Virginia Tech's Buildings and Campus: Virginian, Southern, and American

Goodrich, Wade, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard, Architectural History, University of Virginia

Virginia Tech is a Land Grant University founded in 1872 in south west Virginia. The majority of the buildings that make up Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus are constructed in the Collegiate Gothic style, faced in locally-mined limestone. The existing narrative and public image of Virginia Tech’s campus explains that the choice of the Collegiate Gothic style ascribes age-value and prestige to American institutions by formally relating them to Oxford and Cambridge. Further, the common explanation for the value of “Hokie Stone,” as the local material is called, is that it is only mined on Virginia Tech’s campus. These understandings, the product of pride, storytelling, and school tradition, obscure the complex historical realities of Virginia Tech’s campus architecture.
“Hokie Stone” is in fact sourced from a geological formation of dolomitic limestone that runs the entire length of the Valley of Virginia. German and Scots-Irish populations of Appalachia have used local limestone as a building material since first settlement. For the German population, stone architecture held specific cultural connotations related to wealth, power, religion, and the social structures of paternalism. A number of the most notable historic structures in the Valley of Virginia are built from the stone, including churches, schools, and houses dating to the 18th century. Virginia Tech first used the local stone in 1877 to build a faculty residence in the form of a traditional Virginia domestic structure. Virginia Tech’s use of locally mined stone, and the relevance and value of the material, are tied to the architectural legacy of the Valley of Virginia.
Virginia Tech’s use of the Collegiate Gothic style can be traced to institution president John McLaren McBryde’s intellectual and personal relationship with the architect Ralph Adams Cram. McBryde, as a Confederate Veteran, noted agrarian, devout Episcopalian, and native of Abbeville, South Carolina, was fully immersed in the paternalism, racism, and structured socioeconomic hierarchy of the Old South, which centered on an idealization of Anglo-Saxon Medieval heritage. Virginia Tech’s early leadership shared his views wholeheartedly.
Ralph Adams Cram’s ideologies, and his use of the Gothic style, also centered on Anglo-Saxon Medievalism, and a desire to return to the architecture and social relations of pre-Enlightenment England. The views shared by McBryde and Cram were part of a broader 20th century American trend towards “antimodernism” and the hope for a different modernity that would bring a return to the values, beauty and structure of a pre-industrial world.
When Ralph Adams Cram designed Gothic architecture for the American South, as he did at Virginia Tech, he consciously created a post-Reconstruction fulfillment of the South’s stunted dream of a feudal modernity. To Cram, “all lost causes were sacred.”
The stone Collegiate Gothic buildings at Virginia Tech are the result of the Valley of Virginia’s traditional use of locally mined limestone, combined with the collective Anglo-Saxon Medieval philosophies of Southern agrarians and Northern antimodernists. Virginia Tech’s buildings and campus are the direct product of local, regional, and national ideologies, and represent Virginia Tech’s intent to visually identify itself with the Commonwealth of Virginia, the South, and the United States.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Collegiate Gothic, Virginia Tech, The South, Valley of Virginia , Appalachia , Stone, Hokie Stone, Ralph Adams Cram, McBryde, Antimodernism, Medievalism , Gothic , Confederacy
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