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Eric Huddleston

One Man's Vision

Eric Huddleston's legacy is the campus we know today

By John Milne

When Eric Huddleston arrived in Durham in 1914, he looked at a handful of buildings scattered across the muddy acres of a farm and saw a college campus. As the supervising architect for the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts and the University of New Hampshire, he spent the next 30 years building a campus to match his vision. His legacy is the way UNH looks today.

Hud, as everyone called him, was certainly the most influential architect in the university's history. He designed, remodeled or built 22 of the principal buildings on campus. "Huddleston not only had the vision to plan the campus, he designed the buildings and he supervised the construction. He was able to implement his vision," observes Victor D. Azzi '51, who retired from the position of campus planner last year.

"He loved each and every one of his buildings," says Caroline Eaton Huddleston '49, the architect's daughter-in-law who now lives in Lancaster, N.H. "He wanted them to look like New England, like New Hampshire. He wanted them to look like they belonged there and weren't just dumped there."

Huddleston designed buildings in the 18th-century Federal/Georgian style, faced with water-struck red brick. Some of his trademarks were white woodwork, column-framed entrances, Palladian windows and peaked slate roofs with gables and moldings on the eaves. "He understood the classical language of architecture; he understood the grammar," says UNH professor David S. Andrew, the university's architectural historian. He adds that Huddleston was "one of the prime exponents of the Federal/Georgian style as it was understood in America."

One of Huddleston's signature buildings, Murkland Hall, is about to receive an urgently needed renovation. Douglas C. Bencks, the current university architect, says that the changes will match Huddleston's vision. In fact, he hopes that all future construction and renovation at UNH will be guided by the design principles established by Huddleston in the first decades of the 20th century.

A Living Textbook

I visited Murkland recently with David Andrew to find out what's so distinctive about a Huddleston-designed building. We entered the building on the southeast side (the side facing Thompson Hall) and walked through on the ground floor. That level is a basement, a place to work: sturdy, with a terrazzo floor and glazed brick covering the lower portion of the walls. At the end of the hall, the space opens suddenly. Where many architects might have put an ordinary doorway and stairwell, Huddleston created an elegant entrance.

I believe that Huddleston used this area as a living architecture textbook. Four fluted columns rise from octagonal bases to dramatic capitals. This, Andrew explained, represents the Doric mode of classical architecture "as understood in America in the mid-18th century." He turned to the doorway, with its triangular top and the half-columns on either side. "This is a textbook case of the Federal style," he said.

The columns hold up the groins in the ceiling, visual echoes of a medieval cathedral. The Georgian style appears in the moldings around the doors and the water fountain. And the curving staircase is flooded with natural light entering through tall windows and an oculus, a round skylight (Federal style, observed Andrew).

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