Syracuse University’s Ugliest Buildings

A few days ago Jake Haller blogged about Brown University’s ugliest buildings. I felt like doing something similar for Syracuse University (SU from here on), but right away I realized there was a problem: How to select only a few? A post about SU’s attractive buildings would be considerably shorter. Still, I took a camera around part of the North Campus (South Campus is uniformly ghastly, but I don’t get there often) and made some choices. (For more information about these and other buildings at SU, see SU Archives.) Ready?

Let’s start with one of the newest buildings on campus, and one of my most reviled: the Center for Science and Technology (1989, Kling Partnership).

This thing is humongous, and is ugly. Despite the name, it does not contain the Physics Department and I don’t have to go there at all, thankfully. Here’s another view:

In this shot you can see how after doing the front facade they ran out of ideas, or perhaps money, and just made the sides plain walls with windows stuck in them. Classy.

As I understand it, the thought at the time was that at a future date, when some gazillionaire gave SU enough money to do it, they would build a mirror image of the south section of the building on the north side, making it symmetric and, oh yes, doubly humongous. Just recently they did indeed complete a building attached to the north side, but for whatever reason decided to make it completely different.

This is the Life Sciences Complex (2009, Kirt Rieder). Another view gives some idea of the scale of these two conjoined buildings:

Let’s move on. A few buildings strike me as purely ugly-if-you-think-they-are, that is, if you like the style there’s nothing grossly wrong with them, and if you don’t, you don’t. For instance, Bird Library (1973, King and King Associates).

I’m not nuts about the style, but I don’t entirely hate it either. Actually it’s improved over what it was: at one time the only staircases above the second floor were for emergency exit only — alarms will sound, can’t re-enter the building from the stairs, leads only to an emergency exit door, and all that — so the only way to get to the upper floors was via a set of rather slow, cranky, malfunction-prone elevators. Back in the 1990s they did an interior renovation that included putting in a rather nice staircase to all upper floors except, I think, the top floor (Special Collections). As a confirmed elevator avoider, I like that.

As an aside, Bird Library is one of the six hundred seventy-three libraries in the United States where the architects forgot to include the weight of the books in the structural calculations so it’s slowly sinking into the ground, or had to be closed just after it opened to shore it up, or something. Snopes can probably tell you more.

Another in the like-it-or-not category is Newhouse I (1964, I. M. Pei).

I never go in there, so I’m not sure how well or badly it functions as a building, but it looks… well, like a Pei building.

This one is not really one of the ugliest on campus:

but it’s the Physics building, so I’ll throw it in. It does have its architectural stupidities, like four equal entrances each of which deposits you into a hallway — there’s no real foyer or anything else to welcome you into the building; it just sort of says “oh, it’s you, leave me alone.” In this picture you can also see our very own physics-inspired work of alleged sculpture, a slice of sewer pipe filled with concrete with random stuff embedded in it. Horrid, and damn near indestructible.

Now let’s get back to buildings that are unequivocally nasty. Here’s Archbold Gym (1908, Frederick W. Revels and Earl Hallenbeck).

The building was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1947; it was rebuilt and remodeled and a new wing was added between 1948 and 1952. I’m assuming that’s when the arch over the main entrance was squared off and the building was capped with a cinder block top story:

That, I might add, is the view out my office window.

I didn’t take a picture of the Schine Student Center (1985, Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates) because it’s fairly bland, but it does have one notable feature: it’s built on a slope, and has exterior stairs on three sides to the main floor. Here are the stairs on the west side:

There are about 36 steps, each with a tread 16 inches deep and a riser 4 inches high. If you’ve never tried climbing a staircase with those dimensions, it’s really quite nice. Unless you’re, oh, say, a physiologically normal human being, in which case, you wouldn’t like it. You might prefer hiking up the hill to the front entrance.

Speaking of stairs, check these out:

That’s Carnegie Library (1907, Frederick W. Revels and Earl Hallenbeck). The stairs are a popular place to sit and hang out. That’s about all you can do with them, because the main entrance at the top… isn’t. Not any more. The interior was remuddled at some point, and now the doors there are permanently closed and locked. Look carefully and you can see two of the actual entrance doors at the sides of the stairs.

But the grand champion remuddling job at SU has to be its first building, the Hall of Languages (1873, Horatio N. White). Take a look:

A fine old building on the outside. The first clue to the horror within may be found in this photo:

See the wide stripe running across the insides of the 2nd story windows? Can you guess what that is?

It’s a floor.

True. The building was renovated around 1980 (Sargent-Webster-Crenshaw & Folley, architects). The interior was gutted to the outside walls, and replaced with a dreadful, white, rectilinear design bearing almost but not completely no relationship whatsoever to the exterior:


In fact, the interior and exterior don’t even agree on how many floors the building has. The new interior added a floor to the existing height by the simple expedient of completely ignoring where the windows are. The result is that on the second floor, the windows start at mid-wall and go right up to the ceiling; then they continue on the third floor at floor level up to mid-wall. Rather understandably most of the windows on these floors are hidden from view inside by putting curtains over the hallway windows in all the offices, making it difficult to sneak a picture, but this may give you the idea:

And what, you may wonder, was done to the architects behind this atrocity? Were they fired? No. Lined up against a wall and shot? No. Forced to live in a building they designed? No, of course not. They were given American Institute of Architects honor awards for the job.

Ah, architects. They leave you speechless sometimes.

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8 thoughts on “Syracuse University’s Ugliest Buildings

  1. I spent many days in most of those buildings, 1994-1998. The best part about the Hall of Language’s structure-within-a-shell is that the hot water pipes that supplied radiators were not (completely) remodeled. So in some rooms, the radiator was suspended by the pipes halfway up the wall, because that’s where they were before the floor levels were all changed.

    I always liked CST, probably *because* it looks like a stylized meat-packing factory.

    You didn’t mention HBC, which apparently was designed to look like a floating box. That’s the only building I didn’t come to appreciate, even though I spent a lot of time there. Has it finally been torn down?

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  2. I was just looking at the floorplans for the Hall of Languages online, and I concluded that the floor with the half windows coming out of the floor is the *fourth* floor. Although I have never been to this building, I think you might be misnumbering the floors by calling the second floor the first, and so on. Isn’t the official “first floor” of this building partially underground?

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  3. Truly amazing. What’s the opposite of inspiring? I went to Syracuse. I was lucky to get in, but who in the administration doesn’t understand the importance of architecture? They want to compete for students? Start with physical beauty.

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