Art in Small Bites: Learning about the architecture of our campus

The Benton Museum of art originally started out as the main dining hall on campus. In 1940 the building became used for art classes. It was finally changed in 1967 to the museum students know today. (Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

Sometimes it’s easy to miss the beauty of UConn.

We walk from class to class with our eyes glued to our phones, not fully appreciating the splendor of what we pass by every day. I’m not above this, I find myself constantly on autopilot as I walk through campus.

Yesterday’s Art in Small Bites, hosted by the Benton, sought to break the two-dimensional lens that we view our buildings through, and appreciate them for what they really are: architectural beauties. Benton docent Shoshana Levinson led the handful of curious students and staff members around the northeast part of campus, focusing on four buildings: the William Benton Museum of Art, Storrs Hall, the Wilbur Cross Building and the Willis Nichols Hawley Armory. Levinson meticulously described the art and history behind each buildings with a surprising whimsicality that I didn’t expect. Who knew buildings could be so intriguing?

Levinson waxed poetic about the history of the Benton’s form.

“(The Benton’s architecture) is associated with knowledge, prestige and wisdom,” Levinson said. “There is an emphasis on verticality. When you look at this building, what you see is not that it spreads in any horizontal direction, but in a vertical fashion.”

Did you know UConn’s original layout included a quad, and it (kind of) exists today? I had no idea, before Levinsen enlightened us during the tour.

“Starting here, at the Benton Museum, and going towards 195 (Northeast),” Levinson explained. “When Lowry developed his plans in 1910, his idea was that he wanted (the campus) to be like the Jeffersonian academic village at the University of Virginia. He wanted the campus to feel like an outdoor, naturalistic park. A quadrangle is a great way to have open space.”

The tour ended at the Willis Nichols Hawley Armory, just past Oak Hall on Fairfield Way, a building thousands of students pass every day, most without batting an eye. We learned that the building, although now overshadowed by flashier center-campus buildings like Oak and McHugh (Laurel), has quite a history to it.

“The Armory started as the ROTC,” Levinson told us. “It was built for that purpose, but the Armory wasn’t limited to just military activities. Athletics was here, and theater was performed in the Armory as well. It even had the school’s only swimming pool for a number of years.”

Who knew? By the end of the 30-minute tour, I was enriched with a plethora of knowledge about our campus. The Art in Small Bites tours provided by the Benton are brief yet fantastic ways to learn more about what makes UConn special.

The next Art in Small Bites tour will be next Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 12:15 p.m. in the Benton. Highly recommended.


Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.