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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. 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).The Richards Auditorium on the second floor of Murkland is another bright room, with high, curved, curtained windows. Against the wall facing the stairwell, Huddleston placed pew-like benches. They are carved wood, but surprisingly comfortable. Every time I have been in this area, at least one student has been studying on the benches.
Andrew called my attention to the second-floor columns. They are more ornate than the Doric columns downstairs, with capitals that blend Corinthian and Ionic forms. The Ionic influence can be seen in the top scrolls, the Corinthian in the acanthus leaves carved into the wood. "Huddleston was using the American vernacular of the classical style," Andrew observed.
The elegance of the entrance, the stairwell and the auditorium carries over into the office of the dean of liberal arts, a long room with tall elliptical windows. Money was tight in 1928, when Murkland was built, so Huddleston embellished only the most public and important parts of the building. The rest of the rooms are relatively simple and spare, but the design and workmanship have held up for more than 70 years of hard use.The Kid Professor Born in Indiana, Huddleston studied architecture at Cornell University, where he was apparently an impatient student. In a letter he wrote in 1967, he recalled sneaking into a sophomore art class when he was a freshman. When the professor asked Huddleston what he was doing in the class, "I told him I had been drawing in pencil since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hand ... and I didn't want to waste my time with pencil work but take up charcoal." He was allowed to stay in the class. "Brassy," he described himself.
Upon graduation, Huddleston went to work for architecture firms in Chicago and Dayton, Ohio. He was preparing to start his own architecture firm in 1914 when President Edward T. Fairchild lured him to Durham to become head of the department of drawing and the college's supervising architect. He was 26 years old, nicknamed the Kid Professor. He would serve as supervising architect for 32 years and remain an active member of the faculty for an additional 12 years.
Huddleston loved teaching almost as much as he loved architecture. In 1918, he expanded the department of drawing to create the only college-level architecture program in northern New England. It produced 130 graduates between 1920 and 1944, when it ended because there weren't enough men on campus during World War II to keep it going.
Russell S. Harmon '22 was one of Huddleston's first architecture students. Speaking at the 1963 dedication of Huddleston Hall, he remembered his professor as "a gracious and considerate man, helpful in countless ways, yet firm in his insistence on accurate work with full respect for the ethics of the architectural profession."
"Hud believed and taught that buildings were created for people and that the human being is the beginning and end of all architecture," recalled Richard Koehler '22 at the same ceremony.
Victor Azzi, one of Huddleston's last students, describes him as a "fine, gentle person, tall and thin, a man who loved his work."
Huddleston had scarcely arrived in Durham before he began working on a broad plan for a campus of Georgian brick buildings spaced around what is now called the Great Lawn. He pictured a more compact campus than the one we have today, with more buildings at the core along Main Street, emphasizing the closeness of this community of scholars.
After the war, new buildings designed by Huddleston started sprouting up along those sidewalks, 16 of them between 1920 and 1946, when he stepped down as supervising architect (see Huddleston's Legacy). Many of those buildings were constructed during the Great Depression and all were built with bare-bones budgets. "He was never given enough money" to do everything he wanted, says Caroline Huddleston.
Huddleston revised the contracting procedure to save money. The 1933 Huddleston Plan demanded competitive, public bidding to "eliminate shopping, padding and chiseling of bids and to provide for fair construction." Bencks, the current university architect, observes that the university always got its money's worth with Huddleston.
While he was guiding the rapid growth of the UNH campus, Huddleston was also doing outside architectural work. In 1935, he joined a former student, Irving W. Hersey '25, in a Durham firm that built several fraternity and sorority houses and numerous other buildings in town. At one point, Huddleston and Hersey was the state's largest architectural firm, designing more than a hundred school buildings in New Hampshire. Huddleston was a founder and the first president of the New Hampshire Society of Architects, and he became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1953.
Toward the end of his career, Huddleston's eyesight dimmed, but his enthusiasm for teaching did not. He had to use a magnifying glass to grade his students' final projects before he retired in 1958. He sat for a formal university portrait at about that time, but wasn't impressed by the result, wishing it "looked more like my homely mug." He moved to Lancaster, N.H., where he died in 1977.
Huddleston's final UNH buildings were Gibbs, Engelhardt and Hunter, completed in 1946. The following year, the trustees chose an outside architect to design Kingsbury Hall, the first major departure from Huddleston's campus plan. That, says Victor Azzi, marked "the end of the Huddleston design continuum."
Over the decades that followed, the university contracted many different architects who designed one-of-a-kind buildings entirely unrelated to Huddleston's. The result was a loss of coherence that "diminishes the campus in large measure once you get away from the Huddleston buildings on Main Street," Azzi believes.
Both Bencks and Azzi see a paradox in those newer buildings. During the Huddleston years, funds were scarce but the buildings were solid. After World War II, when the economy was better and more construction funds were available, the quality of the new structures did not hold up. Azzi and Andrew both describe some of the post-Huddleston buildings as "terrible."
Azzi became the campus planner in 1988 and began to rehabilitate Huddleston's vision in the 1991 master plan. "That was the first time planning had been done on this scale since 1923," he says. As a result, the campus buildings constructed over the past decade look more like the early ones, sharing architectural elements such as water-struck brick and gables.
Now, with $8.5 million to spend on Murkland's renovation, Bencks says he will try to bring the
entrance hall and the stairwell back to the Huddleston-designed elegance. Part of the plan is to
replace the cushioned metal chairs that are lined up in Richards Auditorium with simpler ones. If
they turn out to be like Huddleston's choices, they will almost certainly be more comfortable.
John Milne is a writer who lives in Concord, N.H.
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