The Most (Overlooked) Beautiful Campuses


Forbes magazine recently came out with its list of “The World’s Most Beautiful Campuses,” and it cites some fine examples. I approve of the inclusion of University of California at Santa Cruz. Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale are there, of course. Also featured are some campuses that are not often seen on such rankings, which usually go for the obvious. Gracing the Forbes slide show, for example, is a picture of Kenyon College at the height of autumn. The list also includes the University of Cincinnati, which has hired a slew of star architects to make its campus more interesting and attractive (not least to the news media).

Predictably, people have raised questions about the rankings in the comments. Where’s Smith College? Where’s Cornell University? Oxford, but not Cambridge? “This list is highly suspect,” wrote one commenter, as if authoritative scores of campus beauty existed somewhere.

The fact is, there are lots of pretty campuses (and, alas, even more ugly ones). I would be interested in a list of Most Beautiful Campuses One Never Sees on Lists of Most Beautiful Campuses. Here are a few nominations, and I would be interested in yours:


The Johns Hopkins University: Yes, the university has tons of money for fancy buildings and isn’t exactly overlooked. But in recent years, it has done much to spruce up the grounds, replacing blacktop with red brick and parking lots with green space. The project has enlivened the campus.

Davis & Elkins College: I visited D&E last fall. While parts of the campus are in disrepair after years of financial stress, the raw assets of the campus are tremendous: The buildings are tucked into the West Virginia hills in very interesting ways. And the two campus mansions, along with a historic icehouse that has been transformed into a pub, add an opulence that few small colleges can claim.

Hamilton College: Maybe I have a thing for hilltop colleges. One drives up a hill from Clinton, N.Y., to get to Hamilton. The campus’s historic buildings (pictured here) have an astounding beauty, especially on the misty late-winter day I was there.

St. John’s University, in Minnesota: The monks of St. John’s took a risk in hiring Marcel Breuer to design several buildings on the campus, and the architect produced Modernist work of a kind you can’t see anywhere else. But I am as much a fan of the older buildings on campus and the surrounding woods.

Well, that’s a start. The Forbes list did include Tsinghua University, in Beijing (pictured at the top), which seems to be one of those overlooked campuses. The inclusion prompted a reader to break out in Zen verse in the comments:

“Lotus Pond in Tsinghua University”

Same campus, Different students

Same pond, Different lotus

Same trees, Different leaves

Same bench, Different sitters

Same space, Different time

Same scene, Different sentiment

My gorgeous Lotus Pond, My good old day

What campus inspires you to write poetry?

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