The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Special Report A sense of our place

A campus planning bloopers reel

As The Ohio State University developed over these past 146 years, ideas for its skyline have ranged from awesome to awkward.

In reviewing the buildings around the Oval in 1905, the Olmsted Brothers, an influential landscape architecture firm, wrote: “It is true that mistakes have been made, probably through inexperience and mistaken judgment on the part of those who decided upon the location, shape, color, material and architectural style of buildings.”

While some of those issues were addressed with the hiring of the university’s first architect in 1911, others emerged in the decades to follow.

QUICK FACT: There’s a name for that

“Cow paths” are the dirt paths across campus made by students taking shortcuts, and they’ve been around Ohio State since classes began in 1873. Cow paths on the Oval were made formal with paving in 1905. Witty editors of the Makio student yearbook wrote that students were disappearing in the muddy paths prior to that. University Architect Bernie Costantino and his colleagues watch for new dirt paths to appear after a building is constructed — because even careful planning cannot account for the unique way-finding of a student hustling to class.

The end of World War II marked the beginning of a two-part explosion in enrollment at Ohio State: first with returning service members taking advantage of the G.I. Bill and, later, with their baby boomer children coming in droves. At one point, university officials speculated enrollment could reach as high as 100,000 students — today’s Columbus campus serves nearly 60,000 students — and the university grappled with how to develop for density.

In 1964, under President Novice Fawcett, the idea of creating a West Campus specifically for freshmen and sophomores emerged, says Raimund Goerler, retired university archivist. The theory was that underclassmen would appreciate a more intimate environment and not have to travel to the heart of campus for classes. Thirteen buildings were proposed, but only five were built, including a library, Pressey Hall.

“Not all ideas are good ones, and this proved to be a terrible one,” Goerler says. “The deans didn’t like being separated from their potential majors. The students didn’t like being treated differently than the people on the main campus. And, logistically, it was a nightmare.”

A rendering from the Campus Planning Study of 1959 (left) illustrates a proposal for placing academic buildings inside the Oval; an architectural model shows a suggestions for locating multiple towers along the Olentangy River.

Classes ceased to be offered on West Campus by 1989, and the buildings were converted to house research centers and administrative offices.

Other ideas were proposed to handle increasing student enrollment. In 1959, a firm out of Houston, Texas, was hired to produce a campus planning study and identify areas where thousands of more students could be accommodated. One idea Caudill, Rowlett and Scott Architects offered was to construct academic buildings on the Oval itself.

“In one scheme, these buildings would have to be 10 stories high, which would not be very desirable aesthetically,” they wrote. “However, in another scheme the buildings could be three stories high and placed on stilts to allow pedestrian traffic to flow under them. This height could be used to advantage aesthetically and academically.”

The same architectural firm also recommended putting additional residence halls west of the Olentangy River — as many as six high-rise towers similar to Lincoln and Morrill Towers. One set of renderings even included sailboats on the Olentangy River to suggest students would enjoy a “yacht club” experience.

While the consultants made some important recommendations about eliminating vehicular traffic through campus by closing off key roads, the pedestrian campus never included their vision of “a transit system (moving sidewalks, elephant trains, trolleys) as a means of exchange between parts of the campus.”

Yes, some ideas are better left unrealized. Strolling down the Long Walk with one’s sweetheart just wouldn’t be the same if it finished with an announcement: “Caution! The moving walkway is ending …”