Photograph by Will Fallero
Since becoming president of
Vassar College in 1986, architectural historian Frances Daley
Fergusson has spearheaded a campaign to enhance the schools
1,000-acre campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, which boasts
buildings by Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, and Cesar Pelli,
among others. Fergusson graduated from Wellesley College and
earned masters and doctoral degrees in art history from
Harvard. She has taught at the University of Massachusetts
Boston, where she chaired both the urban studies and American
civilization programs, and was a provost and vice president
at Bucknell University.
How do the new projects and
campus improvements youve overseen contribute to the
learning experience of Vassar students?
When I arrived, the campus grounds were
rather shabby. Students seemed to go from their dormitories
directly to the library, or classrooms, or the dining hall.
There werent a lot of outdoor spaces where students
would congregate. Weve upgraded many areas on campus
to suit this purpose, while also renovating these destination
buildings and constructing new ones. All these efforts contribute
to the social and intellectual life of everyone in the campus
Cesar Pelli completed the Frances
Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar in 1993. What prompted you
to hire him for the Center for Drama and Film, completed last
He was a dream to work with on the art
centerhe saw the design process as a collaborative effort
between himself, the client, and the art faculty. And that
building has functioned nearly perfectly, and has actually
exceeded our expectations. The center is beautiful and very
contextual with the adjacent Romanesque- and Gothic-style
buildings. The Center for Drama and Film was to be built in
an area of the campus that had no real architectural identity.
He made very clear references to Breuers Ferry House,
a 1908 Arts and Craftsstyle house by Lewis Pilcher,
and other buildings nearby. The project speaks strongly to
Modernism at the turn of the previous century [Pilcher], midcentury
[Breuer], and the present [Pelli]. Now this part of the campus
makes visual and architectural sense as it never did before.
What facilities are next in line
Kenyon Hall [a gymnasium built in 1933
by Allen & Collens] is undergoing a massive renovation
by Gluckman Mayner Architects. New classrooms will be created,
as well as a space for the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre.
This project will be the culmination of a campus program to
create new and renovated purpose-specific art and performance
Is there one particular detail
about Vassars campus that excites you the most?
I love the diversity of architecture
here. There are many large buildings done in different styles,
all mediated by the grandeur of the landscape. Vassar is a
registered arboretum with more than 200 species of trees.
In many ways, the campus reflects the students that Vassar
attractsinteresting and diverse.