Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Marbeck Center

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Institution Name: Bluffton University
Original/Historic Place Name: Marbeck Center
Location on Campus: next to softball field
Date(s) of Construction:
1968original design Baxter Hodell Donnelly Preston
2003addition Rooney Clinger Murray
Designer: Baxter Hodell Donnelly Preston (Cincinnati, OH); Rooney Clinger Murray (Findlay, OH)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Modern/post-WWII (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education, landscape, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: poured concrete slab and poured concrete wall
Walls: brick and wood siding
Roof: shingle
1968-present (2006)other (student center with bookstore, kitchen, commons, snack bar, central post office, lounge areas, smaller dining rooms, conference rooms and exhibition spaces)
2003-present (2006)other (addition has more individual dining and conference rooms, areas for computers, and much larger recreation areas with pool tables, ping pong tables, etc.)

Robert S. Kreider, president of Bluffton College from 1965-1972 and an intellectual sensitive to aesthetic and symbolic values, spearheaded the movement for this campus center. The design, while modernist in style, was conceived more intentionally than earlier buildings on the campus to reflect and embody the values of Mennonites and the mission of the college. To this end various planning documents were circulated among students and staff for discussion. Although functional needs were discussed extensively, from the beginning the planning of Marbeck Center embodied a respect for the natural environment. A Kreider memorandum dated June 3, 1965 suggested that the new building should relate to the unique resources of the campus: the wooded areas, the open space, the nearby stream, and the uneven topographical features of the land. (Stewardship of the environment is an important Mennonite value.) And architecturally, the varied topography is echoed in the rooflines and elevations of the building. Kreider's program states explicitly that the architecture should "create an ease of movement into and out of the building . . . [with] an invitation to move outdoors when inside and an invitation to move inside when outdoors." Kreider also emphasized that the building should avoid "ornamentation, the gimmicky, the grand, the monumental, that which dominates." The campus center was thus drawn to residential scale, low to the ground, affirming the friendliness, informality, and simplicity of the campus and the campus community. The result is a beautiful, modern, functional building, as well as one which relates specifically and intentionally to the values of this Mennonite college--respect for the environment, simplicity of life style, anti-hierarchical governance, and the importance of community.

In early discussions, the building was not named. Kreider emphasized that the name should symbolize "community," and it was eventually named for Pilgram Marbeck, an Anabaptist theologian who attempted to build community by uniting various groups of Anabaptist believers throughout southern Germany. The original interior of Marbeck Center (now remodeled) also reflected Marbeck's heritage with the use of half-timbering (specifically a South German craft called "Fachwerk") in the "Barn," a snack shop, and area for informal gatherings. The 2003 addition by Rooney, Clinger, and Murray (Findlay) was designed to fit seamlessly into the original building, so that no one could tell that it was an addition.

As a tribute to Robert Kreider's leadership, the student recreational area in the new addition to Marbeck Center is named "Bob's Place."


Bassett, James H. Bluffton College Campus Plan: A Concept for Continuing Physical Development. November 1965. Bluffton University, Bluffton, OH.

Bassett, James H. Comprehensive Plan for Bluffton College. March 1961. Bluffton University, Bluffton, OH.

Sasaki Associates Inc. and Basset Associates. Bluffton College Master Plan: Executive Summary. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc. and Summit, NJ: Basset Associates], November 2000.


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Last update: November 2006