The Grand Tour.5- A Detour to Stanford

Part 5 in the the Bay circumambulation is a bit of detour inland, to Stanford. I have never really walked around this campus much, though I did a bit of work there  a number of years ago. The campus is studded with buildings by rock-star architects, but  the original quad is the most compelling part of the campus. The trip also included a visit, and tour, of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House nearby. I’ll write about that later on. It was about a 5 mile saunter, down and back from San Francisco on Caltrain. Here’s the route:


First, a bit of background on Stanford.  Stanford was founded by railroad kingpin Leland Stanford, and named the school in honor of his only child, Leland Jr, who died of typhoid at a young age. The campus owns over 8,000 acres, making it the largest campus in the world in terms of contiguous land.  The initial conceptual planning was done by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame, among others). The University began accepting students in 1891, with the inner quadrangle completed (almost) for the opening. The quadrangle is rendered in the Mission Revival style; golden sandstone, muscular arches, deeply recessed windows, and red tile roofs. It establishes the character for the rest of the campus.


Stanford was on break the week I was there ( at least I assume so- it was a gorgeous day and no one was around- maybe a vastly more studious bunch than I imagined). As a result, this part of the campus felt extra Mission-y, one could imagine oneself living the monk’s life, quietly contemplating the deeper questions of life in the cool shaded arcades. On a depopulated day like this, the experience was memorable.

One of the challenges with a campus that has a very clearly defined(re:limiting) vocabularly, is how to add to it. A walk through the campus reveals the challenge of this, both the successes and failures, even for Star-chitects. Here’s Sir Norman Foster’s (they don’t mess around at Stanford) 2003 Biomedical Sciences Building; my favorite- a sinuous glassy u with offices and classrooms opening to the court on the inside, foster-3foster01,yet respectful of the campus rhythyms on the outside. One great thing about pristine glassy school buildings where students and profs work and teach, is all the interesting ‘lived-in’crap that ends up at the expensive glass facades; stuffed animals, pizza boxes, even skeletons.

Another pretty successful addition is the 1996 Center for Integrated Systems (I am not sure which systems are integrated here) by Antoine Predock, on the left. In this approach,  the building respects the traditions in terms of material, color, and its razor thin copper roof, but departs at the  facades; its more driven by what’s inside , less driven by the campus’ classical demands on the outside.



In contrast, across the way sits the 1996 Gates Computer Science Building by classicist Robert A.M. Stern. I thought it a bit ironic that the computer science building, arguably housing among the most forward looking curriculae at the campus, named for u-know-who; is such a stodgy, overly respectful building.

Again, in contrast, another Foster Building,on the left,  a simple box on the outside, an explosion of glass and light on the inside. And finally, we flip back to the 60’s, and one of the original additions to the campus by E.D. Stone, all textured screen block, a specialty of his, seen here on the right. This is where I did some work. Even the toilet paper had this pattern on it. (ok, I’m exaggerating).


Beyond the campus, there is a neighborhood that runs up tight to rolling hills to the west. This area, I believe, is known as the “faculty ghetto”, not a term one immediately thinks of as one walks its winding streets filled with everything from  Cape Cod Shingle Style to ersatz Spanish Colonial. It is in this neighborhood that professor Paul Hanna and his wife enlisted none other than Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house.wright-exterior Tours of the house are offered every Thursday, so I had an opportunity to visit the house, a house I actually wrote a paper on in school, though I have no idea why. The house is a phenomenal example of his late work, based on a manic devotion to a geometric shape, in this case a hexagon. (I just got an idea for a new house for the Octomom) . In school we called this geometrocide. The house is wonderful, and I am going to write about it later, comparing it to an east coast Prairie Style home (oxymoron?) I visited recently.

This was a great walk, and I couldn’t help reflecting on my own undergraduate career. I recently returned from a vist there, the University of Buffalo. I loved Buffalo, but lets just say the new campus there looks like an overstuffed shopping mall with a football stadium as an anchor store. So, enjoy it , all you Cardinal.