Danforth Campus

The Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis is located on 169 acres just beyond the western edge of the City of St. Louis.

Aerial view of Brookings Hall and the Danforth campus

The Danforth Campus borders the west end of Forest Park, the site of the 1904 World’s Fair and one of the nation’s largest urban parks.

On September 17, 2006, the Hilltop Campus of Washington University in St. Louis was renamed the Danforth Campus. The Danforth Campus continues to grow today. Explore the major construction and renovation projects going on around Washington University, including the transformation of the east end of the Danforth Campus.


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Featuring predominantly Collegiate Gothic architecture in its academic buildings — several of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — the campus is at once reminiscent of great European universities and a forward-looking center of academic excellence, cutting-edge research and creativity.

History and Architecture

From 1853 until 1905, the university was located in downtown St. Louis. None of the downtown campus buildings still stands.

Planning for the move from downtown to the Danforth Campus began in the mid-1890s with the acquisition of the Danforth Campus site. Site plans were prepared in 1895 by the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot, and in 1899, a national competition was held to choose the architectural firm that would design the campus. Six firms entered the competition; the commission was awarded to Cope and Stewardson, of Philadelphia. Construction of the Danforth Campus began in October of 1900 with the laying of the cornerstone for Busch Hall. Laying of the cornerstone for Brookings Hall occurred in November of 1900.


During the World’s Fair, a total of nine buildings were leased to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company for use as administrative offices and exhibit space; construction of four of the nine buildings was funded by income from the lease agreement. The first academic use of the Danforth Campus buildings took place on January 30, 1905, two months after the Fair’s close, and the Danforth Campus was formally dedicated during Commencement ceremonies in June 1905.

Cope and Stewardson described the architectural style of the campus:

“Throughout, the style is, broadly speaking, Academic Gothic of the fifteenth and sixteenth Centuries, but some of the buildings represent the early pure type and other the modified type, called ‘Jacobean,’ in which certain details of the Renaissance were introduced.”

“The Brookings building is in the earlier pure Academic Gothic … the laboratories and scientific buildings, as better expressing their purpose, are … of the later style. For the library we should propose something midway between the two. [Note: the library referred to here is Ridgley Hall, not the present-day Olin Library] The other buildings beyond the Academic Courts, in the less formal part of the group, we should treat in the earlier period with a greater number of gables and more variety of outline following the more domestic type of the style.”

The Academic Gothic style chosen by Cope and Stewardson was inspired by the architecture of Oxford and Cambridge universities. The predominant building materials are Bedford Limestone and Missouri Red Granite. Today, 19 Danforth Campus buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places; these buildings are known collectively as the Danforth Campus Historic District.

Cope and Stewardson’s original vision and their choice of building materials have, with few exceptions, guided the Danforth Campus’ building plan up to the present day. The result is a campus whose buildings are unique for both their beauty and their similarity of style.

Danforth Campus Buildings

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