Home Official News Releases Saarinen exhibit explores the building of a modern campus at Drake

Saarinen exhibit explores the building of a modern campus at Drake

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Bridges link two of the Saarinen-designed residence halls in the Quad Complex.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Maura Lyons, 515-271-3858, maura.lyons@drake.edu

Lisa Lacher, 515-271-3119, lisa.lacher@drake.edu 

Drake University has the distinguished honor of having a campus plan and nine buildings designed by two of the greatest architects of the 20th century. This week, a comprehensive exhibition sheds light on how those designs by Eliel Saarinen and his son, Eero, reflected Drake’s determination to be a modern university that would help propel America into post-World War II leadership. 

“Building a Modern Campus: Eliel and Eero Saarinen at Drake University” opened Friday, Nov. 7, at the Anderson Gallery in the Harmon Fine Arts Center, 25th Street and Carpenter Avenue. In addition, Curator Maura Lyons and students involved in the exhibition gave a gallery talk. 

Drake art and design students are contributing to the exhibition in many ways. Those enrolled in Lyons’ curatorship course are helping to design the layout of the exhibition, writing descriptions for the show, producing an online tour and planning to conduct exhibition and campus tours. The online tour at http://www.buildingamoderncampus.com opened with the exhibition on Nov. 7. 

Students in a graphic design class taught by John Fender are designing the exhibition catalogue and promotional materials. Plus, students in Robert Craig’s 3-D design course are recreating a typical dorm room from the 1950s, complete with original Drake furniture from the period. 

After World War II, Drake made a commitment to modern architecture and art as its campus expanded, acquiring nine Saarinen-designed buildings as well as a building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and a large mural by painter Stuart Davis, said Lyons, Drake associate professor of art history.

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Industrial elements in the design of Harvey Ingham Hall are illuminated at night.
“Specifically,” she added, “the University commissioned Eliel and Eero Saarinen to create a campus plan and buildings to house the science departments and pharmacy school — Harvey Ingham Hall and Fitch Hall. Following his father’s death in 1950, Eero Saarinen went on to design the Quad Residence Halls, Hubbell Dining Hall, Medbury Hall and Scott Chapel for the Divinity School.  

“By physically clustering these structures, the Saarinens introduced a new spatial organization to the campus that unified functionally separate spaces for living, studying,  

socializing and worshipping,” Lyons said.

“What is notable, and was risky at the time, is their use of an
architectural language previously associated with factories for
academic buildings. In accepting designs that featured brick, glass and
metal rather than classical columns, the University capitalized on the
contemporary equation of industrial technology with progress. The
visual association with industry identified Drake as a forward-looking,
modern university that was committed to innovative design, yet
practical and efficient.”

Eliel Saarinen became the first internationally renowned architect
to design a building in Des Moines when he received a commission for
the original structure of the Des Moines Art Center in Greenwood Park.

His son, who is best known for designing the Gateway Arch in St.
Louis, has been described by many as “the architect of the American

The first major retrospective of Eero Saarinen’s work is the
subject of a current exhibition at the Walker Art Center and the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Lyons recently took a group of students
working on the Drake exhibit to view the retrospective, which will
remain in Minneapolis until Jan. 4, then move to the Mildred Lane
Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis.

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Drake President Henry Harmon, left, and others examine a model of the Dorm Complex and Hubbell Dining Hall.
The Drake exhibit will document the Saarinens’ work at Drake through sketches, plans, photographs and furniture designs reproduced from archival material Lyons gathered at Drake, Yale University and the Cranbrook Academy of Art Archives. Comparisons with other Saarinen projects, including the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich., and historical maps of the Drake Neighborhood will place the university designs in a larger framework.   

A free symposium from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 8, will focus on the Saarinens’ legacy, modernist architecture in Iowa, and the historical and current relationship between the University and the surrounding neighborhood.  

The symposium, co-sponsored by the Iowa chapter of the American Institute of Architects, is open to the general public, although advance registration is required. To register, call Heather King at 515-271-1994. The symposium will begin with a reception in the lobby of Harvey Ingham Hall, 2804 Forest Ave.  

The keynote speaker will be Peter C. Papademetriou, professor and director of the graduate program at the School of Architecture, New Jersey Institute of Technology. He has published extensively on Eero Saarinen and is working on a book about him.

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Drake promoted its modern residence halls and dining hall, designed by the Saarinens, in this 1953 publication.

Also speaking at the symposium will be:   

•    Jason Alread, principal of Substance Architecture and associate professor of architecture at Iowa State University. He has written about the history of modern architecture in Iowa.   

•    Jennifer James, an independent scholar specializing in historic preservation who is an expert on the historical and present-day relationship between Drake and the surrounding area.   

•    Dan Sloan, principal of Baldwin White Architects P.C., who designed the recent renovation of the Quad Residence Halls and is working on plans to renovate Hubbell Dining Hall and Harvey Ingham Hall.   

The exhibition will continue through Dec. 19. The Anderson Gallery is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information about the exhibit and the gallery, call 515-271-1994.   

Drake University has received a grant award of $10,750 from Humanities Iowa, a state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in support of the Saarinen exhibition and symposium. The views and opinions expressed by this program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities Iowa or the National Endowment for the Humanities.   

Additional funding support for the exhibition and programming comes from:   

•    Center for the Humanities, Drake University   

•    College of Arts and Sciences, Drake University   

•    Department of Art and Design, Drake University   

•    Drake University   

•    Friends of Drake Arts   

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