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New College

George Cserna
George Cserna

After an 18-month search for an architect, I.M. Pei was selected to master plan New College on a 115-acre open site, and then execute its Phase I buildings. The challenge was to create an entirely new campus for a newly founded college with a fundamentally new concept in learning based on independent research and close communication between faculty and students with maximum interrelation of living and learning. The architecture was to play an important role in creating an environment that would support these ambitious goals in a first-rank center of higher education.

By the time of his commission in 1963, Pei’s experience with college buildings included Hua Tung University, the master plan of Tunghai University, the Earth Science Building at MIT, East-West Center at the University of Hawaii, Hoffman Hall at the University of Southern California, and Newhouse Communications Center at Syracuse University. However, the sprawling empty site in Sarasota was more akin to Pei’s urban renewal experience. The whole was organized with an extremely high order of planning based on a 16-foot grid so that modular units could be plugged in and out with infinite, but controlled, possibilities: 16′ x 16′ study-living units, with kitchens, bathrooms, entry units, everything being a sub-unit of the same module.

Three similar dormitory clusters were strategically located with different exposures, all interconnected by bridges, stairs, and plazas. The buff-color brick structures have architectural concrete spandrels and roofs. Their cantilevered forms are part of a small family of hooded buildings (together with NCAR and Everson Museum) that Pei designed in the early 1960s. The overhangs and recessed entrances offer privacy and protection from the sun in the subtropical climate. Each residential cluster is grouped around a landscaped central courtyard; semi-private study courts are marked with special plantings, pools and fountains. A paved plaza leads to a 1-story student union and academic center with dining hall, lecture hall, and classrooms.


Roof plan of typical living court / Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

Insufficient funds, unforeseen political concerns, administrative problems and a fundamentally unresolved building program brought the project to a halt. Pei stepped away after nearly five years, in 1967, “due to the pressure of other work.”

New College was elected One of Florida’s Top 100 Buildings by the American Institute of Architects, Florida Association in 2012.


Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Shelton R. Peed, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Associates