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June 13, 2006

Aesthetic Ivy

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I am very, very sorry.

We Blowhards (Michael, Friedrich and I, at least) are wretched non-egalitarians if for no other reason than several years of our dark pasts were spent in ... in ... Lousy Ivy Universities.

One small way for me to atone for this sin is to initiate a Comments Pile-On.

Subject for today is Ivy League campuses. For those suffering the damnation of getting an elite education, who is drawing, so to speak, the long and short straws?

I'll start things off in a sec -- but first a (not necessarily representative, given what I could find via Google) set of pictures, one per school.

Ivy Gallery









As for setting, I'd say Cornell's is most spectacular, being "high above Cayuga's waters" and all. Next would be Dartmouth, nestled next to not-very-large Hanover in the New Hampshire hills. Then comes Princeton, partly in the town, yet facing a greenbelt to the east that gives it some separation from the U.S. 1 commercial/office strip that has been a'building since the 1960s.

The other Ivies are in cities, and that limits possibilities. Columbia in New York City fares worst, being crammed into its site with little expansion prospect except upwards. Yale does reasonably well in an urban context because its campus forms a sort of transition zone between downtown New Haven and a residential area. Penn wards off its city surroundings by virtue of having lots and lots of trees; the place strikes me as being lush twixt early April and the end of October.

Architecturally I say Yale wins, hands-down. The quadrangles and their (mostly) Collegiate Gothic architecture using similar stone provide both structure and visual unity.

Princeton comes close if you consider only its dormitory area and perhaps the Firestone Library, but the rest of the campus is a hodge-podge of shapes and styles. Penn has a variety of architectural styles, but imposes some unity by having many buildings faced with wine-colored brick and grey stone or concrete accents. Dartmouth, like all colleges built over a span of many decades, has more than one style, yet manages the aura of a New England town. Cornell has a number of nice buildings enhanced by a park-like setting.

Otherwise, I say Columbia is the least-distinguished Ivy from an architectural standpoint. Harvard, having been through centuries of development, strikes me as non-descript. I'll withhold comment on Brown. I gave it a look-see back in 1965 when I was considering going there, but haven't visited since.

Overall I rate Yale, Dartmouth and perhaps Cornell tops for a student seeking an aesthetic Ivy experience. Then come Princeton, Penn and Harvard (in that order) to form the middle range. Columbia rates last on all counts and Brown, as just mentioned, cannot be fairly rated by me.

I have spoken. Now Pile On.



posted by Donald at June 13, 2006


I've never visited any of these campuses, so I really don't think I'm qualified to rate them. However, I have been to Cambridge and Oxford in England and I was mightily impressed by the unity of style there. One is seized by a feeling of awe and a profound humbleness in the presence of great beauty. It is a peaceful feeling of scholastic solitude writ large. If Yale is anything close to this, it would have my vote.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on June 13, 2006 3:16 PM

Yale's buildings were badly run down last time I visited. That was several years ago, so who knows?

Posted by: citrus on June 13, 2006 4:48 PM

Cornell grad, here. I first visited that campus on April 1, 1979. It snowed a least. I fell completely, irrationally in love with the place. I spent one summer there, and stayed on an extra six months after graduating early just to wallow in gorges-ness (sorry, couldn't resist).

Of course, I have zero objectivity, but I firmly second your nomination of CU as kick-ass, at least in the aesthetics dept.

Posted by: communicatrix on June 13, 2006 8:01 PM

Not many of us can manage a comparison on the strength of personal experience. As for Dartmouth, I remember it (architecturally) for the way some of the modern buildings actually worked well, Fairchild Hall in particular (I didn't realize at the time how rare that turns out to be). The ski team maintained, and maintains, a network of 1-lane dirt roads that follows the esker out of town and then meanders through a pine forest. Jogging, runs, walks, quite an aesthetic bonus.

Posted by: AMac on June 14, 2006 12:08 AM

My family made it clear that I had to go to an Ivy, so I had my little revenge by picking the one I'd go to purely on the basis of how pretty it was. But in truth a lot of them are pretty. I wish I'd gone to Cornell, if an Ivy had to be attended. Gorgeous setting, less-pretentious than the other schools, Ithaca rocks, and had I stuck around for a few years I might have bumped into the Communicatrix.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 14, 2006 12:46 AM

I am always amused by the faux regret of Ivy League graduates, as it does not, much to their chagrin, alleviate the need to bring up their alma mater in conversation. I think we can all agree that an Ivy League education is a quite advantageous thing to possess, for either its cache or its fairly decent educational qualitites.

I should say that I don't have one, I went to a state school.

Posted by: the patriarch on June 14, 2006 10:08 AM

Cracks me up how much you bitch about your Ivy universities, and yet how much you refer to them, rate them, should I say worship them? Why mention them so frequently if they were so awful?

Posted by: annette on June 14, 2006 10:40 AM


Ever hear of having your cake and eating it, too?

As for the campuses: I rate Dartmouth as prettiest and least pretentious.

Posted by: ricpic on June 14, 2006 11:19 AM

The Frank Gehry turd about to be deposited smack in the middle of the Princeton campus will knock it down a few notches, methinks. F'rinstance:

"While I was never particularly thrilled about the proposed addition of a Frank Gehry "collectible" to Princeton's architectural scene, the recent shoot-out at Peter B. Lewis's Gehry building at Case Western University raises new causes for concern. Because of Gehry's trademark dipping and curving hallways, police were unable to return any clear shots against the suspect's barrage of firepower, resulting in a seven-hour stand-off that left one student dead and two injured. God forbid that such a horrible scenario ever play out at Princeton..."


I've always liked Penn both for style and location: in Philadelphia but not of it, if you know what I mean.

But as an NYU alum my campus was Greenwich Village, which wins on all counts.

Posted by: Brian on June 14, 2006 11:52 AM

You know, they do say that rhapsodizing about your Ivy days implies you haven't done anything since then.

Which is true in my case...I wound up at a third-rate med school and second-rate residency.

But there's a story here. Some friends of mine from state schools told me mentioning my Columbia degree was annoying, so I had to train myself to say 'when I was in college' instead of 'when I was at Columbia'. Funny how these habits creep up on you. When asked where I went to college, I'd say 'in New York'.

So here's a way to get back at your alma mater: whenever they ask you for money, tell them you're donating to whoever last tied with them in the U.S. News and World Report.

Posted by: bitter ex-Columbo on June 14, 2006 1:38 PM

America would be a better place if all Ivy grads were taken out and shot, no question about that.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 14, 2006 2:51 PM

Yeah, but educationally, not to death, right Michael?

Posted by: robert on June 14, 2006 4:08 PM

Umm, Michael. This being a (heh) family blog, by your latest comment I hope you mean "shot" as in those old kiddie serials on the radio:

SOUND EFFECT: Blam!! Blamm!!

COWBOY HERO: Uggh ... it's only a flesh wound!

Alternative response when the Lone Ranger did the shooting...

VILLAIN: Huh? That masked man shot the gun right outta my hand!!

On the other hand, perhaps we might consider the strangulation alternative....

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 14, 2006 4:22 PM

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