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Memorial Union Memorial Union: The Transcendent Tower

Signs, Symbols, and Seals: The Sculpture of Memorial Tower

The Great Towers

British artist Leonard Richmond (1889–1965) made these pastels of the Great Tower of Magdalen College at Oxford University in Oxford, England (below left) and Memorial Tower (below right). The Savitar (MU yearbook) commissioned Richmond, a member of the British Royal Academy of Arts and a leading pastel artist, to create these images as part of a group of scenic views of the MU campus. The group appeared in a feature about the history of higher education and the development of the modern university, which was the theme of the 1927 yearbook. Constructed in 1492–1505, the Great Tower is the bell tower of the Magdalen College Chapel and it also marks the east entrance into Oxford. The tallest medieval structure in the city, the Great Tower influenced the design and sculpture of Memorial Tower.

The Great Towers (Pastels Courtesy of University Archives, Savitar, 1927)

The Great Towers

The Transcendent Tower

Memorial Tower is an example of Collegiate Gothic architecture, a form of Gothic Revival architecture used to design college campuses and their buildings. A product of the Romantic Movement, Gothic Revival architecture developed in the late seventeenth century in England. It was inspired by the medieval Gothic style, which dominated Northern European religious architecture from the mid twelfth to the sixteenth century. Characterized by architectural advancements such as rib vaults and flying buttresses, Gothic buildings are tall, stone skeletal structures with towers and spires, bright and airy interior spaces, stained glass windows, and a large amount of sculptural decoration. During the Middle Ages, a majority of the population was illiterate and the clergy utilized the sculptural programs on churches as an alternative form of communication.

The English introduced Gothic Revival architecture to America. American architects initially applied the style to domestic architecture and later to religious and collegiate buildings. First adopted at conservative, private schools on the east coast, the Collegiate Gothic style soon spread west across the nation. Advantageous for the design of college campuses, Gothic architecture is constructed with inexpensive materials, merges well with the natural environment, and has organic comprehensive plans capable of expansion. In this way, Gothic Revival architecture accommodates the needs of growing institutions, particularly increased student enrollment and administration, modern academic fields requiring various types of classroom environments, and the creation of museums, specialized libraries, and student activity centers. Gothic aesthetics also appeal to a broad audience because it has the unique ability to encompass a sense of nostalgia and represent the future of academic development.

The architectural firm Jamieson & Spearl designed Memorial Tower, which soars 143 feet in the air. The Perpendicular and Tudor Gothic buildings at the college campuses of Oxford and Cambridge in England influenced the firm’s design. Memorial Tower combines features of English Gothic architecture with sculptural decoration representing American, Missourian, and MU themes. Even though almost all Gothic stone sculpture was painted, the sculpture on Memorial Tower is not. Some of it cannot even be seen by the naked eye, which adheres to the Gothic principle that all portions of a building must be adorned because God can see the entire structure. Memorial Tower is one of numerous Gothic buildings Jamieson & Spearl designed for the MU campus. Originally known as the "East Campus,” these buildings are now referred to as the historic "White Campus.” The period architecture creates a harmonious, cloistered city of learning.

The Transcendent Tower


Memorial Union Exhibition

Exhibition Home

History of Memorial Tower

Making the Memorial

In Memoriam

Signs, Symbols, and Seals: The Sculpture of Memorial Tower

Figured in Stone: The Arcade Sculptures of Memorial Tower

Tradition: Tipping the Cap


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