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Remembering Ramée : Plan to celebrate Union's historic campus


French architect Joseph Ramée
French architect Joseph Ramée

In the early 19th century, Union's eloquent and energetic president, Eliphalet Nott, saw a need to expand the campus. The College occupied a single stone building in the Stockade neighborhood in Schenectady and was quickly outgrowing its space.

Nott began buying up land on Nistiquona Hill, about a half mile east of town for the new campus. He envisioned a family-like community of scholars where faculty and students lived together, "separated from the great world."

By the winter of 1812-13, Nott met with visiting French architect Joseph Ramée, paying him $1,500 to draw plans.

Working closely with Nott, Ramée created a broad and sweeping campus with facing mirror-like buildings north and south and a curved arcade at the east. Symbolically, it would open toward the expanding western frontier.

At the time, the design was the most ambitious and innovative plan for an American college or university, one that helped shape the future of other campuses.

This year, the College will celebrate the bicentennial of the plan for America's first architecturally designed campus with "The 200 Days of Ramée."

Throughout the academic year, the College will host a series of events to commemorate a historic campus that continues to preserve Ramée's architectural integrity.

The celebration kicks off Nov. 19 with the unveiling of a special website featuring extensive facts about Ramée, a snapshot of Union's architectural history and multimedia presentations of photos and videos chronicling the campus. To visit the site, click here.

A spring exhibit in Union's iconic landmark, the Nott Memorial, will showcase some of the surviving plans drawn for the College by Ramée and historic photos of Union, which, in 1795, became the first college chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York.

In April, a symposium, "Surveying the Campus Landscape," will feature President Stephen C. Ainlay, noted campus planner Art Lidsky and Paul Turner ’62, professor emeritus of architectural history at Stanford University and author of Joseph Ramée: International Architect of the Revolutionary Era and Campus: An American Planning Tradition.
 
“In American architecture, Ramée’s Union College plan is important for introducing a new type of planning, involving many buildings related in complex ways to each other and to the surrounding landscape,” Turner wrote, adding that Ramée greatly influenced College design more generally. "It is also a milestone in the history of the American college campus. The most ambitious and comprehensive plan for a campus up to that time, the Union design became a model for collegiate planning.”