The 50 Most Fascinating College Buildings
College buildings are the physical embodiment of a school’s history and culture. From ivy-covered walls to modern architectural marvels, college buildings across the United States have always been a source of fascination and inspiration. In this article, we explore 50 of the most fascinating college buildings in the United States. From iconic landmarks to cutting-edge designs, these structures represent some of the best examples of architecture and design in higher education. These buildings will give you a sense of the variety — and the beauty — of college building design.
Arizona State University – ASU Gammage (Tempe, AZ)
ASU Gammage was the last building that Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed. And, with this round performing arts palace, the grand master went out on top. Since it opened in 1964, ASU Gammage — which boasts 50 columns — has rivaled some of the world’s greatest theaters. It’s no surprise this is one of the most interesting college buildings in the United States.
Bard College – Fisher Center for the Performing Arts (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
Renowned architect Frank Gehry designed this stunning concert hall, which made its debut in 2003. It’s a genuinely inviting building, with its lovely location beside the Hudson River and its wavy, stainless steel roof shingles shimmering in the sun.
Boston University – Boston University Center for Computing & Data Science (Boston, MA)
It just opened in 2022, but this academic building has already altered Boston’s landscape. At 19 stories, the energy-efficient Center for Computing & Data Science is BU’s tallest structure, and its glass exterior and dramatically staggered floors are unforgettable.
Brandeis University – Usen Castle (Waltham, MA)
From 1928 to 2016, Brandeis students who lived in the Usen Castle residence hall could feel like royalty. This building was modeled after a medieval castle with turrets and a soaring, Rapunzel-style tower.
Brown University – Granoff Center for the Creative Arts (Providence, RI)
This multimedia performance center, which premiered in 2011, is striking to behold. Its right half is lower than its left half, and floor-to-ceiling windows cover its front. To gaze at it is to gaze at a work of art.
Bryn Mawr College – Rockefeller Hall (Bryn Mawr, PA)
Named for donor John D. Rockefeller, Rockefeller Hall has graced the campus of Bryn Mawr since 1904. It looks like a castle straight out of the Middle Ages. And inside, many of the original fireplaces still beckon students to gather and share stories.
Case Western Reserve University – Peter B. Lewis Building (Cleveland, OH)
This business school edifice sprang from the mind of Frank Gehry. Here, massive and curvy stainless steel panels catch the eye and lift the spirit. Plus, the whimsical angles of the main building, just short of Dr. Seuss, bring smiles to many a face.
Clemson University – Lee Hall (Clemson, SC)
Clemson’s Lee Hall, home of the architecture department, has two parts: one built in the 1950s and a second that opened in 2012. The latter, resembling a gigantic airplane hangar, was designed to help students inspire one another. Its studios have floor-to-ceiling glass windows, for example, letting students view each other’s work.
College of the Holy Cross – Prior Performing Arts Center (Worcester, MA)
The Prior Center stands atop Mount Saint James — the hill home to Holy Cross. Student artists and performers have an enticing facility with a concert hall, media lab, art gallery, and more. Yes, the center’s curves, cantilevers, and winding walkways are aesthetically satisfying.
Cornell University – Milstein Hall (Ithaca, NY)
The 47,000-square-foot Milstein Hall combines classic and modern designs to give fine arts students a beautiful place to study, learn, perform, and play. Its gorgeous second-floor cantilever and stepped auditorium exemplify innovative architecture.
Duke University – Duke Chapel (Durham, NC)
One of Duke University’s original buildings, Duke Chapel, reaches 210 feet at its highest point and welcomes those of all faiths. It’s a soaring English Gothic cathedral that continues to inspire students, generation after generation.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Mori Hosseini Student Union (Daytona Beach, FL)
The Mori Hosseini Student Union looks like a gleaming airport from the future. It includes lounges, dining areas, study rooms, a library, and an immense skylight. Also, students can glimpse Daytona International Airport from the rooftop terrace and daydream about high-flying adventures.
Emerson College Los Angeles – Los Angeles Center (Los Angeles, CA)
In 2012, Boston’s renowned art school Emerson College opened a sister campus in L.A. Its 10-story building is a massive cube with a residential tower on each side. That cube frames a whimsically-shaped structure with classrooms and performance spaces. It’s a bold addition to the City of Angels.
Flagler College – Ponce de Leon Hall (St. Augustine, FL)
Ponce de Leon Hall was once a luxurious Florida hotel. It opened in 1888 as one of the first American electricity-powered buildings. A colorful palace in the Spanish Renaissance style, it’s served as Flagler College’s main building since the school’s founding in 1968.
Florida Southern College – Annie Pfeiffer Chapel (Lakeland, FL)
Frank Lloyd Wright designed several Florida Southern University buildings. The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel is the group’s jewel. It was finished in 1941 and renovated in 2015. Its repeating shapes and textile block exterior make it an especially pleasing place to congregate.
Georgetown University – Healy Hall (Washington, D.C.)
Georgetown University’s flagship building, Healy Hall, includes Riggs Library, the Gaston Hall performance venue, classrooms, and administrative facilities. With Gothic and Romanesque design influences, it envelops students and faculty members in grandeur and elegance.
Harvard University – Science and Engineering Complex (Cambridge, MA)
Completed in 2020, this sweeping complex makes a real statement — architectural and otherwise. Harvard’s sustainable scientific center lies on the Cambridge-Boston border and measures 544,000 square feet. It has eight levels, rooftop patios, two enormous sunlit atria, and cutting-edge labs for cutting-edge research.
Illinois Institute of Technology – Crown Hall (Chicago, IL
The brilliant German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe dreamed up this minimalist structure in 1956. Made of steel and glass, Crown Hall is a stunning example of the Modernist style. With two stories and an open interior, it remains a serene space for study and reflection.
Indiana University Bloomington – The Student Building (Bloomington, IN)
Since 1906, the 14-bell chime atop IU’s Student Building has rung loudly and proudly. This entire building is worthy of pride. Its clock tower stands at the height of 105 feet; its reddish roof is a campus focal point, and the classrooms inside are state-of-the-art.
Lehigh University – Linderman Library (Bethlehem, PA)
This semicircular castle of learning is made of Potsdam sandstone, although many of its exterior features are granite. In the 1870s, Addison Hutton, a noted architect from Philadelphia, designed the original Linderman Library in the Venetian style. It was then expanded in 1929. And its invaluable collection of rare books tops 40,000 volumes.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Stata Center (Cambridge, MA)
The Stata Center’s buildings almost look like they’ve popped out of a comic book. With fanciful shapes and unusual angles, they’ll linger in your mind. Frank Gehry designed this center, which is home to — among other facilities — MIT’s world-class Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
North Carolina State University – The James B. Hunt Jr. Library (Raleigh, NC)
Contemporary in design and epic in scope, the Hunt Library opened in early 2013. Its many large windows offer sunlight aplenty for study sessions. And be sure to check out (pun intended) the amazing bookBot, a mechanical librarian of sorts on the first floor.
Northwestern University – Ryan Fieldhouse, Wilson Field, and the Walter Athletics Center (Evanston, IL)
Look for an 87-foot-tall dome beside Lake Michigan, and you’ll find Ryan Fieldhouse, Wilson Field, and the Walter Athletics Center. This complex has a breathtaking glass front and fields that are immaculately maintained. Various sports teams play and practice here, and you might catch a football, lacrosse, or soccer game inside.
Oberlin College – Bertram and Judith Kohl Building (Oberlin, OH)
Since 2010, the sustainable Kohl Building has housed Oberlin College’s jazz studies department, among other programs. And it’s a sublime space. From the glass cantilever to the rooftop garden, it’s detail-rich and acoustically impeccable.
Ohio State University – Knowlton Hall (Columbus, OH)
Made of concrete and white marble, the award-winning Knowlton Hall contains a library, auditorium, cafe, and dozens of offices and studios. With four columns and multiple floor-to-ceiling windows, it makes an impressive impression at Ohio State’s entrance.
Pennsylvania State University – Lewis Katz Building (University Park, PA)
Like a futuristic Noah’s Ark, the curved Lewis Katz Building rises from a lush field. Since 2010, Penn State’s law school, law library, and international affairs department have been headquartered here. And, with a majestic, glass-fronted second floor and extensive rooftop vegetation, the Katz Building is worth visiting.
Princeton University – Nassau Hall (Princeton, NJ)
Nassau Hall was built 20 years before the Declaration of Independence was written. And, in 1783, it served as America’s capitol building. Today, this ivy-covered hall — which survived two major 19th-century fires — is an administrative building and a historic landmark.
Rhodes College – Southwestern Hall (Memphis, TN)
You’ll find colorful Southwestern Hall near the center of the Rhodes College campus. It’s the school’s oldest building, erected in 1925, and its rich tradition is enhanced by its rich architecture. Halliburton Tower, its 140-foot bell tower, was added in 1962.
Rice University – Moody Center for the Arts (Houston, TX)
Openness is key to Rice University’s Moody Center. This building is open to the outside world thanks to the first floor’s floor-to-ceiling glass and the second floor’s picture windows. Inside, a high-ceilinged “interior quad” also creates a sense of openness. Moreover, its students are always open to new artistic ideas.
St. John’s University – Sun Yat Sen (New York, NY)
St. John’s University’s Office of Global Studies, Dr. Yeh Art Gallery, and Asian Studies Library are situated inside Sun Yat Sen Hall. Built in 1973, this hall is named for Chinese president Sun Yat-sen. It has red columns, a pagoda roof, and a beautiful lion statue standing guard outside.
Tulane University – Gibson Hall (New Orleans, LA)
In use since 1894, Gibson Hall is currently Tulane’s oldest building. Its Romanesque style and stone over brick exterior make it stately and dignified, yet it also has a lived-in approachability. In short, it’s a grand administrative building for a grand university.
United States Air Force Academy – Cadet Chapel (USAF Academy, CO)
Due to renovation, Cadet Chapel will be closed until 2027. Nevertheless, it remains a centerpiece of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Its 17 white spires reach 150 feet. And the mere sight of its steel, glass, and aluminum frame — with mountains looming in the background — can tug at the heartstrings.
University of Arkansas – Vol Walker Hall and the Steven L. Anderson Design Center (Fayetteville, AR)
From 1935 to 1968, Vol Walker Hall was the University of Arkansas’ library. Then it became the architecture school. It added a landscaping program in 1976 and an interior design program in 2010. Thus, it’s fitting that it displays such outstanding design, with fine building materials like limestone, glass, and white oak.
University of California, Berkeley – Hargrove Music Library (Berkeley, CA)
Tucked into a small hill, the three-story Hargrove Music Library offers lovely views of the Berkeley campus. Its exterior, covered in slate shingles and glass, is exceptionally photogenic. Plus, the top two floors are rotated, giving the whole building a pleasing shape.
University of California, San Diego – Geisel Library (San Diego, CA)
When it comes to unique building shapes, the glass and concrete Geisel Library deserves significant recognition. This futuristic, eight-story structure resembles four hands holding an upside-down pyramid. Finished in 1970 and renovated in the early 1990s, it contains more than 7 million volumes.
University of Chicago – Mansueto Library (Chicago, IL)
Beneath a spectacular elliptical glass dome sits the University of Chicago’s aptly-named Grand Reading Room, with 180 seats. It’s the main interior feature of the Mansueto Library, which opened in 2011 and has 3.5 million volumes. To speed things along, robotic arms help find books.
University of Cincinnati – Vontz Center for Molecular Studies (Cincinnati, OH)
Yet another Frank Gehry creation, the Vontz Center has been around since 1999. With curved brick walls and delightfully off-kilter windows, it certainly has that Gehry spark of imagination. It’s a fun setting for the serious and life-changing work of molecular science.
University of Delaware – Tower at STAR (Newark, DE)
The 10-story Tower at STAR is a thriving hub for medical research and training. It also hosts community events and conferences and is notable for its large atrium with a living wall. That wall is, in essence, a garden growing sideways, with 25 species and 5,000 individual plants.
University of Houston Clear Lake – The Recreation and Wellness Center (Houston, TX)
The Recreation and Wellness Center provides students with 82,000 square feet of fitness fun. Exercise classes, high-tech weight rooms, an indoor track, outdoor playing fields, basketball courts, and many other facilities are available. As a bonus, there’s lots of sunlight thanks to an exterior that’s largely made of glass.
University of Iowa – Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories (Iowa City, IA)
To create this complex, Frank Gehry utilized a variety of geometric shapes, all standing together beside the Iowa River. The building materials here are also varied, including stone, copper, and steel. It’s a stimulating setting for biomedical engineering, environmental research, and other vital scientific work.
University of Miami – Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio Building (Coral Gables, FL)
Its design may seem simple. Yet, with its glass front and a sloping concrete roof, the Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio Building has a flair for the dramatic and a touch of the Space Age. It includes offices, a computer lab, a lounge, and spacious indoor and outdoor presentation areas.
University of Minnesota – Weisman Art Museum (Minneapolis, MN)
The Weisman Art Museum seems to have two personalities. On two sides, it’s a somewhat conservative brick building. On the other two sides, it’s a glistening, stainless steel work of modern art. (Its billowing panels vaguely depict a fish thrashing inside a waterfall.) And yes, Frank Gehry designed it.
University of Missouri – Jesse Hall (Columbia, MO)
Completed in 1895, Jesse Hall is the University of Missouri’s administrative center. Its imposing dome is 102 feet tall — taller than the 77-foot building it tops. Jesse Hall faces The Columns, another school landmark: six limestone columns that once held up Academic Hall, which burned down in 1892.
University of Pennsylvania – The Meeting and Guest House (Philadelphia, PA)
Nowadays, when special guests from all over the world come to UPenn, they can stay at the fabulous Meeting and Guest House. This project involved renovating two existing brick Victorian townhouses. Among the additions were a landscaped outdoor terrace and a terracotta facade on two sides of the complex.
University of Pittsburgh – Cathedral of Learning (Pittsburgh, PA)
The world over, only the University of Moscow has a taller university building. This 42-story Gothic cathedral with a limestone exterior stands at 535 feet. Dedicated in 1937, it contains classrooms and administrative facilities. And it even has a unique nickname: Cathy.
University of Tampa – Plant Hall (Tampa, FL)
Plant Hall began as a fine hotel in the late 1800s. It then became Tampa Junior College and, in 1933, the University of Tampa. Its ornate Victorian design — bursting with cupolas and domes — has retained its great charm throughout those incarnations.
University of Virginia – The Rotunda (Charlottesville, VA)
One of the world’s iconic university buildings, you may be able to picture in your mind this building’s white dome and white columns. The Rotunda was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. Today, it’s used for meetings, classes, and social events of all kinds.
University of Washington – Suzzallo Library (Seattle, WA)
Known as the University of Washington’s soul, the Suzzallo Library is a fantastic Gothic creation with a welcome modern touch: its own Starbucks! And don’t miss Thought, Inspiration, and Mastery, the main entrance’s elevated stone carvings.
Webster University – Browning Hall (Webster Groves, MO)
Browning Hall opened in 2017 as Webster University’s main science complex. It has cantilevered walkways, a rain garden, a green roof, and an awe-inspiring glass facade. Among these contemporary elements is an old garage where St. Louis pharmacist Jim Howe invented Tums.
Yale University – Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (New Haven, CT)
The granite and marble exterior of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which opened in 1963, has no windows. But its volumes are fascinating windows into humanity’s past. Ancient papyrus scrolls, medieval documents, works by Charles Dickens and James Joyce, and innumerable other treasures await.
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