Alexander Girard and Garrett Eckbo

Richard Weigle and John Gaw Meem

Construction began apace, with President Weigle and the Board continuing their work towards financing the new campus while John Meem kept a close eye on the physical details. As related by Richard Weigle:

John Meem was not satisfied with the rather heavy treatment of the interiors of the buildings, notably the student center. He therefore proposed that the College retain the interior designer Alexander Girard to do the work. Girard had designed furniture for Herman Miller. One of his recent commissions that attracted attention was La Fonda del Sol in the Time-Life Building in New York….Simplicity of design was the keynote. The effects achieved in the student center were most pleasing. Square bricks were used to advantage in certain walls and simple vertical paneling in others. Chandeliers were imaginatively designed for the dining hall. Most of the furniture, executive and student desks, dining room and coffee shop tables, and common room furniture, were designed by Girard and constructed locally. Use of laminated wood block tops throughout resulted in significant economies and produced a harmony of appearance. Appropriately enough, there was a tie with Annapolis tradition, for Clore chairs were used everywhere, the same kind of chair that has endured thousands of hours of seminar dialectic over the years. Walls were painted white, except for bright colors here and there. On the first floor of the student center a door, a fire extinguisher, and a register were hidden by the way the wall was painted into sections, each part filled by some appropriate educational symbol, such as the Mendelian inheritance formula, Shakespeare’s signature, Einstein’s famous formula, an Egyptian eye, and the like. Paneled doors were painted in bright colors so that they added life to the interiors. All of this Girard accomplished well within the budget given him.

Alexander Girard in the Student Center Art Gallery, circa 1969
Painting the Girard Mural, 1964
College advertisement in Time magazine, 1967

Weigle continues:

A similar wise suggestion was made by John Meem with respect to the landscaping of the buildings. Garrett Eckbo of Los Angeles was doing some work for the University of New Mexico, and Meem prevailed upon him to visit St. John’s. The result was a commission…to develop the patio between the student center and the academic complex and to plan the landscaping for the rest of the campus. Eckbo took advantage of the difference in elevation between the student center and other buildings. He constructed two walls of lichen-covered stone for one-third of the area, a pool and rock garden for another third, and broad steps for the remaining third. Wide concrete walkways were installed in a brownish hue to combat New Mexico glare from the sun. Only in two places were grass plots installed. The balance of the campus was left in natural ground cover, thus simplifying the task of maintenance. Trees and bushes were attractively placed around the campus and in the dormitory areas, initially small but soon to grow to sizable proportions. Most of the stones and giant rocks came from the College’s own hillsides, many of them still covered with green lichen. They were beautifully used in stone walls or gently heaved unto position by a crane under the watchful eye of Mr. Eckbo.

Original campus landscape design by Garrett Eckbo
Close-up of Nina Garson Reflection Pool