Reimagining Mount Holyoke's Past Through 3D Modeling
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It is difficult to picture Mount Holyoke without thinking of its distinctive neo-Gothic architecture. Although this style plays a significant role in Mount Holyoke’s current identity, the campus looked very different at its founding in 1837. Mary Lyon’s vision for the layout of her female seminary depended on containing all aspects of campus life into one large, central building to promote order and discipline. The Seminary building underwent significant expansion in an effort to preserve Lyon’s ideal as the student body increased in size over the years. When the campus acquired collegiate status in 1888, this ideal shifted. Mount Holyoke adjusted its architectural layout in order to remain competitive with similar institutions, adding smaller academic and residence buildings such as Williston Hall and Rockefeller Hall. Over a span of twenty-six years, three fires resulted in the destruction of the Seminary Building, Williston Hall, and Rockefeller Hall. Although the fires had no casualties, the campus experienced a great loss to its architectural history. Studying how the college’s style and layout have evolved since its founding can give modern viewers a better understanding of Mount Holyoke’s shifting priorities throughout the years. Though the physical structures which once comprised Mount Holyoke’s campus may be lost, recapturing the experience of visiting these buildings is possible with modern technology. Archival photographs, building plans, and drawings which present a two-dimensional version of the past can be combined to construct a relatively accurate three-dimensional depiction of the site. This allows a viewer to virtually navigate the space and envision what it may have felt like to attend Mount Holyoke in the nineteenth century. Although based on photographs, creation of the digital model depends on structural and historical assumptions. Images of the structures often deviate from what is recorded in the plans, and some information is missing altogether. Therefore, the model must be considered somewhat independently from the historical buildings. It represents a modern exposition of how a current Mount Holyoke student interprets the lost structures but should not replace the identity of the structure itself. The model should be used as a guideline for analyzing the architectural intentions of early Mount Holyoke, revealing how the architectural style contributed to establishing the school’s reputation as an innovative, welcoming space for higher education.
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