"The Fire of the Imagination: Master Planning and Student Life at Indiana University"

Ashton Residence Center Groundbreaking Ceremony
Willkie Auditorium
Indiana University Bloomington
March 6, 2009

Introduction: A History of Planning

In 1936, the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects submitted to IU President William Lowe Bryan a General Plan for Indiana University. In it, they wrote, “We believe that adherence to a carefully thought out Plan will avoid waste and the loss of opportunities and will promote orderly systematic progress.”1

At that time, Indiana University was home to just over 4,800 students here in Bloomington, and not quite 300 full-time faculty members, with a budget of $1.1 million.

Much has changed over the last seven decades. IU is now home to over 100,000 students statewide, over 5,000 outstanding faculty members, and has a budget of $2.7 billion.

During those years, the university’s fundamental missions of excellence in education and research have remained the same, and the need for institutional planning is as important now as it was back in 1936.

Today’s Master Planners

And the challenges for campus planners are as great—if not greater—than they were those many years ago. With increased recognition of environmental concerns, attention to sustainability, and needs for technology and other infrastructure, today’s campus planners also have to consider the very large number of people living on campus and utilizing campus resources.

David King, our current campus planner, recently explained the scope of his team’s endeavor. He said he and his colleagues were working “to create . . . a physical vision for the future [of the university and] . . . to ensure that [IU] would pursue excellence well into the twentieth century with a plan that would fire the imagination.”2

The Ashton Residence Center, upon which we are breaking ground today, is a key step this university is taking to realize these lofty goals. This is, indeed, a step towards the “orderly, systematic progress” the Olmsted Brothers noted. But this residence center will, in many other ways, also “fire the imagination.”

“The Fire of Imagination”: A Renaissance in Student Living

That fire of the imagination is fueled by the concentrated energy of young minds living and learning together. It is fueled by their passion and curiosity. And it is fueled by those moments of discovery that they share as they master new knowledge and hone their skills in argument and reasoning. As the Ashton Center extends learning communities, increases student independence, and provides the next generation of computer laboratory space, it will only add fuel to that fire of the imagination.

As exciting as this moment is for students, it is even more exciting for Indiana University. It signals what we might call a renaissance in student living taking place across the university. Just last summer, I had the pleasure of dedicating new student housing at IU South Bend, and last fall, IU Southeast opened a popular lodge-style student residence complex that is filled nearly to capacity.

There is no better symbol of that renaissance, though, than Ashton itself. Originally built in 1946 and consisting of a number of physically distinct buildings, the John W. Ashton Center has served a myriad of purposes over the years. It has been home to the Black Culture Center Library, to Associate Instructors from a number of departments, and to the French, Spanish, and Russian Clubs. Following demolition at 10th and Union, the new Ashton Residence Center will rise at that location, signaling the beginning of a 15-year phased plan to upgrade all of the residence halls at IU Bloomington.

At the end of those fifteen years, imagine all of IU’s student residences with increasingly flexible and adaptable technology combined with academic programming all conveniently located to maximize student learning at any time of the day. Imagine accommodations that reflect a more contemporary sensibility and style. In short, imagine a campus whose student living environment rivals the best in the world.

Conclusion: Lighting the Way Towards the Future

By way of conclusion, let me return once again to Indiana University history. In the fall of 1924, the university held the cornerstone ceremony for Memorial Hall, the first women’s dormitory on campus—they were actually called dormitories back then. At the ceremony, Mrs. James K. Beck, who served on the executive board of the Memorial Campaign, said, “The ‘first idea of a dormitory’ originated in the homes of Bloomington. . . when women were [first] admitted to the University. Our accommodations were somewhat limited. The town pump and the private cistern constituted our waterworks, and the drums stove was our heating plant. From these sources . . . we carried to our rooms both water and wood and considered ourselves fortunate to be able to attend college.”3

As we know, students carry different burdens today. But the light of learning will always lead them towards their future, and the fire of their imaginations will help light the way.

Source Notes

  1. Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects. “General Plan for Indiana University.” Correspondence with IU President William Lowe Bryan. Brookline, Massachusetts. 31 January 1936. Page 2.
  2. King, David. JJR SmithGroup Architects. “Committee of the Whole I: Master Plan Update.” Indiana University (IU) Board of Trustees Meeting. IU Southeast Campus, New Albany, Indiana. 19 Feb. 2009.
  3. “Corner Stone Ceremonies for Memorial Buildings.” Indiana University News-Letter. 8.2 (Feb. 1925): 1-17. Page 6.