Most first-year students are required to live in the Pei Residential Complex. These three buildings were designed by the renowned architect I.M. Pei.
When I.M. Pei first arrived on New College’s Bayfront Campus in early 1963, he was one among nine nationally known architects competing for a $15 million commission to develop a master plan for the fledgling but ambitious college. The architects had been invited to visit New College to participate in a unique two-day collective interview process in which they presented their design ideas to their potential patrons—in the presence of their peers. The postwar college construction boom offered attractive opportunities for the nation’s leading architects as campuses scrambled to physically accommodate increasing numbers of students.
The founders of New College were looking for an architect who had the vision and expertise to create an entire campus from scratch. Pei was known for his stylistic, modern eclecticism, and he also had experience designing airport buildings as well as educational institutions. These were not insignificant skills since the land secured for the New College campus was adjacent to Sarasota’s airport. At the time, Pei’s projects included the National Airlines Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK airport, 1960–70), the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado (1961–66), control towers for the Federal Aviation Administration (1962–72), and the Wilmington Tower in Delaware (1963–71).
New College’s Architect Selection Committee unanimously selected Pei later in 1963. As befitting the distinctive nature of New College, the concept Pei came up with was unique. The Pei residences were designed as a sort of Mediterranean village; three pavilions with interior courts containing small fountains and plantings were clustered around a central plaza. The Brutalist-style buildings were constructed in light gray brick, with each study-bedroom unit designed for two students and opening onto a secluded patio or balcony. A geometrically precise planting of palm trees shaded the large courtyard and provided a collective meeting space.
In 2012, the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects designated the New College resident halls, student union and Academic Center as one of Florida’s Top 100 Buildings. In its 2018 survey of Florida’s mid-20th century modern architecture, the University of Florida’s Historic Preservation Program selected the Pei residence halls as one of seven educational properties to be included among 50 flagship structures in the state and recommended they be considered for landmark designation.
Images courtesy of New College Archives and the Philip Hiss family.
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Today, the three buildings are formally named Gordon E. Michalson Hall, Peggy Bates Hall, and Elaine & Harvey Rothenberg Hall but are often simply referred to as Pei 1st Court, 2nd Court, and 3rd Court. The Pei residence halls accommodate more than 250 current students in double- and triple-occupancy rooms. The outdoor Palm Court situated at the center of the maze-like complex continues to serve as the heart of campus social life, as it has for generations of New College students. The East Campus, also known as the Pei Campus, also houses the Pei-designed Hamilton Center and Hamilton classroom building. The outdoor Palm Court situated at the center of the maze-like complex continues to serve as the heart of campus social life, as it has for generations of New College students. The East Campus, also known as the Pei Campus, also houses the Pei-designed Hamilton Center and Hamilton classroom building.
While Pei was working on the New College commission from his firm’s headquarters in New York, he was personally selected by Jacqueline Kennedy to design the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Massachusetts. Less than two decades later, Pei had received wide acclaim for the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and embarked on arguably the greatest achievement of his illustrious career, the Grand Louvre Project in Paris.