Schenectady County

Union College ranked among most beautiful campuses

Union College in Schenectady was named one of the 20 most beautiful campuses in the country for the
The Nott Memorial at Union College is a Schenectady icon Tuesday, December 30,. 2014.
The Nott Memorial at Union College is a Schenectady icon Tuesday, December 30,. 2014.

Union College in Schenectady was named one of the 20 most beautiful campuses in the country for the 2014-15 academic year by the Princeton Review.

The four-year private college was ranked No. 12 on a list of 20 of the most attractive colleges and universities, according to the Princeton Review’s rankings based on annual surveys taken by students nationwide.

Most beautiful

The 20 most beautiful college campuses in the country for the 2014-15 academic year, according to the Princeton Review:

1. Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.

2. Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

3. Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.

4. Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Va.

5. Scripps College in Claremont, Calif.

6. Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

7. Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

8. University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.

9. Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.

10. Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla.

11. University of San Diego in San Diego, Calif.

12. Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

13. Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.

14. Hanover College in Hanover, Ind.

15. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

16. Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio

17. Ohio University in Athens, Ohio

18. Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga.

19. Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore.

20. University of Richmond in Richmond, Va.

The most beautiful campus was Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, with Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, coming in second and third, respectively.

Union was the first planned campus in the United States, said Mary Wallinger, a senior landscape architect at PLACE Alliance and a member of the Schenectady Planning Commission.

“It is speculated that Thomas Jefferson might have visited Union College when laying out the University of Virginia,” she said. “When it was originally designed, it was framed to look toward the west. Part of the layout with the buildings and open green space in the middle also shows an appreciation of common outdoor space.”

It is believed that the University of Virginia could have been designed, in part, after Union. Both colleges are organized in a rectangle with an open view to the west, Wallinger said.

“At the time when it was laid out, it was very different from how other colleges were traditionally designed,” she said. “Union College became an example for many others.”

Loren Rucinski, director of facilities and planning at Union, said his department is responsible for keeping the college as beautiful as possible, with staff serving as campus “watchdogs.”

“It’s a historic campus and has the framework as the first planned campus in America,” he said. “That’s very important to us. We try our best to make sure that everybody who walks on the campus has a great first impression. We try to respect the history of the campus.”

The most striking building on the Union campus is the 135-year-old Nott Memorial, a 16-sided Victorian building dedicated to Eliphalet Nott, the fourth president of the college. The round building is 89 feet in diameter with a ribbed dome featuring 709 small, colored glass windows, according to the college’s website. The dome includes an inscription from the Talmud: “The day is short, the work is great, the reward is much, the Master is urgent.”

“The Nott is a rather unique structure,” said David Clemenzi, principal at EYP Architecture & Engineering in Albany. “It has glass cylinders in the ceiling that allow natural light to sprinkle through into the inside space. It was recently restored and is largely restored intact.”

The Nott was renovated in 1995 and is a symbol of Union. It houses an assembly space on the first floor, a gallery on the second floor and study space on the third floor, Rucinski said.

The Nott Memorial is also a national historic landmark and was featured in the 1973 movie “The Way We Were,” starring Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand.

“The Nott probably has the most expensive study space in the United States,” Rucinski said. “The building really sets Union apart from all of the other campuses in the country.”

Rucinski said it’s a priority for his department to make sure new buildings and renovations on campus do not compete with the college’s original architecture.

One of the newest buildings on campus is the Peter Irving Wold Center, which EYP completed a few years ago. The 35,000-square-foot building includes classrooms, study space and science labs.

“The center bridges the college’s rich history to a kind of forward-thinking, modern learning environment,” Clemenzi said. “The Wold Center was nicely designed to speak to the college’s master plan and architecture on campus. The building is partially run on a geothermal system and is LEED Gold certified.”

The college, which encompasses 130 acres, was founded in 1795 and designed by French architect Joseph Ramee. The campus also includes iconic buildings such as the Memorial Chapel, built in 1925 as a monument to graduates who died in World War I.

“We have a very small footprint, with 130 acres, compared to our peers,” Rucinski said. “It’s very rare that we build something brand new that’s a new building in itself. The Wold building was needed, and we did that. But we do a lot of renovations of existing buildings, such as the Nott.”

Clemenzi said the overall campus plan is commonly described as an “academic village,” leveraging the original vision of a living and learning environment between faculty and students.

“The idea of the academic village is reaching back to the original vision of the college, with faculty living on campus, in close proximity to the students,” he said. “When you think about beautiful campuses, you think of beautiful architecture and a New England campus with fall colors, like Union.”

Having the college in the city is a tremendous asset, Wallinger said. She said the college’s NCAA hockey championship strengthened the school’s relationship with the city.

“I think the college is bridging the gap between the campus and downtown more and more everyday,” she said. “I think it’s great that we have it here, and it’s really beautiful. It’s very exciting how it continues to grow while preserving the overall integrity of the design.”

Gloria Kishton, chairwoman of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, thought Union was so gorgeous that she got married in Jackson’s Garden, on the northern side of campus, in 1977.

“I got married on the Union College campus because of its beauty and character of the buildings,” she said. “When they built new buildings, they tried to keep them sympathetic to the old ones, too.”

Kishton said she is impressed that the college ranked among the top in the nation for its looks and praised the school’s grounds.

“The landscaping is fantastic,” Kishton said. “I think the college is an incredible part of Schenectady. This is wonderful recognition for them.”

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