Opus in Brick and Stone: The Architectural and Planning Heritage of Texas Tech University
Brian H. Griggs, AIA
Texas Tech University Press, 2020

Texas Tech University is a celebrated Lubbock institution well known for its unique Spanish Renaissancestyled campus. In his debut book, Opus in Brick and Stone: The Architectural and Planning Heritage of Texas Tech University, Brian H. Griggs, AIA, presents an overdue and richly illustrated study of the historical context and events that shaped the development and growth of the West Texas campus. Griggs starts with a close look at William Ward Watkin, the architect responsible for the original plan of the then-named Texas Technological College. He explores in detail Watkin’s choices, particularly questioning the origins of his use of the Spanish Renaissance style. Griggs goes on to intriguingly trace the evolution of the campus plan over the course of a century, highlighting its adaptation amidst political, economic, and leadership shifts.

Texas Technological College was approved by the Texas State Legislature on February 10, 1923, at a time when the City of Lubbock, which was incorporated a short 14 years earlier, was quickly becoming a regional hub. Griggs emphasizes that it was also a moment of significant growth in higher education across the United States. The abundance of campus design opportunities led to the emergence of a specialization on higher education among a select group of architects, many of whom were also playing important roles in the City Beautiful designs celebrating classical European urban planning and architectural styles at ongoing world fairs and expositions. Through these temporary architectural exhibitions, the Spanish Renaissance style re-emerged and began to gain limited popularity, notably in California and Texas.

The Spanish Renaissance style originally developed during the 15th and 16th centuries in Spain, during the prosperous rule of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. The monarchs united the Catholic northern regions with the largely Muslim lands of now southern Spain, creating a sociocultural melting pot. The resulting unique blend of Christian and Islamic architectural traditions was a fusion of the classical motifs and symmetry of Italian Renaissance architecture with the ornate facades and intricate detailing characteristic of Moorish design. It was also during this time that Christopher Columbus’s expedition brought the Spanish crown and influence to the Western Hemisphere, eventually including all of the land that would become Texas. Griggs notes the tangential argument for colonial regionalism expressed in Watkins’s plan but quickly moves on to focus on the more realistic influences happening in the early 20th century. 

Watkin was among the small group of architects building strong education portfolios. Griggs traces Watkin’s history of collaborations, mentors, and international trips to show how he was influenced to boldly adopt the Spanish Renaissance style for the Texas Tech campus. The book thoroughly captures the process and history, demonstrating that the decision was nuanced and a result of many experiences and events, as well as input from stakeholders.

The Agriculture escutcheon above the door of the Agriculture Building is an example of the highly decorative and intricate entrances typical of the Spanish Renaissance style on campus. – photo courtesy Texas Tech University Press

Having explained the origins of the campus’s iconic style in Part 1, the subsequent four sections offer a comprehensive narrative detailing the evolution of the campus, spanning from the design of its inaugural building to ongoing university planning endeavors. Griggs goes beyond simply presenting Watkin’s idealist master plan, delving into the historical events and financial hurdles that influenced the trajectory of design on campus. 

Most notably, the story chronicles the continued financial challenges Texas Tech faced as a result of not being a Morrill Land Grant Act-modeled institution, and thus not being included in the fiscal resources of the Permanent University Fund (PUF), which the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems enjoy. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century,  states benefited from the sale of donated federal lands under the Morrill Land Grant Acts in order to create universities. Modeled on these grants, the PUF was established in 1876 by the Texas Constitution. It set aside land that today encompasses 2.1 million acres in West Texas to support the growth of the primary state university systems. This independent standing of Texas Tech outside of the PUF has fostered a “do more with less” ethos that is a point of pride for not only the school but the region.

Griggs clearly demonstrates that, unfortunately, a campus design standard that is rooted in detailed stonework and ornamentation is often in conflict with accomplishing more with fewer resources. The Texas Tech Administration Building was the first project on campus completed and continues to be the quintessential representation of the Spanish Renaissance architecture Watkin envisioned. From the outset, the impact of the design style became apparent, with one-fifth of the project budget allocated to stone veneer and a six-month construction delay attributed to the tardy delivery of the stone. In the end, the advantages of adhering to the campus design outweigh the costs. Despite a brief flirtation with brutalism, the university’s leadership, alongside project architects, has persisted in employing adapted versions of the Beaux-Arts–inspired style, albeit with varying levels of success. 

The present-day view of the north facade of the Texas Tech Administration Building, modeled after the Plateresque facade of the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso at the University of Alcalá de Henares, exemplifies Watkin’s vision for the university’s architecture. – photo courtesy Texas Tech University Press

The latter portion of the book guides the reader through Texas Tech’s enduring journey by juxtaposing common critiques of the campus with a retrospective of events, providing context for the decisions made by designers and administrators.

Opus in Brick and Stone offers a comprehensive but dense narrative, rich with background information that sometimes verges on being overly detailed. However, it effectively encapsulates a complete history of a campus design seldom documented elsewhere. While the mystery surrounding the adoption of the Spanish Renaissance style on a campus in West Texas serves as the initial intrigue, the enduring appeal of the story lies in Griggs’s adeptness at capturing the exhaustive process of realizing an architectural design from conception to completion.  

His story illustrates that every step, from the campus plan to the execution of each individual building, required champions of the design—extending beyond the architect to encompass key figures within the university administration, state government, and broader community. While this reality is familiar to practicing architects, it offers enlightening insight for readers outside the profession.  

Emily Winters, AIA, is an architect and a principal at DLR Group in Houston.

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