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At the very beginning of the 20th century, Muhlenberg College moved west from its original location in center city Allentown to an area of farmland then outside the city limits. The first academic facilities constructed on the new site were a dormitory and what is now the George T. Ettinger Building. In 1916 an ambitious long-range plan entitled "A Greater Muhlenberg" was unveiled for future development of the College's new home. Designed by Professor Warren P. Laird, head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, it provided an approach to development and construction that continues to guide campus planning to this day.
Consistent with the Beaux Arts style popular at the time, the plan calls for a large, roughly symmetrical central academic quadrangle with buildings on three sides. Most academic buildings assumed to be necessary at the time, as well as those that have become necessary since, face onto this rectangular organizing feature. Residential, social, and recreational regions are grouped around the perimeter, often in arrangements creating subsidiary quadrangles. Upon the construction of the first library building in the 1920s, the choice of architectural style was changed to English Collegiate Gothic. The first significant departure from the original plans occurred in the 1970s when Philip Johnson's new Center for the Arts opened as the first building facing the quadrangle from the fourth side. Since then, the fourth side of the original quadrangle has been given over to more individualist and contemporary statements while development along the original three sides has been purposely kept within the context of the historical and original choices. This has resulted in an exciting and fruitful "dialogue" between the traditional and the progressive, respectfully making use of the original 1916 layout. Residential and recreational development continues to spin off the center in ways entirely consistent with Laird's 85 year-old plan.
A Greater Muhlenberg. Master Plan. 1916. Special Collections, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA.
Laird, W. P. Comprehensive Plan for Future Constructional Development. 1916. Special Collections, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA.