The Rise and Fall and Rise of Collegiate Modernism

Or, Curtain Walls and Footballs

Some of the finest architecture to be found in Boise is on the Boise State University campus. From its earliest years as a junior college up to the present day, BSU has been the home of buildings that are beautiful, challenging and compelling, often all at the same time.

Applied Technology Building, built in  1969, design by Johnston and Associates

Applied Technology Building, built in  1969, design by Johnston and Associates

Because a great deal of growth occurred in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, the majority of buildings on campus are in a high modernist style, and the best of the recent construction brings that tradition into the current age. That in itself is a tradition at BSU, for the first wave of modernist construction echoed and complemented the more traditional collegiate structures built earlier in the 20th Century. The Boise State campus is a rich store of architectural design and practice, and as a university that has seen steady growth over a thirty-year period, it presents a ideal environment for analyzing the evolution of modernism in the latter half of the previous century and the initial decades of this one. There have been mistakes, however, and for all of its gems and successes, BSU also has some serious architectural missteps, as often happens when growth comes quickly.

On Saturday, June 18th, I will be leading an architectural walking tour of campus. We will look at the buildings and discuss what makes the best of them work and the worst of them fail. Although we tend to think that modernist architecture is monumental, it is as vulnerable as any historic style to ill-conceived remodels and insensitive additions. On the BSU campus is one of the most egregious examples of architectural defacement in the city, as well as one of the best incorporations of old modernism into new. Join me on Saturday to see what they are.

Mathematics and Geosciences Building, built in 1955, designed by Hummel Hummel and Jones

Mathematics and Geosciences Building, built in 1955, designed by Hummel Hummel and Jones

Keep coming back to the IMod page, as we are in the process of building it and will be adding more exciting content soon, including more of these fantastic campus shots taken by my friend Otto Kitsinger, who is one of, if not the, best photographers in the city. I hope to see you Saturday, and at our future IMod events, all of which shall involve great fun and great edification.

This tour is one of the first events of Preservation Idaho's new advocacy committee, Idaho Modern, which I am proud to be a member of. Along with a group of like-minded colleagues anointed as the "Mod Squad," we aim to elevate the appreciation and defense of modernist architecture to the level enjoyed by the equally excellent architectural styles of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries more commonly associated with preservation efforts. I love Victorian heaps, sleek Progressive Era bungalows, and the weirdness and austerity of mid-century modernism. We really can have it all, and on the Boise State campus, a variety of classic styles coexist in aesthetic harmony, despite the few unfortunate exceptions. Come along and see what I mean this Saturday, which promises to be a beautiful summer evening of the sort only found in Boise.
John B. Barnes Towers, built 1970, designed by Thompson Kolbo

John B. Barnes Towers, built 1970, designed by Thompson Kolbo