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Friday, June 11, 2010

The Best Law School Architecture

Part 1 of a series: Architecture
& Law Schools

[1] [2] [3]

This will be the first post in a series of posts about law schools and architecture.

I have a few things to say about the topic. But first, I want to open it up for comments in asking this question: Which law schools have the most outstanding architecture? What law schools have the building environments that you would most like inhabit as a student or member of the staff or faculty?

Here are some possible contenders:

  • Loyola Los Angeles
  • University of Michigan
  • Harvard University
  • Penn State University
  • University of Chicago
  • Yale University
  • Stetson University

Have I left anyone out? 

Does anyone on that list not belong there?

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on June 11, 2010 at 09:30 AM | Permalink


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Wash. U. in St. Louis has a beautiful new building designed in the Collegiate Gothic style replete with granite stonework and gargoyles—very similar to Yale and Michigan. The building certainly lacks the avant-garde appeal of Loyola or Chicago, but I would imagine it is a welcoming place to study law.

Posted by: MJ | Jul 3, 2010 3:45:55 PM

The new and renovated law buildings at Notre Dame now constitute (in this Notre Dame law prof's opinion) one of the most attractive and pleasant law-school facilities in the country.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jun 15, 2010 11:18:14 AM

Penn State has two great new buildings. The new facility in University Park looks great as you drive up and functions well when you are inside. They've planted an arboretum and botanical garden across the access road, and I expect over time that will add to the appeal of the space. The renovated and expanded building in Carlisle also works very well, and incorporates a lot of green architectural ideas.

Posted by: Ray Campbell | Jun 14, 2010 11:08:17 PM

I'm with Dan on Harvard. Gropius may have been a famous architect but that complex is hideous. None of the various buildings, Langdell, Austin, Pound, Griswold, etc. seemed to have been designed with the others in mind or even the slightest attempt to harmonize or coordinate the overall impression. Hauser and Areeda may be a little better, but only a little. I hate to say it but I think I have to give Yale, Duke, even Stanford (which while not that memorable is also aesthetically less jarring)the edge over Harvard or some of top schools I've seen. I haven't seen them all so I can't judge the rest. Fortunately there is more to Harvard than the architecture. One school not mentioned here that I thought was strikingly beautiful when I visited it was Seattle - everything beautiful new, clean, airy lines, walls lined with high quality artwork, big open spaces. Really nice. And I agree with those who praised Loyola LA.

Posted by: Tamara Piety | Jun 14, 2010 12:11:55 PM

Another vote for Southwestern -- that's a great building. Loyola is also very nice.

Pepperdine has a spectacular location. The building itself is alright, but the location (over a green Malibu hillside that drops down to the ocean) is remarkable, and the building uses this well, with lots of tables and student areas that take in the vista.

Columbia is forgettable. The University has some great buildings, but the law school is not one of them. It's small and cramped, and the space they have is not all that well used. And that "Equus"-style statue in particular draws a constant stream of derision.

Arizona State is a possibility, with a striking building that has lots of Native American decor. But I'm not sure if I like the beehive-style office placement.

Posted by: Kaimi | Jun 13, 2010 11:08:57 PM

Former visitor at Michigan here. My office there was 50 degrees in the winter, 100 degrees in the Summer, and had a wall unit a/c that made a HUGE amount of noise. The classrooms hadn't been renovated in decades and were completely disfunctional. And to get from one building to the other, you had to go on some weird indoor bridge that somehow also was either way too hot or too cold. A beautiful design, yes, but of the several schools I've taught at, by far the worst to actually inhabit.

Posted by: anon | Jun 13, 2010 10:31:20 PM

Stetson has some great history behind the architecture. First as a Spanish-style hotel and then as the Florida Military Academy, Stetson's architecture is always a must learn for lovers of architecture.

Posted by: anon | Jun 11, 2010 9:01:12 PM

Seton Hall should be on the list. Opened in 1992, it still is fresh and interesting -- great light, great public spaces.

Posted by: Mike Zimmer | Jun 11, 2010 8:21:58 PM

Eric, you need to clarify the question. Are you asking for the "best architecture", or "the building environments that you would most like inhabit"? The two are not the same. To take but a simple example, Chicago's building is architecturally distinctive (whether in a good or bad way is debatable) on the outside, but the inside was (at least while I was there before the renovation) very far from comfortable or plush.

Posted by: TJ | Jun 11, 2010 6:42:45 PM

Schools located in grand old buildings often have great architecture: Yale, Northwestern, Michigan. Stanford law has a sadly forgettable building, and so does Chicago and Columbia.

Posted by: anony | Jun 11, 2010 4:29:28 PM

Oregon's new building, donated by Phil Knight of Nike fame, is quite attractive, lMO

Posted by: David Friedman | Jun 11, 2010 2:23:12 PM

would it be too cruel to create another post, on the worst architecture?

Posted by: anon | Jun 11, 2010 11:57:00 AM

As a Columbia alumnus, I would certainly not put Columbia on the list. They have done as much as they can with a small vertical space. But it is not welcoming or genuinely comfortable. I will leave to one side the question of whether a large statue of a man strangling a horse sends the wrong message.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 11, 2010 11:31:51 AM

I endorse Paul's mention of SW, and I have to say, I was much impressed with Northwestern's law campus, which fuses gothic and glass on a magnificent setting.
I only vaguely recall UChicago's law school campus from a talk I gave there in 2003 but my recollection is that it was pretty grungy and the faculty offices seemed, well, sad. I think there was recent law porn they distributed however that said there's a few new buildings nearby--did they also renovate the law school itself?
As an HLS alum, I have to say that I was not especially impressed with the narrative integrity of the facility b/c it had buildings of so many styles that clashed. The gropius dorms were execrable and Pound and Griswold kind of brutalist. On the other hand, Langdell, Hauser and Austin all had their charms. It's a mixed bag and I wouldn't put it on par with, say, Loyola's really neat space.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jun 11, 2010 10:57:40 AM

Baylor University School of Law. Funny what a little tabacco money can do.

Posted by: Craig McNeil | Jun 11, 2010 10:57:40 AM

My former school, Southwestern, bought the old Bullocks Wilshire building, a superb example of Art Deco, and redid it superbly, leaving much of its architecture and striking features intact. It's a fantastic building -- and the only building housing a law school that is mentioned in a book by Raymond Chandler, to the best of my knowledge.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 11, 2010 10:20:49 AM

I notice no NYC law schools are on that list. Personally, I'm a fan of Columbia, because it actually has a campus in the middle of the city. On the other hand, NYLS's new building is fairly pretty architecturally.

Posted by: Anon Ymous | Jun 11, 2010 10:02:36 AM

Wash U!

Posted by: Law Arch | Jun 11, 2010 10:01:12 AM

Eric, this might be a little premature. Michigan and Harvard have major new buildings under construction. (I don't know if things have changed at Michigan, but I remember meeting one faculty member in an office that made me feel positively gothic).

And I have seen a virtual tour of the new Stanford building that is pretty spectacular.

While I'm at it, our digs at Suffolk are not too shabby.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jun 11, 2010 9:51:06 AM

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