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Maintaining the Historic Charm of College Campuses

There is something invigorating about stepping into a space and being absorbed by its charisma. This is especially prevalent when entering a college campus, each has its own character and charm. This specific charisma is highly influential in drawing students, parents, and alumni to attend, support, and donate to the school. A fundamental contributor to this specific character is the architectural style employed throughout the campus. Styles range from traditional Gothic to Renaissance, Baroque, NeoclassicVictorian, Modern, Georgian, and more. Since the style of architecture is so vital in contributing to the specific charisma of the college, maintaining and restoring this style properly is absolutely necessary for maintaining the integrity of the institution.
MIT Neoclassical Architecture

MIT Barker Library Dome - Neoclassical Architecture


Maintaining the historic charm of a college campus is done in three elementary steps: First, it is important to understand the basic styles of architecture and their key elements in order to determine which was used in the design and construction of the space. Second, determine which architectural features on campus are in need of restorationconservation, or repair, paying particular attention to those characteristic elements of the style. Sometimes historic restoration consultants are brought in to help determine what actually needs to be done. This may involve historic paint investigations, plaster surveys and building assessments. Lastly, conserve, restore, and replicate those elements as needed utilizing a team with the required qualifications and skill.


During the maintenance process, facility managers need to consider the following: the architectural style of the campus, the original architect, and the purpose of the building that is being maintained. To preserve the unique charm of a historic campus, it’s important to identify the design elements commonly found in buildings of that particular architectural style and the original architect’s work. Perhaps a specific type of paint is characteristic of the architectural style, or the architect who designed the campus building was known to leverage ornamental plaster in a unique way. In addition, facility managers need to contemplate the original purpose of the building and whether the goal is to maintain or repurpose it. For example, restoration of a sacred building on campus, like a chapel, will vary greatly compared to the maintenance of secular buildings.

History of Architectural Styles

Below is a quick primer on the history of architectural styles, which influence conservation, restoration, and preservation services. The development of architectural styles employed today began in 850 B.C. with Classical Greek and Roman architecture. Following this original style, Gothic architecture began in the 12th century in France, which constituted a very different aesthetic. This was closely followed by the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassic styles, all of which reverted in some way back to the Classical style. The Victorian style came soon after in 1840 with the reign of Queen Victoria. Since then, other styles have emerged such as the Federal and Colonial styles as well as some modern.

Collegiate Architectural Styles in the US

The history of collegiate architectural styles developed in accordance with those aforementioned. In the US, Harvard was the very first university established in 1638 and, while constituted from a mix of styles, is predominantly Georgian (Federalist). Yale University, Princeton University, and the College of William & Mary followed and were modeled predominately after the Gothic and Renaissance styles of Scottish and English institutions.
University of Michigan -Hill Auditorium

University of Michigan -Hill Auditorium

Maintaining Historic College Campuses

Today, colleges are found in Gothic, Renaissance, Neoclassic, Victorian, and other historic styles and it is the duty of the people to maintain their historic elegance. Here at John Canning & Co., we hold that every historic building is worthy of conservation and restoration, and we facilitate the means to achieve this end.

Historic Restoration of Some Main Architectural Styles


Perhaps the most common style utilized today on college campuses is the Gothic style, which was famously brought to attention by architect James Gamble Rogers at Yale University in the early 20th Century, and spread rapidly by other collegiate architects like Rudolph Weaver.

Gothic buildings are mostly horizontal in stature, contrasted with one or more high towers to serve as an exclamation. Many elements of the Gothic Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University were carefully conserved and restored by John Canning & Co. including, woodwork, plaster, decorative finishes, murals, and the magnificent vaulted ceiling.

John Canning & Co. understood the traditional style of the building and its key elements through historic analyzation, determined what needed restoration, and executed that restoration paying close attention to that of the vaulted ceiling which is a defining feature of the Gothic style. The Manuscripts and Archives Library, located within the same building, was conserved in a similar manner, following the three-step process mentioned above.

Yale University


Following the Gothic, the Renaissance style adopted more Classical elements such as columns, arches, domes, and detailed decoration surrounding symmetrical windows and doors.

The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, originally a Jesuit chapel, was built and restored in the Renaissance Revival style. The company’s work included extensive decorative detail work which is characteristic of the Renaissance style including historic paint analysis, paint exposure, pattern documentation, gilding, and wood restoration.

Culinary Institute of America

Culinary Institute of America


Neoclassic architecture is another Classical revival type. It began in the mid-18th century in Italy and became particularly popular in France.

Neoclassicism in collegiate institutions came to the US with Thomas Jefferson’s design of the Central Ground and Rotunda at the University of Virginia. This was the first public university in the US and his selection of the Neoclassic style set a president for American universities going forward.

Garrett Hall at the University of Virginia and many other collegiate buildings in the US were built in this style including Gordon Hall at the Harvard Medical School, Barker Library at Building 10 of MIT, and Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan.

John Canning & Co. was privileged to perform detailed restoration on each of these. The general scope included decorative painting, gilding, glazing, installing structural supports, ornamental plaster, and much more.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we performed a number of restoration jobs on the Grand Lobby, Loggias, and the Great Rotunda of the Barker Library. We reattached the vaulted ceiling of Garrett Hall as well as designed and installed its decorative paint scheme inspired by other schemes from that time period.

The Harvard Medical School project involved exterior restoration work for Gordan Hall, Tosteson Medical Education Center Façade, and the Laboratory for Human Reproduction and Reproductive Biology that included mockups, faux finish work of masonry as well as tinting patches and Dutchmen to match the existing.

Garrett Hall Interior Restoration

University of Virginia -Garrett Hall Interior Restoration


The Victorian is a British style mostly found in homes but also used in theaters and collegiate buildings. It can be spotted by steeply pitched roofs, bay windows, wraparound porches, round or octagonal towers, grand staircases, high ceilings, and intricately carved wood paneling.

In the US, the Victorian is often woven into the Federal or Colonial style of early America. John Canning & Co. painted the red and white ceiling panels in Alumni Hall at the University of Indiana designed in this Victorian Revival Style.

Alumni Hall Indiana University

Alumni Hall Indiana University

Different architectural styles have been used throughout history, many of which have been employed in the construction of colleges and universities.  In light of the significant role the style contributes to the charisma of the college, it is important and necessary to take the proper action in preserving this style for the well-being of the entire campus. Maintaining the historic charm of a college campus will require facility managers to pay great attention during planning and research in order to find educated and trained experts in the architectural arts. The importance of detail in perfecting preservation and historic restoration necessitates having a great team involved. If you have a project that you would like to discuss, please contact us.
Canning C

June 16, 2021

Featured Projects

Yale Library Ceiling Featured Image

Yale Manuscripts & Archives

John Canning & Co. consulted on the preservation of finishes and executed the preservation of decorative and architectural paint and woodwork for the Yale Manuscripts & Archives.

Sterling Memorial Library Yale University Mural

Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University

Our team conducted archival research, hands-on investigation, and interpretation to inform the restoration of plaster, wood, and decorative finishes.

Culinary Institute of America

John Canning & Co. combined preservation research, restoration, and conservation of the original Jesuit chapel sacred design with new decoration elements designed to adapt the space for secular events and student dining.

Garrett Hall Feature

Garrett Hall Restoration, University of Virginia

We were involved in plaster stabilization and creating a new ceiling and beam structure independent of the severely compromised Garrett Hall building.

Hamilton Smith Hall, University of New Hampshire

The John Canning & Co. fine-art conservation team stabilized and conserved two, wall-sized WPA murals at UNH. The murals suffered varying degrees of deterioration and loss due to moisture intrusion and plaster substrate destabilization over nearly 80 years.

Higher Education Restoration Guide
John Canning & Co. Resources

As a conservation studio and restoration contractor, our team of highly skilled craftsmen, artisans, and conservators are experienced in the use of traditional methods and materials. We understand the importance in sharing our expertise and knowledge in our field.

Check Out Our Higher Education Restoration Guide