in Trinity's renewed commitment to Ford's architecture and campus landscape. She also expressed "delight" that Trinity President Dennis A. Ahlburg, who attended the symposium, pledged that Trinity "will once again be a great architectural client."
O'Rourke added, "But much work remains. Considerable resources and careful planning - with the help of experts - will be needed to properly restore and nourish the landscape and sensitively renovate and restore interiors. I am also encouraged by the support for doing so from people outside of Trinity. We now have a tremendous opportunity to make Trinity even more beautiful and, in the process, come together as a community in a new way."