"When you dream about what college will look like, this campus is the image you have in your head. I'll never forget the first time I saw it."Union alumna
While it would be many years before nearly all of the elements of Ramée's original design were actually constructed, the plan itself, so to speak, broke new ground in college campus planning. On the terrace already prepared, the buildings were to be arranged to form a large, open courtyard, facing the West and the Mohawk River valley. The parallel buildings were 600 feet (180 m) apart and were all to be linked by arcades, one of which formed a semicircle at the upper end of the courtyard. In the center of the space a rotunda was planned, probably meant to be the College chapel.
It has been said that '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. 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." It seems very likely, for example, that Thomas Jefferson was aware of the Ramée design for Union, either directly or through the influence of Benjamin Latrobe. Certainly the final design at the University of Virginia is reminiscent of Ramée’s overall conception in many ways. Indeed, the plan that Nott and Ramée imagined and realized in Schenectady eventually found its way into the design of other colleges and universities throughout the country.
Our Architectural Legacy
Union and the Modern Campus
Much of the character of a college is expressed in its physical form – its buildings, open spaces and landscaping. Most American campuses have grown more-or-less haphazardly; only a few reveal a strong vision of planning hat has shaped the entire school over time.
One of these, the Union College campus, is a milestone in the history of American collegiate architecture. Joseph Ramée’s 1813 master plan of the Union was the most ambitious and innovative design for an American school up to that time and became a model for later campuses.
Unprecedented in American collegiate planning were the vast scale of the project, the thorough integration of all it architectural parts, and the incorporation of carefully sheltered spaces and landscaping as fundamental elements of the plan. Never before had a domed rotunda been conceived as the centerpiece of an American school.
It seems very likely that Thomas Jefferson was aware of the Ramée design for Union, either directly or through the influence of Benjamin Latrobe,a British-born American neoclassical architect best known for his design of the United States Capitol. The final design at the University of Virginia is reminiscent of Ramée’s overall conception in many ways.