On March 26, 1984, Kenyon’s president, Philip H. Jordan Jr., took to the podium in Rosse Hall to announce the College had received $5.5 million from the Olin Foundation to build a new library. Planning would begin immediately.
Several architects submitted designs, including a consultant the College had brought on in the early 1980s who had founded his own firm a decade earlier in Cambridge, Mass. — a 1963 Kenyon alumnus from a prominent Cleveland family named Graham Gund.
“At the end of the day, he didn’t get the job,” said Doug Givens, then the College’s vice president of development. “And Graham walked away from us. Picked up his bag and his marbles and went home.”
Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbot (now called Shepley, Bulfinch) completed the Olin Library in 1986, at the height of the postmodernist movement in architecture, a time when people thought an exterior of aggregate concrete panels was a good — or, at least, inexpensive — idea. The library became, as trustee and former New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger once put it, “probably the single worst building on the campus.”
Twenty-eight years later — after Kenyon had spent $217 million on eleven major building projects totaling more than 650,000 square feet — Graham Gund would be the most prolific and influential architect the College had ever seen.
I first met Gund at his offices, located on the second floor of a former courthouse in Cambridge’s Bulfinch Square, a leafy, redbrick complex that Graham Gund Architects (now called Gund Partnership) in 1984 saved from demolition.
Across the street looms an object lesson in irony: the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse building, looking like an East Berlin apartment house, identifies itself by a sign taped to its dark doors telling visitors the court and police facilities are no longer there. Built in the 1970s, the building is now asbestos-ridden and abandoned, the Middlesex Superior Court operations having moved to Woburn in 2008. Until June of this year, hundreds of prisoners were still housed on its upper floors.
Gund, now seventy-four, is nearly bald, with a crinkly smile and nasal Midwestern voice that makes everything he says sound slightly wry. He wore a blue sweater and blue-and-white button-down, open at the collar.
As Gund showed me colorful display boards picturing his firm’s projects, many at colleges — Kenyon, The Ohio State University, Kenyon, the University of New Hampshire, Kenyon — he would point a knobby finger at each building, quietly praising “our” work (Gund always says “we,” and never in the royal sense), his eyes gleaming like those of a model-car enthusiast proudly showing you his collection — Buicks, Chevys, Buicks, Toyotas, Buicks.
Gund’s “unmistakable, idiosyncratic architectural style,” as The Washington Post once put it, evolved in the two former courtrooms, now light-filled studios, that have produced such projects as the Cleveland Botanical Garden, EuroDisney’s International Retail and Manufacturers’ Showcase in Paris, and the National Association of Realtors in Washington, D.C. Gund pointed up to an emblem — below the intricately carved cream, pink and green moulding of the ceiling — that remains from the room’s time as a house of justice: we see, pointing down from the sky, the hand of God.
While Gund conveys a strong air of command at his firm, nobody who has known him over the years would describe him as domineering. Some of his Kenyon classmates recalled a young Gund as “a very reserved and quiet-spoken individual,” “a very good listener,” and “just a very good guy.” Tom Stamp, the College historian, first met Gund at a dinner in Peirce Pub. “I’d been told that Graham was sort of aloof,” Stamp said. He was sitting next to Gund’s wife, Ann, “and I talked to Ann and Ann said, ‘You really just have to talk to him. He’s shy.’”
Gund began flipping through the rough draft of Kenyon’s latest campus master plan, which the Board of Trustees would approve two weeks later.
“The president writes better than this,” Gund joked, pointing to the nonsense placeholder text that President Sean Decatur’s introduction would replace. As an update to the 2004 plan, the document includes many of the earlier plan’s goals, such as a renovated Farr Hall and additional storefronts in the Village; a “west quad” with a new library, underground parking lot, performing arts facility, and academic and administrative buildings; and new buildings in the first-year quad. The plan is not intended as a strict blueprint, but a guideline of where the College should focus its new building efforts in the coming years.
“We’ve looked a lot at new dorms, but these two things have been built,” Gund said, pointing to the Health and Counseling Center and Cheever Room of Finn House, sites slated for housing in the 2004 plan. “Lentz House was built. The gallery was built. Studio arts. Peirce. And of course all these,” Gund said, pointing to the NCAs on the map. “It’s astounding what’s been built.”
But at a rate of almost a major new building a year since 2006, the College is now “very consciously taking a pause for construction projects in terms of new buildings,” Decatur told me. “And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Born into a wealthy Cleveland family, Gund grew up in a world in which money was a vehicle for philanthropy, and not a topic of conversation. When he was younger, Gund’s mother, Jessica Roesler Gund, who died when he was thirteen, took him to art classes at the Cleveland Art Museum. The trips sparked a lifelong love of art.
His father, George Gund, was president and later chairman of the board of The Cleveland Trust Company, at the time the largest bank in Ohio. He was the director of twenty-four other companies, served on a dozen civic, philanthropic and educational organizations — including as a trustee at Kenyon and overseer at Harvard University, where he was educated — was a World War I veteran and a friend of John F. Kennedy’s. He panned for gold in Alaska and fought bulls in Peru. He was a cowboy, an art connoisseur and the largest shareholder of the Kellogg Company outside the Kellogg family after he sold them a decaffeinated coffee company. He parted his gray hair down the middle of his head and, widely considered a frugal man, drove a midrange car and wore a patched-up overcoat over a three-piece pinstripe suit. When he would walk through the Union Trust building — which housed his Cleveland competitor — his shoes echoing off the hollow floor to the Corinthian columns and three-story vaulted ceilings, every bank officer in the lobby, every teller behind his cage, would look up and greet George Gund.
In 1959, Graham Gund entered Kenyon, where he found camaraderie in the Alpha Delta fraternity and as a founding member of the hockey club, for which he helped build a practice rink. “We flooded it and Graham and I would stay up three-quarters of the night with garden hoses actually making ice,” recalled Calvin Frost ’63.
In his application to Kenyon, Gund had written: “the enjoyment I get from using my hands and mind to create has led me toward architecture as a vocation.”
“Ever since I was a child I’d been interested in shaping my environment,” Gund told me. But Gund had not yet entered the rat race, and, like most young people, the professional dreams he harbored varied. “I wasn’t certain I wanted to go into architecture at the time,” he said.
One evening in October 1962, during Gund’s senior year, the poet Robert Frost was having dinner at Cromwell Cottage with Kenyon’s president, F. Edward Lund. Frost was on campus to dedicate the new Chalmers Library. Gund wanted to meet him.
“He said, ‘Let’s go and visit them,’” recalled Göran Hemberg ’63, who shared an apartment with Gund. “So he took me with him and we knocked on the door to the president’s and we said, ‘Hi, we would like to meet Robert Frost.’ ‘OK,’ said the president. ‘Come in.’ And then we had a tremendous time.”
Gund’s eyes shone as he recalled the day Frost spoke. “That was a great moment,” he said. “And he talked about the importance of humanities, the importance of going to the library and having it out with yourself, and finding out who you were and what your beliefs were.” As George Gund had said twelve years earlier, at an address at the College titled, “A Banker Looks at the College Library,” “Few can afford a really big collection of books, but everyone can have access to the library.”
One time, Gund told Hemberg about a book he had read, “a book that really had made a big impression on him,” Hemberg said. It had fascinated him. It had disturbed him. It was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead — a novel about a young, individualist architect bent on revolutionizing the world through his aesthetic vision.
On a cold February night in 1963, James Morgan, a 1957 Kenyon graduate who had returned to Gambier, with his wife and young daughters, to start an architectural firm, heard voices outside on the terrace of Weaver Cottage, where he was staying temporarily.
“I went to the window, pulled the drapes aside, and as I looked, there were these two undergraduates with their dates for the weekend, standing there,” Morgan said. One of them was pointing to the roof. “I went out and I introduced myself to them and the one who had been pointing to the roof introduced himself as Graham Gund.” Gund had been explaining to his friends that the shingles were not, in fact, standard roof shingles, but porcelain enamel on metal made to look like wood shingles. “When I introduced myself to him and the others as somebody who was just setting up an architecture practice he said, ‘Oh, I’d like to come see you sometime.’”
As an underclassman, Gund discovered one of the few art courses Kenyon offered — Theory and Practice of Painting, held in the tower of Peirce Hall. His interest was piqued. “I think it was this thing called art that finally lit a fire under him,” Frost, the classmate, said. But as the pressure to declare a major mounted, Gund settled on psychology; it was not a topic with which he was enthralled. Classmates would see Gund in the library, slumped over his textbooks, asleep. The decision to major in psychology had “made a lot of sense, at the time,” Gund said. “It deals with issues of perception, sociology, all the things that relate to building, establishing community.”
For one psychology project, Gund and a fellow senior ran rats through mazes in the basement of Sam Mather Hall, “measuring goal gradient: the closer you are to a goal, how your behavior improves,” Gund said. “And your ability to solve problems with this maze improves, the closer you get to your goal.”
As a student, Gund thought a lot about how the campus footprint would expand as the College grew, “probably more than I should have,” Gund confessed. “He couldn’t wait to get out of there,” Morgan recalled, “and that’s the wonderful irony of the fact that so much of his professional life has involved being in Gambier, and to me he’s done it with great love.” Gund made sketches of buildings and leafed through Frank Lloyd Wright books. It was an exercise in rebellion.
George Gund disapproved of his son’s architectural ambitions. “He thought it was important to be a banker, and he thought if you weren’t in banking, you weren’t in the mainstream of life,” Gund said. He sounded sad when he said this. Five seconds passed before he added, “So we always differed on that.” Each of Gund’s three brothers went into banking at one point in their lives. Gund never did.
His father died in 1966 as Gund was pursuing a master’s in architecture at Harvard. (He would go on to receive a master’s in urban planning in 1969.) The bulk of George Gund’s estimated $600 million (in July 2014, Forbes estimated the Gund family fortune at $3.5 billion) went to the George Gund Foundation, a philanthropic organization he started in 1952. One of Graham’s ideas was to use a small portion of the money to fund a new architecture school at Harvard. Completed in 1972, its building was named George Gund Hall, in his father’s memory.
Before he became president of Kenyon in 1995, Robert Oden Jr. was visiting Mount Holyoke College when he was struck by a new addition to its Williston Memorial Library. “Good gosh,” he thought, “this person knows what he’s doing.” Oden went inside and asked the receptionist who the architect was. “And I found out it was Graham Gund,” Oden, an affable, bow-tie-wearing academic, told me over lunch in Hanover, N.H.
The first year of Oden’s presidency, Gund visited campus for an alumni function and the two hit it off. By 1995, Gund’s firm had built a Boston high-rise, created an inn for Disney in Florida, and made its presence felt at numerous secondary schools and college campuses. Oden wanted Gund to design new music and science facilities, and Gund was happy to oblige. So was the Board of Trustees.
“I think it would have been a sham process if we had done bidding, because it wouldn’t have been authentic,” Oden said. When Gund submitted a model and drawings of Storer Hall, the trustees were “all over it,” Oden recalled.
Oden also envisioned the campus as “a sculpture garden waiting to happen,” and Gund helped. Up came the crows on Ransom Hall, the Dale Chihuly in Storer, the musical angels in front of Rosse. Gund came to campus to orient them, to make sure the angels were facing the right way. In May 2003 the concrete pillars were poured, but their color didn’t match that of the Rosse Hall façade. Over the summer, they were redone. Everything has to be done correctly. One time, displeased with a house he had built for himself in Cambridge, Gund tore it down and started over. The new version wasn’t any better, and he started over again. And again.
Oden wanted Gund to become a trustee, but Gund refused, citing time constraints and suggesting it might be a conflict of interest. Oden didn’t think so, but he said he recognized that regardless of an appointment to the board, having one architect design most new buildings on campus and the master plan and potentially be a major donor might be perceived as such.
Oden said he was “concerned enough to think about it a lot, concerned enough to talk with members of the board about it, concerned enough to bring it up with myself and others. So to answer was I concerned? Absolutely.
“I think the assessment of how smart was it or how wise was it or how ethical was it to have one architect do that much, I’m not sure the word is in on that yet.”
Before he left Kenyon in 2002 to become president of Carleton College, Oden had overseen the completion of Storer Hall in 1999, the Science Quad in 2001, the Eaton Center in 2002, and had laid the groundwork for a new athletic center and a campus master plan.
One day, while talking about the greater Kenyon community, Oden and Gund were walking down Gambier Hill, looking out over the Kokosing Valley.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if right below Kenyon there were a lake?” Gund asked. “Why don’t we see if we couldn’t work to dam the Kokosing and have a lake down there?”
Oden gaped. “You talk to my successor, Graham,” he told him, “because that’s not going to happen while I’m here.”
Oden’s successor, S. Georgia Nugent, who arrived at Kenyon in 2003, was less than thrilled that the first building she dedicated as president, in April 2006, was the Kenyon Athletic Center. (“At one point there was a discussion about whether we should have a hockey rink,” William Bennett, the chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee at the time, told me. “And I think we fairly and quickly vetoed that.”) The KAC — big, brash and glassy — had sparked controversy surrounding its scope and $72-million price tag ($25 million of which came anonymously from Gund — the largest single donation in Kenyon’s history at the time).
Faculty grumbled about the cost. Gambier residents complained at “sometimes very antagonistic” public meetings about how much light the building would emit, recalled Ruth Woehr, then vice president of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Villagers talked about a need for “Gund control,” one professor remembered. The front-page headline of the Collegian’s joke issue in May 2006 read, “KAC costs Kenyon millions, soul.” The next year it read, “College replaces God with Gund.”
Plans for the KAC were already well under way in April 2004 when Gund Partnership revealed a master plan calling for the demolition or relocation of 31 buildings, including the removal of the New Apartments, Caples, and Gund Residence Hall (named after George Gund). The 1960s and 1970s were not a good time architecturally for Kenyon, Gund said.
“Kenyon never quite took the right step,” he told me. “They had a Coordinate College and they built those buildings to be the opposite of what Kenyon was. I mean, the buildings are curved, they don’t relate to Middle Path, and I think there was just the idea that it should be totally separate.”
The master plan called for the construction of four new dorms in the South, a revitalized downtown, and a new library in place of Olin. (Gund told me Chalmers was built too far back from Middle Path, Olin too close; the 2014 master plan proposes replacing both.) The plan also included a parking lot in the wooded ravine behind Ward Street — the proposal that elicited the most bitter response at a public hearing in Rosse Hall.
“Why do you want to introduce this massive, 280-car parking lot in one of our loveliest little forests? Why do you want to pour asphalt in the valley?” asked Juan DePascuale, associate professor of philosophy, who lives on Ward Street. “Why capitulate to the automobile?” The plan was quickly discarded. Plans to build more stores and houses in the Village were never realized.
“I felt that the political cost with the inhabitants of the Village was just untenable,” Nugent told me at the Century Association in New York. “I mean, it’s all political.”
Gambier Mayor Kirk Emmert said he was unaware of a strong community backlash at the time, but added that there always exist “vociferous and articulate” residents who are “against almost all change.”
The next few years would see a flurry of on-campus construction by Gund Partnership: the Cheever Room addition to Finn House in 2007; the Peirce Hall renovation and reconstruction in 2008; Lentz House in 2009; the Gund Gallery in 2011 (for which Gund shouldered most of the $20-million cost and which he wanted located closer to Wiggin Street, as one comes up the Hill from U.S. Route 229, a plan Nugent nixed); and Horvitz Art Building in 2012. Well before the art buildings’ construction, Nugent had traveled to Boston to meet with Gund.
“I was having lunch with Graham at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,” Nugent recalled. “And I said, ‘Graham, is there anyone who’s kind of a protégé of yours or somebody you’ve worked with that you might be interested in working with or having them do the art building?’ And basically he said, ‘Why don’t you just have Renzo Piano do it?’” — referring to the renowned (and expensive) Italian architect — “And I just went back to my salad.”
Nugent said she remained unsure of what Gund meant. “My interpretation was that he was saying, ‘Forget about it.’ I could have been wrong. Maybe he was saying, ‘Well, there are other great architects. You could try somebody.’”
The College didn’t. As Bennett, the Buildings and Grounds chair, said, “There is a theory sometimes that you ought to use more than one architect. We just didn’t accept that theory because the work he was doing was so terrific.”
One time, Nugent brought a donor who was thinking of funding a new library to Gund’s offices in Cambridge. Gund laid out the plans. In them, the donor’s name was written on the design of the library. For whatever reason, it was a no-go. The donor left.
“Graham is probably not too long from retiring from practice, I presume,” Nugent told me. “But he will not want to do that without doing the library.”
I caught up with Gund when he visited Kenyon on October 23 for the fall meeting of the Board of Trustees. Decatur stopped him along Middle Path after the Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting, at which Gund had presented the updated campus master plan.
“Good job on the presentation,” Decatur told him. “I think we’re—”
“Progress?” Gund asked, putting two thumbs up.
“Yes,” Decatur said.
Most of the committee’s discussion centered on the ideas of a revamped first-year quad, new shops and houses in the Village, and a west quad behind the library, according to Goldberger, the trustee and architecture critic, who emphasized that no plans were final.
“I don’t want people to think that a new library is imminent,” Goldberger said as an example. “Unless somebody shows up on President Decatur’s doorstep with a check and says, ‘My dream is a new library, and here’s the money for it.’”
Gund seemed interested, as we walked into the Horvitz Art Building, in the student exhibit in the lobby. “I didn’t know they could do steel,” he said, admiring the metalwork on a wooden chair. Gund spotted the maple benches that line the south wall of the Horvitz lobby. “Does anyone sit on the benches we designed?” he asked. (They don’t.) “I don’t know,” I said. We sat. “They’re comfortable,” Gund said, leaning back. “Very comfortable.” They were.
At the Health Center open house later that day, Gund toured the building in a coat and tie and dark navy-blue baseball cap, looking pleased. For the dedication outside, a select few sat on white foldout chairs; Gund sat in the front, legs crossed, listening politely to the speakers, who praised James D. Cox, after whom the building is named, and Carl Mankowitz, another major donor. Patrick Gilligan, the director of the Counseling Center, closed the ceremony on a note of humor.
“We park down there,” he said, motioning toward the lot at Ralston and Palme Houses. “We call it Mount Vernon.” The audience laughed, including Gund. Gilligan’s point was that the walk was a benefit in disguise, that Health Center employees could take “the long view” as they trudged up the hill to behold the gleaming white building.
“Another Graham Gund masterpiece,” Joseph Nelson, the vice president for finance, told another man after the ceremony. “The guy’s a genius. He really is.”
Gund didn’t hear this, or if he did, he didn’t care. When he saw the crowd begin to disperse, he sidled up to Holly Miller, the project’s Gund Partnership design leader, and said, “I hope everybody gets into the building.”
On September 16, 2003, Graham Gund gave a talk in Higley Hall about his work as an architect. He had just come from a dinner given in his honor at Weaver Cottage, and he sat in a front-row seat, fidgeting slightly as then-provost Gregory Spaid introduced him to the audience. A slide projector had been set up and Gund began to talk about how his firm had renovated the courthouse at Bulfinch Square, showing photographs of the process. He asked if some lights could be turned off, so people could see the buildings better. A few lights went off. Gund continued his presentation as a few more lights went out.
“If you turn off all the lights we’re not going to be able to get video,” a student said.
Gund looked up, appearing slightly annoyed at being interrupted, then said, with a wry smile, “That’s all right.” He didn’t want to be filmed anyway.
The audience laughed, some clapped, and then the room went black. Gund disappeared. Only his voice and the images of his buildings, projected onto the screen, remained.