By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
The stately building on the overhead projection screen in Nash Auditorium this February 29th slowly morphs as classical architect Daniel Lee flicks through a series of artist’s renderings.
“We added some beautiful little details—like this keyhole,” he tells the full room of students, faculty, and staff members, indicating a little notch added to the arch over the window design. “Notice how the pillars now extend all the way down to the ground, like sentries welcoming you in.”
Lee is referring to the Barbara Hodel Student Life Center, now currently under construction on the Patrick Henry College campus. The College hired him to consult on the aesthetics of the Hodel Center’s architecture late in 2007, after he visited PHC and saw a poster of the design. Now members of Lee’s audience emit appreciative sighs as they witness the final rendering, amazed how such seemingly small changes can make such a great difference.
Patrick Henry College has always been concerned with the integrity of its overall experience, both in and out of the classroom. “Our character of excellence needs to be carried over in everything, including the aesthetics of campus buildings,” says Dr. Gene Edward Veith, PHC Provost, explaining the decision to hire Lee. “Many colleges throw up cinder block buildings with bunk beds, but even our Board of Trustees, businessmen, recognized the need to ensure a pleasant living space here at PHC.”
Daniel Lee’s own vision for Christian architecture projects nicely into the Patrick Henry ethos, with its various combinations of tradition and contemporary relevance, Christianity and hard thinking. He grew up in one of the most beautiful cities of Europe—Paris, France—with his parents, Baptist missionaries. He shares his vivid memories of traveling the city on Sunday nights, when Paris would light floodlights on all the monuments. Later, two crucial moments in his teen years shaped his vision for architecture. First, visiting the Louvre, he saw the exquisite statue of the Venus de Milo—and immediately wondered if he was allowed to look at it, because it was of a naked woman. He realized that evangelicals were not interacting with the arts and asking the important questions of beauty and meaning. Second, on a trip to impoverished St. Petersburg in Russia, he was struck by the many beggars—and yet, he noticed how the people considered the beauty of their architecture so valuable that they were replacing the gold plating at the base of pillars in a cathedral. He decided to spend his life linking transcendence and architecture.
Lee says that today’s architecture reflects a lack of absolute truth; it is personality-based, providing little meaning that anyone except the architect can understand.
“As an architect, we want to compose using principles of design that give pleasure to the eye, tactical aspects that give meaning to what it means to be human,” he explains, running through a sequence of classical, British, and early American structures and pointing out why they contain the elements they do. Then he pulls up a photo of Wal-Mart, to the accompaniment of groans.
“The fastest way possible is not the way you find and create great art or architecture,” he grins.
With enthusiasm, Patrick Henry College is incorporating Lee’s designs into the construction of the Hodel Center as its steel framework continues to fill out. Currently, all members of the PHC community are working together on the Finish the Foundation campaign to increase the College’s donor base, in response to the requests of a generous donor who has guaranteed funds to complete the $32 million building.
“I’ve never seen a donation challenge like this before,” PHC President Dr. Graham Walker informs the audience at the end of Lee’s presentation. “This isn’t a match gift—completion is guaranteed. It’s a moral challenge, to justify their confidence in us.”
The Barbara Hodel Student Life Center is slated for completion in Fall of 2009. It will contain classrooms, expanded dining and library services, and an excellent gymnasium. Click here for more information.