University at Albany
Albany, New York
Historically the standard for a state public university system has been California's, both in funding and ambition. But don't sleep on New York's, and don't drive through Albany without taking a detour to this unlikely gem of a campus. In his 1999 book The Campus as Work of Art, the architect Thomas A. Gaines placed it among the top 10 campuses in America for its design and overall appeal -- and it's been handsomely upgraded since. The 2008 expansion of the school's Grand Entry Plaza, complete with walk-through fountains, offers enhanced green space, benches, and trees around the existing 50-year-old architecture, the work of midcentury modernist Edward Durell Stone. His design, championed by New York's then-governor Nelson Rockefeller, relied on svelte columns and bright tones, setting up UAlbany to age gracefully. (Elsewhere, around the same time, schools opted for a different fashion of the day, and stern brutalist slabs sprouted up American colleges when the baby boom spurred construction sprees.) Stone told the school's student paper in '65: "When all of the wonderful landscaping plans are fulfilled, I think this campus will compare to Versailles, where there is also great formal architectural composition." That's the standard the campus has held to for decades since.